Paid Content This paid content was written and produced by RV Studios of Red Ventures' marketing unit in collaboration with the sponsor and is not part of ZDNet's Editorial Content.

Building a Competitive Edge with Cloud Apps

Using Microsoft Power BI, G&J Pepsi has built mobile apps that enable field personnel to capture relevant data and flow it into analytics systems in real time.

As we discussed in the previous blog, G&J Pepsi Bottlers employs some 1,100 mobile workers. Most of these are drivers and merchandisers, tasked with delivering beverages throughout G&J's territory in southern Ohio and eastern Kentucky, stocking displays, and making sure there's plenty of product for thirsty customers.

As G&J's IT staff embraced cloud computing, they equipped each mobile worker with his or her own smartphone, connecting the entire workforce with productivity and social tools like Yammer and OneNote. Once these apps were thoroughly adopted, G&J's team began to find new ways to leverage these mobile devices out in the field.

From server guy to business consultant

"A lot of our focus has been shifted," explained Eric McKinney, Cloud Services Manager at G&J. "We're getting more involved with the business and the business leaders -- improving processes, developing applications, reporting on data, mining data that used to be trapped on paper, trapped in places where you couldn't report on it."

"Everything runs on technology nowadays, so they need us to be involved and help make key decisions," said Nathan Foster, Business Application Manager. "As new business projects happen, we're right there alongside executives."

Turning mobile workers into data collectors

McKinney recalled that, before his team rolled out cloud-based productivity tools, many processes were paper-based. Store auditing, for example, involved G&J personnel visiting supermarkets and other stores, writing down which products were on display, in what quantities, and at what prices. They'd then report any pricing discrepancies or out-of-stocks at the end of the day.

"Our folks would go out, they would audit the store, they would write follow-ups, cover it with their managers, toss the paper aside, and move on," he explained. Moving the audit process to Microsoft OneNote eliminated paper, but the data was still unstructured. That's when the idea 'clicked' that Microsoft Cloud Services supported not just digital work tools, but database operations, as well.

"We built an application that captures those follow ups, captures that data," he said. Merchandisers fill out a simple form on their phones as they audit each location, and the information syncs immediately to G&J's cloud database. "We send it to Azure Database, and then we turn around and report against it using Power BI."

The data can be visualized and parsed in many different ways, helping G&J management resolve problems quickly and keep retail partners happy. McKinney explained that, with Power BI, he can look at inventory on display and how many follow-ups took place, drilling into the data by chain, by sales rep, and by customer.

Driving revenue while cutting costs

The store audit app is one example where mobile technology helps G&J do a better job serving its customers. On top of that, the ease of use and seamless tie-in to cloud-based data analytics and visualization makes it a natural fit for other bottling companies and even other direct-to-store food distributors, like snack makers. This kind of strategic development moves G&J into a new business - that of software provider.

"In November, we had no apps," McKinney said. "With PowerApps, from November until [May], we've got three or four apps, two are in beta, one is in production, we're on version 3, and people want more. We already have the underlying infrastructure in place. We can, quickly, develop these and then get these out to our people's hands."

One of the apps in beta is designed to streamline merchandiser workflows, McKinney said. Back-office processing for merchandiser mileage reports and equipment requests was a tedious, error-prone, paper-based process:

We talked to some of our sales training and logistics managers, who manage the merchandizers. One of their big requests was: These guys have to fill out pieces of paper, on a daily basis. They have to do the math. They have to bring that paper to their managers, so now they have to drive into the office. They have to drop it off. The manager has to double-check the time. They have to sign off on it. They have to scan it into accounting. Accounting has to double-check the math, and then they have to rekey that back into a system. Then, the controller has to review that ledger, sign off on it, and then pay that merchandiser.

McKinney and his team are working to automate this process and enable merchandisers to file all the necessary information via an app. The accounting staff at G&J estimates that this will save them five hours per week, on top of the time savings that merchandisers enjoy by not having to drive back to the office to deliver paper.

"These cloud technologies allow us to dive in and help," McKinney said.

To see the G&J team at work and read more about their cloud journey, please visit https://www.zdnet.com/article/cloud-strategies-mobility-collaboration-at-g-j-pepsi-cola-bottlers/