Founded by an engineer in 1991, New Belgium Brewing, a midmarket firm with 700 employees, uses technology across its entire business. Automation in engineering is in its DNA and data is at the core of its business success. Technology is pervasive within the organization and is used for manufacturing, quality, sales, operations and even sustainability needs and initiatives. In an interview with Techaisle, Jake Jakel, Technology Solutions manager at New Belgium Brewing said, “Technology is a huge part of what the company does to bring to market its Fat Tire Amber Ale beer. Our entire sales staff relies on data to be at their fingertips when they are out in the field selling our products and brands, and our non-field staff uses data from an analytics standpoint to understand what they are doing right and which areas need attention”.
A key challenge for New Belgium Brewing is managing growth, not only business growth but also corresponding growth of IT staff to support the business. It finds itself frequently caught in the medium sized business conundrum, the in-between phase where it is neither a small business nor a large enterprise. It has many IT personnel who are generalists supporting the business, and is trying to add specialists but is faced with issues such as at what pace should it add the specialists and in what areas should it add first. It is an area which is no different than other growth-oriented mid-market firms. In a Techaisle’s survey, we found that 36% of midmarket businesses have taken steps to address the need for what is sometimes referred to as “double deep” (with respect to IT and business experience) employees by employing IT specialists for the growth and rapid adoption of emerging technologies.
Analytics and security are two of the top IT priorities for New Belgium Brewing, very similar to other midmarket firms. For example, Techaisle’s 2016 survey shows that of the 2016 top 10 midmarket IT priorities security is a top priority for 97% of firms and analytics for 91%. But for New Belgium Brewing, increasing adoption of business intelligence, analytics and data mining is really a big deal especially when it's on a huge growth curve. Analytics helps answer questions like – is the firm making the right decisions? Is it looking at the right data points? Does it have the right data? Does the data actually tell the story that it says it's telling?
In fact, the organization sees analytics as “supporting the business” and security as “impacting the business”. While analytics has become an in-house expertise, security is an outsourced know-how. There isn't great value to having an in-house security person as there is great value in having an in-house database business intelligence team which has more value because it directly ties to what New Belgium Brewing is trying to accomplish as a business, and the people that are working on it become more familiar with the business and more familiar with the data which is a win-win.
IT is also being used for sustainability initiatives. For example, New Belgium Brewing is using IT and the data collected to inform how much energy is being used for brewing process, how much water is being diverted into waste water, what is the output of the solar panels.
New Belgium Brewing uses Dell for all its infrastructure needs - servers, workstations, tablets, networking. The reason it uses Dell is because Dell has been a great business partner that understands how New Belgium Brewing works as an organization and custom-fitting approach and solutions, receiving feedback and being open and honest. Dell’s account manager visits New Belgium Brewing once every two weeks to make sure that the needs are being met by Dell and to develop an understanding of any shifting objectives or changes in priorities. Dell has put in time and effort to build a relationship which New Belgium Brewing has not experienced with some other IT suppliers including HP (which New Age Belgium Brewing says was replaced by Dell). Besides Dell, the organization has Cisco networking in one of its facilities but in its Asheville data center New Belgium Brewing chose to use Dell and Force10. Overall, it has between 75-100 physical servers, many of them are PowerEdge FX2 chassis – a converged modular infrastructure that allows New Belgium Brewing to be future-ready and for scale.
The company has also implemented private cloud which is hosted in its data center in Denver. The equipment is currently leased but at the lease-end it is planning to purchase new infrastructure from Dell to equip and build out its data center on the back of modern architecture. New Belgium Brewing was also one of the early adopters of Office 365 from Microsoft and its mobile employees leverage Microsoft DirectAccess for always-on VPN to connect with corporate network.
Shadow IT is not an issue, at least not anymore, within New Belgium Brewing. IT management has IT staff (IT specialists) who are directly lined into the business units. Unlike most other organizations, there is no “rogue” spending by business units. IT has a large budget which increases substantially each year, more than the average IT budget increases of midmarket firms as per Techaisle’ survey (average increase for IT budget in 2016 for mid-market firms of 500-999 is 8%). There are no charge-backs to the business units. New Belgium Brewing calls itself a “statistical outlier” for IT budget increases.
Besides analytics & security, continuing to have a strong infrastructure foundation and build-out of data centers is another major undertaking & priority. New Belgium Brewing has three data centers - Fort Collins, Asheville, and Denver. The questions that the organization is grappling with are many but few have actionable answers. How does it leverage those data centers? Are they sized properly to pick up the business and manage growth? Do the data centers have the right infrastructure in the right places? Do they have the right applications running in the right places? How can multiple sites be leveraged and managed? If something were to go down, what should be the plan of action? Do they have the right back-ups? Do they have the right plans to bring the sites back up? To answer some of the questions New Belgium Brewing worked with several external consultants to conduct detailed studies and provide recommendations.
New Belgium Brewing is not done yet in terms of using technology to drive and manage growth. It is one of those examples of midmarket firms that are constantly searching for technology solutions that address and solve business problems. It cuts across three of the four Techaisle’s attitudinal segments – innovation-driven, agility-focused and productivity-centric. And above all, New Belgium Brewing is open to looking for the best IT supplier, it continues to remain committed and build on its relationship with Dell. It really values Dell’s intimacy, transparency and partnering for customer success.