Stone Brewing's IT chief Brian Andrews on cloud, scaling, and business collaboration

Stone Brewing bet on ServiceNow to revamp its processes as it doubled its beer production and rapidly expanded.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Stone Brewing is best known for its IPAs and extensive menu of beer, but there's a lot of cloud computing and management involved in doubling from 150,000 barrels a year to 300,000 and expanding rapidly.


Stone Brewing's Brian Andrews

That scaling exercise -- San Diego-based Stone added a brewing facility in Richmond, VA and a bistro in Berlin at the same time -- meant the mid-sized company had to become more efficient, ditch manual processes and pick a cloud platform that could be managed by a lean technology team in concert with business decision makers inside the company.

Ultimately, Brian Andrews, vice president of IT, picked ServiceNow as an automation platform for multiple parts of Stone's business and its various outposts. We caught up with Andrews to talk shop, scaling, and Stone's beer portfolio:

What's the approach to the cloud? "We'd like to have every application we can run in the cloud," said Andrews. "We don't want client servers and customized software, server maintenance and version updates. We want to hand that to cloud providers." Nevertheless, Stone had to customize a bit on ServiceNow until the company could create the modules the company needed.

Line of business meets tech buying. When Andrews arrived at Stone, many business groups were evaluating software packages. The marketing team had a system for sales. The facilities team had their pick. "We saw all the needs of the business and every group wanted to buy what they liked," said Andrews.

The catch was that the IT group couldn't support disparate suites and platforms. Andrews called a time out to see if there was one platform that could meet 80 percent of the business unit needs. "Some groups didn't have any systems and were relying on Excel and email for metrics," said Andrews. Andrews said he started with the business groups first with ServiceNow and then will do IT help desk. What makes ServiceNow interesting is that it's a cloud platform that can be used to automate multiple business processes. "We're a midsized company with a small IT team. We just can't support five applications that were 80 percent as the same as others," said Andrews.

What was most critical system to move to cloud? Andrews said Stone's expansion abroad and on the east coast made its maintenance system automation project critical. "We were going to two shifts and 24/7 so we had to track equipment and needed planned maintenance," he explained. "Any downtime is painful."

Another key process that had to be automated was safety tracking and hazards in the workplace." Previously, Stone had a manual tracking system. Facilities also needed a system to track business needs. After all, Stone was expanding in Berlin, Germany and in the U.S.

What advice do you have on scaling? Andrews said that companies need to focus on an IT strategy that enables you to scale. Roughly speaking, that approach means you put in a core set of tools and hardware that can scale rapidly with cloud computing. With applications, scaling means "choosing a limited set of features for core functions and then using as broadly as you can," said Andrews.

How does the IT agenda look? Next up for stone is a project management system via ServiceNow to manage the 30 new beers that roll out a year. Stone has about a dozen core brands that are brewed each year, but the 30 beers are completely new. "These beer releases are collaboration releases and seasonal," said Andrews. "Some of them we may not see again. We also do collaborative beers with celebrities." With 30 new beers, there are a lot of moving parts. Core Stone brews are accounted for under daily planning. Tasks were previously doled out via Excel spreadsheets and each department had its own list. ServiceNow will be the platform, but Microsoft Project Manager has more features. The goal is to get 80 percent of the project management features from a core platform. Human resources has potential for a rollout in the next year and Andrews will ultimately automate more IT processes.

And the return on investment? Andrews didn't have to stretch to justify the ServiceNow projects. He said going with a single platform means that each department doesn't have to spend $250,000 a year on hardware, licensing and labor. "These savings are ongoing year after year," said Andrews. Another example is that the brewery operations team saw a 55 percent reduction in unplanned downtime. "Now instead of being reactive, we're are planning downtime," said Andrews. There was also a 71 percent reduction in unplanned equipment interruptions. In addition, safety issues were down by 45 percent because having a tool to report problems beat manual tracking. Another perk is that the cloud aligns with Stone's environmental sustainability goals.

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