Optimizing inventory 30 times faster with artificial intelligence so schoolchildren and seniors get fed
One of the biggest challenges facing business executives post-pandemic is predicting customer demand. With changing purchase patterns and supply chain problems, it's tough for companies to accurately plan for what products customers will want and when. Oliver Packaging & Equipment, a leading designer and manufacturer of premium food equipment and meal packaging systems, faces this exact challenge. But with the help of artificial intelligence (AI), they can more accurately and closely track and predict customer demand. And that’s critical as the organization plans to expand into new markets.
“The impact of Covid for our business was significant,” says Oliver Packaging President Mitch Summerfield. “The senior meals programs that were originally congregate, where everyone would sit together, went to prepackaged—and the same with schools. With children now being home, the meals had to be packaged up and delivered. The demand for our products skyrocketed, and at the same time supply chain challenges started to increase. It was important for us to be able to navigate through that to ensure that all the schools and senior meal programs throughout the US were able to get product to be fed every day.”
With the pandemic changing meal requirements coupled with supply chain issues, Oliver Packaging is proud to have successfully delivered meal packaging to communities because they know failure could mean a child goes hungry or a senior may not get needed nutrition. This success is not only because Oliver Packaging is more efficient after moving its ERP to the cloud with Infor CloudSuite Industrial, but also because Oliver Packaging is committed to providing alternative solutions when inventory is not available.
“We did go through a period where we had to convert some of our customers over to different product to keep them going, but we've been able to make sure that all of our senior programs, all the children who needed to be fed, got the nutrition they needed every day,” Summerfield says.
Using AI to stay ahead shifting demand patterns
With customer purchase patterns continually changing, Oliver Packaging leaders knew there had to be a better way to detect these changes so that the right products could be delivered at the right time, to improve the bottom line and the customer experience.
“We needed a faster and more accurate way to track abnormal changes in order and item amounts so we can make the right adjustments. Maybe next month, we need more compostable trays and less fiber trays, or we need more six-ounce juice cups and less four-ounce juice cups. To identify these variances, it was a monthly process in Excel to pull the data together and do the analysis, looking at lines of data hoping I didn't miss something,” says Sarah Patrick, sales analyst at Oliver Packaging.
Patrick manages several key business processes such as contracts, forecasting, and customer order trends, so that sales and operations have the insights they need for the best business outcome.
Leveraging integrated Infor Coleman Artificial Intelligence (AI) services with Infor CloudSuite Industrial, Oliver Packaging implemented anomaly detection algorithms to identify abnormal customer orders and amounts quickly and more accurately. Daily processing of these anomalies using machine learning is delivered to Patrick in a user-friendly dashboard, where she reviews and analyzes the variances for sales and operations to make critical real-time business decisions.
“If I have a customer ordering less than normal, I go to Sales so they can contact the customer to investigate. Is it going to stick to that specific customer or is this going to spread throughout the market? Is it going to be socialized to Meals on Wheels or socialized to just schools or retail bakeries? At the same time, I must let Operations know what to expect so they can make changes to the inventory side,” she explains.
Implemented in less than 90 days, Oliver Packaging has faster and more accurate customer order anomaly detection with integrated AI:
- 30X faster (monthly to daily) to detect anomalies to better optimize inventory for shifting customer demand
- 90% workload reduction in identifying anomalies
- $1.3 million in variance identified in just 2 months
- Lower costs by reducing the need to ship more expensive alternative solutions or expedited when the right item is not in stock
- Retain customers with Sales quickly contacting customers to address new requirements
- Improve customer satisfaction by providing the right product instead of shipping alternative solutions
Time to value in just under 90 days is possible with an integrated and powerful technology platform, Infor OS, that allows data to be collected, analyzed and consumed quickly through automation. Customer orders from CloudSuite Industrial are automatically collected and managed in the Data Lake, with integrated services to build, deploy and consume AI-driven insights. The Infor OS platform includes tools for data integration, data management, reporting and analytics, and enterprise performance management, as well as tools for ML/AI solutions so that organizations can deploy data-driven applications in weeks instead of months.
Learn more about how AI can be integrated into your business processes in under 30, 60, and 90 days with Infor Augmented Intelligence Service.
