- 30 September, 2005 22:00
Making chocolate is more than mixing using cocoa, butterfat and milk. You have to consider the production lines, and all the people who do the office support work and sell the stuff. Such is the challenge of Jill Alexander, New Zealand IT manager for Cadbury in Dunedin.
As MIS noted in its recent "Living the Lifestyle" feature (June 2005) Alexander sees herself as being lucky in having a diverse job while enjoying the outdoor life in Otago.
Hailing from Palmerston North, Alexander came to Cadbury 18 years ago in an IT support role before working her way up.
Now, she heads a team of six IT staffmembers in Dunedin, plus one in Auckland, where UK-owned Cadbury has its Pascall confectionary centre and runs the commercial side of the business.
Alexander runs the country's IT from Dunedin, reporting to an ANZ relationship manager in Melbourne, a regional office which also offers a regional team when needed.
"This is a reasonably new innovation, offering an interface between IT and the business. Previously, I just reported to IT and the change has been successful as having someone with knowledge of business knowledge and IT means you don't get the disconnect," she explains.
The smallness of Cadbury's IT group means it becomes a very cross-functional group by default.
"The team is involved in many areas - support, maintenance, projects - pretty much the normal roles you would expect. Each of the team does have a specialist area, but I am happy to say all are really good at rolling up their sleeves and getting involved wherever needed," Alexander continues.
Cadbury, which employs 650 in Dunedin, is a Microsoft shop with HP preferred for its 300 PCs, servers and printers.
The company has two main business applications - SAP for financials, warehousing, sales and distribution; plus Prism for manufacturing.
Radio frequency equipment is used in warehouses, either hand-held or on shelves, to pick orders and help forklift staff find the right bays.
"This has been installed for many years now and still provides the necessary automation to keep our warehouses running efficiently," she says.
Dunedin has a centralised help desk that logs calls, which are then allocated to appropriate team members, part of whose daily workload involves handling these calls.
Team members also spend time on internet and intranet development, remote access, system and user security, cellular and landline phones and communications work.
"It can be a big ask for a small team, but you can be assured there's never a dull or empty moment," she says.
Much of their work is currently hands-on but it is moving more towards planning and strategy as simple help desk tasks are centralised to Australia.
"There are economies of scale where it can be done remotely. It's amazing how much time is wasted on simple help desk calls that can be done from one central team," says Alexander.
Indeed, being part of a multinational presents other challenges and opportunities. "Mainly because there's another dimension to consider at all times, over and above just working on the local direction," she continues.
The global advantage
"Probably the biggest challenge is to remember that when we're looking at a new project we don't usually have to recreate the wheel from scratch because there's bound to be another site somewhere in the world who's done a similar thing.
This sounds logical but it is easy to get locally focused and forget to draw on the worldwide resources available," Alexander says.
The New Zealand business is part of Cadbury's Asia-Pacific region with Australia and New Zealand working as one business unit. And through this, everybody eventually reports to the UK.
Indeed, it was using the experience of Cadbury's Claremont factory in Tasmania that helped the Dunedin business create Cadbury World three years ago. The New Zealand operations had no experience of tourism systems, but the Tasmanian centre provided Dunedin a good understanding of the processes required to operate a visitor centre that offers a tour covering all aspects of making chocolate, a chocolate waterfall and a retail outlet.
"We needed a system where our scheduled tours could be automatically populated in the system, including the various ticket options, guide rostering, and a quick and easy calendar system to quickly locate and identify available tours when people called to book their Cadbury World tour," Alexander explains.
The system also needed to work with systems used by other tourism operators, have a robust retail system to handle purchases in the Cadbury World shop, and have good back-office capability.
While SAP is used within Cadbury in general, issues like tourist invoicing meant another system was called for, one that was easy to use and was from a company that was continually upgrading and developing it, so when Dunedin wants to offer web-based booking, the software can cope.
This meant Cadbury settled for Intouch Technologies, from Perth, Western Australia, which also supplied the POS, reservations and related software to the Claremont attraction.
"One of our requirements was it had to be integrated (with our other systems). It became a simple and reliable process," Alexander explains.
Touch screens were used for both retail and tour bookings, with reliability a critical factor to help the new facility cope with more than 60,000 visitors a year.
Cadbury World has just celebrated its third birthday, with Alexander claiming an excellent performance from its hardware and software systems, the latter of which are about to undergo their first major upgrade. InTouch's "excellent" support and staff who were "passionate" over the project were other factors behind the centre's claimed success.
Looking back, however, Alexander doubts Cadbury really comprehended the total dependency on the systems and the continual usage.
"With the need for immediate response times when booking tours, we did find the communications systems were being stretched at times and relatively soon after opening we upgraded the lines (moving to high level fibre and having dedicated lines) to overcome this.
"Our retail sales were okay as they ran on the local PC, but bookings have to go back to a single source to receive current information on tour availability so this created an increase in traffic on the line.
"With the upcoming upgrade, we're also increasing the redundancy, to ensure ongoing reliability and availability," she explains.
Alexander was part of the main seven to eight staff project management team and oversaw the IT installations, the hardware, software and communications.
Typically, Cadbury follows a 'standard' project process - the size of the project determining its level of project management. A recent project involved synchronising clocks throughout the Dunedin site.
"In this instance, the idea template is provided. From there, the project is scoped out, covering the normal project areas of cost, time, resource, business impact and benefits. Once the project is officially signed off, detailed planning is undertaken.
"This might sound simple with clock installations, but when you're working in a food manufacturing environment, there are many safety and quality considerations all impacting on the flow of the project. And then after installation is completed, there's the close-off of the project financially and the post-review," she explains.
Another recent project included issuing sales staff with iPaq hand-helds giving them up-to-date information on customers, products and promotions. The sales staff enter and receive information on their iPaqs, which is then transmitted via their mobile phones.
Alexander says this project has speeded up processes and saved staff from carrying around much paper-based information, such as forms.
Sitting in a wood-panelled office reminiscent of a gingerbread house in a fairy tale, Alexander offers a few final observations on her role.
"My role in IT is what I would consider to be business focused rather than technical, so I still shudder when friends have an expectation I can fix their home PC for them."
And she has a range of interests outside work - not looking at PCs - but running, skiing and windsurfing, now that spring is here. "I've got a PC in the house and it serves its purpose for my kids and myself but it is not on all day, everyday."