» Nourishing Health and Hope
Beth Ann Valavanis, GA Foods
Ga Foods Case Study
Nourishing Health and Hope
While some may take the concept of having a reliable, steady source of nutrition for granted, there are many people today who lack the support network to provide this essential component of life. According to the hunger relief organization Feeding America, an estimated 1 in 8 Americans are classified as “food insecure,” meaning that they lack a consistent access to food. Denied a steady source of nourishment, these people face challenges in maintaining a healthy, active life.
For more than 40 years, GA Foods has operated with a single, driving goal: providing meals to those in need. This encompasses many different channels, including infants and children, military personnel, disaster relief, and senior citizens.
What started as a single production facility in St. Petersburg, Florida, has grown into an operation that proudly oversees the daily delivery of nutritious meals to seniors and children throughout Florida and Georgia, along with distributing shelf stable products to customers in more than 40 states. In addition, whenever a hurricane, tornado, flood, blizzard, or other natural disaster strikes, GA Foods is a first line meal provider.
From the complete manufacture of healthy, nutritious meals to the delivery of these meals to those who need them, GA Foods truly encompasses the entire length of the supply chain, all while never wavering from a mission of compassion and care.
» Looking for a Flexible Software Solution
Looking for a Flexible Software Solution
The nature of the company’s focus puts GA Foods in the unique position of having to deal with concerns and issues that span a few different subsets of the food industry. While the company is ostensibly a food manufacturer, their 25,000 home deliveries each week means they have to also address the logistical challenges that are typical for food distributors. GA Foods also has a catering division that undergoes constant menu reformulations. Finally, with a large percentage of their customers being insurance providers, the company’s expertise must extend beyond the food industry arena altogether and address the challenges of medical billing. The end result is a complex organization with a lot of disparate pieces that all need to fit together for maximum efficiency and profitability.
The company had continued to grow and expand, but by 2013, it seemed as if this growth had begun to stall, and it became apparent that a significant modernization effort, both the perspective of general business practices and the technology being used to run the company, would be necessary. Over the next few years, Chief Technology Officer Andy Borgmann instituted a number of changes, but the greatest would be the implementation of a new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software system that allowed GA Foods to take advantage of cutting edge technologies and grow in the future. “We needed more than what was just sort of an off-the-shelf, straight out of the box ERP system,” says Andy. “Because, we weren’t just food manufacturing, we were equally distribution, we do things like medical billing. We had some complexity there that your average food manufacturer that was going to buy an off-the-shelf ERP system just was not going to need.”
Understanding that an ERP implementation would be a significant undertaking, Andy brought on a dedicated project manager, Beth Ann Valavanis. She and Andy began the search for a software solution that was customizable and user friendly, with easy access to data. They narrowed down the list of possibilities to a handful of products. Very early on, they identified Beck Consulting, with their bcFood add-on to Microsoft’s Dynamics NAV ERP system, as a strong candidate. The functionality in bcFood was more fully-featured than the other choices, but even more important was Beck’s willingness to assist GA Foods in further tweaking their software to meet their needs. As Beth Ann explains, “a lot of the other vendors were really hesitant to want us to do anything custom. Beck was quick to talk through some of the stuff that is very specific to our business, as well as understand the complexities that we’re dealing with.”
Beth Ann Valavanis
The Implementation Process: A Determined Team with a Firm Goal
Beck’s willingness to enhance and customize their software was a true differentiator in the market, and GA Foods selected them as their software vendor. But it quickly became apparent that extensive customization would be especially challenging, especially with the tight timeframe proposed by GA Foods.
“When we told Beck that we had chosen them and that we are going to go live essentially eight months later, they told us we were crazy,” laughs Beth Ann. Even in projects that do not have a good deal of customization, an eight month timeframe is on the shorter end of the spectrum; it is not unusual for heavily-customized projects to take longer than a year. But due to some of the accounting concerns due to the unique cross-pollination of businesses performed at GA Foods, it was essential that they go live at the beginning of the next fiscal year.
Beck was committed to helping GA Foods implement bcFood within their desired timeline. Both organizations agreed upon a schedule of milestones and deadlines, and each week they met to assess progress. One area in particular that would be critical to the success of the project was training. Having used the legacy software at GA Foods for decades, the company’s users had a comfort level with the older program; if the January 1 go-live was to be a success, everyone would need to quickly attain a comfort level with Dynamics.