Improving business performance through digital transformation
As a data-driven leader, Summerfield has been tracking Oliver Packaging’s investment in moving to the cloud with Infor CloudSuite Industrial. “I think every ERP integration has challenges, but what's critical is ensuring that you have the right partner with industry expertise to work through those issues. We now have a system that has greatly improved our operations, and we've seen significant margin improvement simply because we're able to better project what products we need. This company is light years from where it was four years ago.”
Four years ago, Oliver Packaging partnered with Infor to move to the cloud and since then, customers and employees are also happier because customers get the right products at the right time, and employees are less stressed simply because of the operational efficiencies now in place:
- 55% increase in on-time deliveries
- 15-point increase in Net Promoter Score (NPS)
- 15-point increase in employee engagement
Oliver Packaging has been able to provide product to customers that some of its competitors have not. During the pandemic, there were a lot of challenges associated with supply chain and labor, which Oliver Packaging was able to mitigate through planning and forecasting. The forecasting was able to accurately project demand so they had greater manufacturing efficiency to provide customers with product when a lot of their competitors could not.
“We have some of our competitors' customers calling us, looking for product, and our ability to provide that in a timely fashion have enabled us to take share,” Summerfield says.
Cloud migration with Decision Resources Inc. (DRI)
As Summerfield mentioned, moving to the cloud did have obstacles, but with the help of Infor CloudSuite Industrial partner Decision Resources Inc.(DRI), they were able to overcome. DRI is an Infor Gold Channel partner, and the largest provider of the Infor CloudSuite Industrial ERP system. DRI has focused on the SMB market since the company was founded. It was important to the founders to help mid-size manufacturing companies in America become more competitive.
“The big advantages of moving to the cloud can be seen just in what we've gone through with the pandemic,” says John Haddock, DRI vice president of professional services. “A company like Oliver Packaging really had no downtime. Being able to shift to a remote workforce was easy for them because the cloud technologies allow that.”
DRI and Oliver Packaging make a great partnership as both companies are very forward thinking. After struggling with using old-school technologies and Excel spreadsheets, DRI was able to teach Oliver Packaging modern manufacturing, modern accounting best practices and help them become more competitive as Infor made investments in its software. “CloudSuite Industrial will remain an important focus for DRI because of the investments that Infor is making in the ERP application and the supporting applications with Infor OS such as Coleman AI, Birst, Document Management, which are all differentiators in the marketplace. It also helps us be more competitive by delivering innovation to our clients like Oliver Packaging,” Haddock says.
Since moving to the cloud, Oliver Packaging has grown as continues to grow. “That crawl, walk, run journey that customers go through is very typical of what Oliver Packaging did, and they are at the point now where they are taking advantage of some of the most powerful technologies that Infor has to offer. Leveraging Infor’s platform technologies like AI allows Oliver Packaging to better forecast into the future and better identify changing customer behavior patterns so that they are more accurate and effective. That’s helped them grow through the pandemic,” Haddock says.
Moving forward, DRI is looking forward to sharing and expanding its innovations with other Infor customers through Infor Marketplace. Infor Marketplace allows DRI and all Infor partners to present industry specific solutions to a wider customer base. Infor Marketplace allows a community of developers like DRI to present their industry solutions to a wider audience. Infor customers have a single place to access solutions that will provide value to their business.
Optimizing inventory with more accurate forecasting
Oliver Packaging is also leveraging AI to improve forecasting. Prior to AI, forecasting was a manual, Excel-based process using historical data. It was error-prone and time-consuming, especially when analyzing hundreds of thousands of customer orders. In some instances, simply hitting the wrong key in Excel created an incorrect forecast.
“Forecasting has become more important now than ever before, because with the changes in Covid and the scares that people have, they're doing different order patterns than we've ever seen before,” says Patrick. “For example, schools may order extra stock because of supply chain issues in the past. We need to forecast these changes more accurately because if we don't have the right inventory at the right warehouse, then they're not getting product on time. Or they do get the product, but we must expedite shipping. Or we send them an alternative, more expensive solution. There are times that they leave us entirely because we don't have exactly what they want.”
