Magazine Article | August 1, 2003

Don't Get Overwhelmed By Growth

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

By taking a phased approach to replacing its legacy supply chain and tape backup systems, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters has been able to manage 15% to 20% annual growth.

Integrated Solutions, August 2003

It's 1 p.m. Jim Prevo, the CIO and VP of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc. (Waterbury, VT), has just returned from a 1 hour trail ride near the Winooski River on his Cannondale mountain bike. With annual company growth in the 15% to 20% range over the past 10 years and coffee production reaching the 15 million pounds mark, you'd expect Prevo to be skipping his lunch break rather than adding an invigorating bike ride to his agenda. So, what's his secret? Prevo has accepted the fact that business technology and best practices are always changing. "To keep ahead of these challenges, we've established business process teams that are responsible for efficient operations of business processes such as 'order to cash,' 'market to sell,' 'source to settle,' and 'plan to produce,'" says Prevo. "There is always stress. The key is to design strategies for getting the work done within the time frame of the group's vision." To summarize Prevo's words: determine what needs to change within your organization - whether it's new technology or new ways of doing things - and roll out your plan in controlled phases.

Recognize Legacy Software Limitations
In 1994 Green Mountain Coffee Roasters began experiencing significant growth. At the time the company had three regional operation centers (ROCs) along the East Coast and was doing about $50 million per year in coffee sales. It managed its products and customers via several homegrown applications, which were integrated and accessed by the ROCs via a dial-up connection. In 1996, the company replaced its dial-up with frame relay connectivity. It still had a long way to go, however, before getting its inventory management under control. "For inventory control, we used to take a 'just go look' approach," says Prevo. "Once we started to grow, however, it was apparent that we needed a lot more functionality from our supply chain solution." Prevo and his business process teams began planning to rework the coffee roaster's legacy applications to enable it to scale with its IT needs. Shortly after the IT team began upgrading the legacy applications in 1995, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters initiated a project called "Customer Profitability," which, as the name suggests, was designed to help the company identify customers who contributed the most to the coffee roaster's bottom line. "This project led to the need to capture more data, which meant a major upgrade was needed in our legacy application," says Prevo. Prevo and three software developers began the arduous task of writing code to accommodate the additional functionality required by the project. About five months into the project, it became painfully obvious that continuing down the customized application road was going to yield only diminishing returns. "It's nearly impossible for a small IT team to create an application that has all the necessary functionality, safeguards, and industry best practices built into it," says Prevo. "After realizing how inefficient it was to create our own solution, we began looking for an off-the-shelf solution that would provide a good foundation for us to build upon."

ERP Suite Offers Application Integration, Scalability
After a month and a half of due diligence, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters selected PeopleSoft's (Pleasanton, CA) ERP (enterprise resource planning) suite. The company began the rollout by deploying seven modules in a test environment. The seven modules included General Ledger, Purchasing, Accounts Payable, Inventory, Production Management, Bills and Routings, and Cost Management. "We created six instances of our Oracle 8i database so we could thoroughly test the new solution before going live," recalls Prevo. "We created one instance for our setup information, one instance to test our data conversion results, one instance for training our IT staff, two instances for our tests, and one instance to run various demos." After four and a half months of rigorous data conversion, training, and testing, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters' first phase of its ERP implementation was live. This phase included the aforementioned seven modules. Nine months later, the coffee roaster rolled out a second phase of modules, beginning with Accounts Receivable. Over the course of the next four years the company rolled out nine more modules, performed three server upgrades, and upgraded from PeopleSoft Version 6.1 to Version 8.0.

The company set up its new solution in a thin client model, enabling employees at the various ROCs (currently there are five) to input and access data over a frame relay connection using Citrix Systems, Inc.'s (Fort Lauderdale, FL) MetaFrame software. By reducing the number of PCs at its ROCs, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters was able to manage its solution with less IT support, enabling system scalability without growing its IT staff.

Increased Data Capture Yields Increased Backup Burden
While Green Mountain Coffee Roasters had rolled out its PeopleSoft ERP suite, its tape backup wasn't faring so well. Daily backups were taking up to eight hours to complete and the 168 DLT (digital linear tape) media cartridges in its backup rotation were taking its fireproof safe to capacity.

To solve the problem, the company upgraded from the DLT 8000 drives and DLTtape IV media to Quantum's (Milpitas, CA) SDLT (Super DLT) 320 tape drives with SDLT1 media. "With the SDLT 320 tape drives, we can back up all our data with only two tapes as opposed to eight tapes previously," says Prevo. "And, since each SDLT 320 cartridge gives us the same performance and speed as two DLT 8000 tape cartridges in a striped array, we've cut our backup window in half." The SDLT 320 tape drives are backward-read compatible, which enables the coffee manufacturer to continue to use the DLT 8000 tape drives and phase them out of the backup process.

IP-Enabled T1 Boosts Bandwidth, Reduces Long-Distance Costs
One area of concern for Green Mountain Coffee Roasters is its network infrastructure. The company has been using a 128 KB/s frame relay connection linked back to corporate headquarters in Vermont. At headquarters, the company's servers are linked via a Gigabit Ethernet backbone, and HP ProCurve switches connect workstations to the Gigabit network at 100 Mb/s. One benefit the company doesn't want to forego with its existing network is the use of Internet Protocol (IP). This enables Green Mountain Coffee Roasters to set up Web services transactions with its business partners using the open XML (extensible markup language) protocol, as opposed to using the more rigid and costly EDI (electronic data interchange) model. In spite of its strengths, however, the company's frame relay network still leaves much to be desired. "We realized just how slow our network can be after downloading a 20 MB PowerPoint presentation onto a laptop over the 128 KB frame relay circuit," recalls Prevo. "The download took 20 minutes."

The coffee roaster approached its telecommunications provider about speeding up its connectivity and discovered it could upgrade its network to a T1 connection and improve its bandwidth from 128 KB/s to 1.5 MB/s. By running its IP-based network over a VPN (virtual private network) instead of frame relay, the company will realize significant cost savings on long-distance calls made to its ROCs, which will offset the cost of T1 connectivity. "We've already tried out the T1 lines in a test environment and will be ready to switch over the network within the next few weeks," says Prevo. "For the same monthly cost as our frame relay, we will gain more than 11 times the bandwidth and significantly reduce any data bottlenecks." The 20 MB PowerPoint presentations will soon be downloaded in less than 2 minutes instead of 20 minutes.

Add A Portal For Employee And Customer Use
Next on its agenda, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters will add a PeopleSoft portal - initially for internal use and eventually for customer use as well. "The portal will be used to make employees aware of important events happening within the company such as changes in benefits, corporate-sponsored events, and special achievements," says Prevo. "After that phase is complete, we will add a customer portal, which will give customers visibility to such information as job order status and invoice payment history." Once the portal is in place, customers will have 24/7 access to their account information, which they can download and print rather than call Green Mountain Coffee Roasters' call center and request information.

When you hear all the IT plans Jim Prevo has in the works for the next few years, your first impression may be, "There's a guy who's not getting much sleep." But, rest assured, Prevo and his business process teams have the whole thing figured out - with room built in for lunch, family, and mountain bike rides on the Winooski River trails.