Coffee company gets integration strategy percolating

Van Houtte Inc. is adding a new ingredient to its java: ERP.

The Montreal-based office coffee services company began buying up similar operations across North America beginning in the early 1990s at the rate of two or

three a quarter. It is now left with 60 or so businesses running on disparate technology, including key purchases Laval, Que.-based Selena Coffee Inc., Toronto-based Red Carpet Food Services and Westwood, Mass.-based Filterfresh Corp.

To tie them all together on a single system, Van Houtte has asked J.D. Edwards Canada Ltd. to implement its OneWorld XE suite, which includes financials, human resources, payroll and distribution software.

“”We were using quite old technology inherited from the various acquisitions. These were legacy systems,”” says Van Houtte’s project manager, Richard Piché. “”They’re character-based, maybe 10 or 15 years old, running on standalone servers and local area networks (LANs). Right now we don’t have any kind of central database where we can recoup all the customers we have and all the sales histories.””

The installation of OneWorld components will allow Van Houtte to better chart its corporate progress and save some IT costs in the long run, according to executive vice-president Gérard Geoffrion.

“”We’ll have more timely information,”” says Geoffrion. “”We can consolidate our vendors, because we have all the information in one place. We can better negotiate with our suppliers. . . . It’s not easy to evaluate, but we foresee important savings and important changes in the way that we handle the business.””

OneWorld will be piloted in the Montreal head office and about 68 offices across North America, starting in June. Eventually, franchise locations will be included in the project. On the back end, the solution will run on a Hewlett-Packard server using Windows 2000 and on a Citrix server for remote users. Oracle’s 8i will be used for database functions and all desktops below 350 MHz will be replaced, says Piché.

Local J.D. Edwards offices will be used to install the software across locations with integration partner KPMG. J.D. Edwards was selected from a short list that included Oracle and White Plains for its competitive price point and ability to deliver an end-to end solution, says Piché.

J.D. Edwards has been accruing software companies to broaden its portfolio for some time, according to the company’s Canadian country manager, Bob Pozzobon. In 1999, the company purchased Toronto-based Numetrix for its supply chain technology and last year acquired South Carolina CRM vendor YouCentric. Van Houtte fits into the company’s strategy of pursuing more vertical markets — in this case the food services industry — and of migrating clients from legacy applications to enterprise software. Pozzobon was hired on to lead J.D. Edwards’ Canadian operation late last year for his experience selling to verticals.

The second phase of Van Houtte’s software plan will begin some time in April 2003. Piché says the company will begin to address its front-end needs using J.D. Edwards’ newly integrated CRM product and aims to have all the technology in place some time in 2004.

The new software may be something of a shock to Van Houtte employees used to dealing with legacy applications. To smooth the transition, the company will begin a Web training program using J.D. Edwards’ training tools.

“”As opposed to large organizations, in some small businesses people have been exposed minimally to technologies. We’re not assuming anything,”” says Piché.

“”Step one is really a skillset evaluation, then our first phase will be to raise computer literacy. Sort of an IT 101, if you like, in terms of making that sure everyone is comfortable with the PC environment and so forth.””

The company is well-versed in Web-based training, says Piché, having already used the Internet to train coffee equipment technicians and customer service agents. Once employees are Web-certified, they’ll receive classroom training. Perhaps over coffee.

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