With Beth Ann fully devoted to leading the project, training was performed on a weekly basis. In between training sessions, users were encouraged to access the company’s sandbox environment to experiment with the new system. By taking the initiative to learn the system, employees were better prepared for when the cutover became a reality.
It was a hectic eight months for everyone, but the hard work put in by both organizations paid off, and GA Foods was able to roll out their bcFood solution on their desired go-live date of January 1, 2016.
» Unique Features to Adress Unique Needs
Unique Features to Address Unique Needs
For all of Beck Consulting’s more than 30 years of working with food companies, some of the requests from GA Foods brought were brand new. One example of this was the company’s “menu system.” When a school or a senior center places meal orders with GA Foods, this is performed strictly as a “count” – they might need 10 meals on Monday, 14 meals on Tuesday, and so forth. These counts then need to be converted over to an actual item within Dynamics in order to drive production scheduling and material requisitions.
The development team at Beck Consulting was able to take these concepts and fashion a working solution that replicated this business processes within the software. Due to complexity behind something like the menu system, one might be forgiven in anticipating issues with the functionality. But the users at GA Foods have reported nothing but smooth, simple transactions.
While GA Foods required a number of customizations such as the menu system in order to properly address their needs, they were able to take advantage of many out-of-the box features, as well. bcFood’s sales contract functionality, for example, made it possible for users to enforce greater levels of control and ensure that customer agreements exist for the right items at the right prices. And the integrated nature of Dynamics has given the accounting team a much more accurate picture of the company’s financial data.
Beth Ann Valavanis
A Modern System Built for Growth
Since going live with their bcFood solution in 2016, GA Foods has enjoyed a 90 percent growth in revenue, while maintaining a relatively steady headcount. This has been largely due to having a modern ERP system in place to facilitate such rapid growth. “Over the last three and a half years, we couldn’t have grown as a company,” affirms Beth Ann. “We couldn’t have taken on initiatives. We couldn’t have moved into this next phase that we’ve been planning for strategically without having a system like Microsoft NAV.”
Shortly after the initial go-live, it became apparent that the increase in business had a very real-world impact. As Andy explains, “think about having 500 sales orders a day. You don’t want to have reams and reams of paper in filing cabinets, and boxes put in warehouses, and all that.” GA Foods implemented the OCR functionality within Dynamics in conjunction with bcFood’s document basket, making it possible to scan documents directly into the system and automatically attach them to the corresponding sales order records within Dynamics. “Being able to constantly improve the process and the customization absolutely is a value of NAV, and a value of what we’ve done with the implementation with Beck.”
While the benefits of their bcFood implementation are obvious from the perspective of the company’s technology, many external business processes have been improved as part of an effort to further optimize activity within the software. In order to better take advantage of the warehouse management capabilities in Dynamics, for example, GA Foods completely re-structured their warehouse to promote efficiency in locating, moving, and picking inventory.
“The implementation forced us to get other aspects of our business in order, such as our accounts receivable team through assignments of accounts and things like that,” explains Beth Ann. “All those things beyond just the system really allowed us to position ourselves for more.”
Getting Back to Business
Like any successful organization, GA Foods continues to search for new ways to advance their business, fully confident that any improvements to the company’s processes can be properly replicated in their ERP system. Recently, they started exploring perpetual inventory systems, which will certainly require some changes to how users use the software. And given the company’s focus on serving groups like children and seniors, enhancements to risk management and mitigation will be a continuous process. Since the initial go-live, for example, GA Foods has used bcFood to implement expiration date tracking, providing complete visibility to the expiration date of every lot record, and ensuring that only the freshest, safest food is being shipped out to customers.
More than anything else, the future software concerns at GA Foods involve questions around scaling for more growth. It is no secret that the United States population continues to age. The rising number of retirees and seniors, coupled with increased life expectancies, points to more and more people in need of meal programs. In light of these realities, the rapid growth seen at GA Foods over the past few years shows no signs of abating. But whereas the thought of growth at such an exponential pace on an outdated system would be cause for concern, the company can rest easy in the knowledge that bcFood will allow them to manage this growth without adding complexity or headcount.
“The technology has gotten out of the way, and/or it enables us to really focus on serving more people as efficiently and cost effectively and safely as possible,” says Andy. “That’s our future.”