With an AI-based forecasting solution, Oliver Packaging automates the forecasting process, combining historical data with more recent trends to meet customer expectations today, but also ensure to future success as they move into new markets. The ability to forecast demand faster and more accurately when they have not been in those markets before, will be critical to providing those customers with product on time.
Also, Patrick’s workload in forecasting is now reduced by 90% through AI-driven automation. “I used to spend at least an hour a day looking at the forecasts. Now it’s less than an hour every week.”
Incorrectly forecasting has a massive impact on Oliver Packaging’s business since the company is committed to providing an alternative solution when the right product is not available. Unfortunately, there are cases when customers are unhappy because they don’t get the exact product they wanted. “We serve what matters. That is our motto. If we don't have the correct product that is ordered, we make sure they have an alternative solution,” Patrick says. “For example, I will send a fiber tray instead of a plastic tray. We will make sure someone gets fed, but it might not be the exact solution.”
Using AI to deliver a more accurate forecast ultimately benefits the elderly, school children, nursing homes, or anyone that relies on Oliver Packaging to get fed. Oliver Packaging also benefits greatly, with expected increase in revenues and decrease in costs due to less waste, fees, and concessions.
Extending the ERP with smarter document management
Oliver Packaging is a great example of taking the last critical steps of ERP software implementation and extending it with Infor’s platform technology. With this innovation mindset, Oliver Packaging solved another area ripe for optimization—automating the process for identifying and routing soon-to-be expired contracts using Infor Document Management.
“I spent 5 hours a week pulling documents that had an expiration date that were all individually managed by different people. For example, Sales handles customer contracts, and Operations handles building contracts. You never knew where to find something or where to find a contract or when it might be expiring. We missed one of our contracts by three weeks for a building, and it cost us $50,000 a year. So that's the kind of thing we were fighting against the process,” Patrick explains.
With Infor Document Management centralizing and managing documents, the system proactively monitors soon-to-expire documents, with customized workflows to review and take the right actions to renew contracts or close them. “I haven't missed a single expiration. We haven't missed a negotiation. We haven't missed a building expiration. Nothing,” Patrick says. “I've caught everything, and our company is benefiting greatly from that.”
Operational excellence across the board
Through automation, Oliver Packaging has not needed to scale resources as the organization grows. In fact, the efficiencies gained from moving to the cloud have freed up time, making employees wonder if business has slowed down. “During some of the highest load times, we had some of our associates come and ask if our business was down. We were intrigued by that because our business was up significantly. And as we drilled into it, we learned that the reason why our associates felt the business was down was because they were more productive and not wasting time or working so hard,” Summerfield explains. “Our ability to have material in-house and not be chasing parts made their jobs much easier. We were getting much more done than we were before.”
The CEO is also benefitting from Infor software, especially on the go. “One of the game-changing things for me is the Infor Go mobile app. I travel quite a bit. In a few clicks on my mobile phone, I can check on areas of the business: how our orders are doing, and how accounts payable and accounts receivables are doing. My staff doesn't like that so much because I'm always checking on that, and they've got to figure out what's happening in the business every day. I feel more at ease knowing that I have a grip on what's happening every day,” Summerfield says.
Having to manage multiple processes across Sales and Operations, Patrick relies on Infor Portal as the single place or interface to get that quick glance of what needs to be prioritized and addressed on a given day without having to log into multiple systems to act.
“It's so simple having everything in one spot. I can see a lot of different things happening in the company,” she says. “The best thing is that everything links together. You can go from an opportunity to see what we're expecting to happen, and then they develop the estimate off that, and then it goes into the order, and all of them linked together so you can track what the timeframe is, how our customer or our sales team is using it, and the timeframe from beginning to end to the actual order and ship date.”
All these innovations that were created to improve the efficiency and accuracy of key business process at Oliver Packaging are possible with low-code Infor OS services to extend the core Infor CloudSuite Industrial ERP software. Every Infor CloudSuite customer has a toolbox for innovation with Infor OS, and Infor encourages customers to migrate to the cloud to maximize on this opportunity.
Industry & Solution Strategy Director
Infor Platform Technology Team
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