Episode Nine Short Features
Baked-In Cloud Delivers Agility
UK baking business Hovis opted for a cloud first recipe as it became an independent business.
Six years ago, bread bakery business Hovis sliced away from parent company Premier Foods and the opportunity to be a cloud-based business was seized. Supply Chain Planning & IS Director, Dominic Howson, says this recipe has provided the business with flexibility and has changed the role of IT at the business.
Howson joined Hovis from its former owners Premier Foods and set about baking the Hovis enterprise cloud computing strategy. “In previous roles we were used to having large scale black boxes that we had to get people to look after and refresh every three years with capital expenditure,” Howson says of the previous epoch of technology. “Today, we never have oversized or undersized infrastructure. I was keen to get as much of our infrastructure as a service,” he says of the difference of being a cloud-based organization. “Some people say private cloud is just someone else’s datacenter, that is true, but it is how that is serviced back to you that matters. All of the elements are part of one deal, one invoice.”
As Hovis left the Premier Foods organization, it also moved its SAP enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform to the cloud. “We were confident that we had a good architecture and structure to SAP,” Howson says of moving the most vital application set in the business.
“In terms of business flexibility, it means that we have built a cloud platform that is scalable and flexible as we grow the business,” Howson says of how Hovis has benefited, reporting profit and turnover improvements in 2019. “Business agility means you no longer have to have an application team, a service desk team and a team that looks after your commercials. The agility we now have was essential, as we knew the business was not going to stay the same as it was in 2014,” he says.
This business agility has enabled Howson to be head of supply chain as well as technology and has transformed the role of all technologists in the Hovis business. The tech team at Hovis is constantly focused on solving business issues with technology and Howson says it is the flexibility of cloud computing that has enabled this change.
“I can focus my people on value added and fixing business problems,” he says of improvements in flour storage using visualization technology, reducing wastage in the bakery and the delivery of the bread to retailers.
“A flexible technology estate allows you to try different things and be adventurous. For example, we are putting our data into a public cloud at the moment, which allows us to use artificial intelligence (AI) for demand forecasting. We need huge horsepower for a short period of time. We would never have been able to do that six years ago with an on-premise technology estate of blade servers.”
Howson says this flexibility is enabling Hovis to work with start-ups and use their loaf to find new ways of tackling old problems. “We can give them access to our data.” A further benefit Hovis has seen from its cloud-enabled strategy is the development of its people.
“We have been able to change the career paths of a few of our people.”