Infor ERP kicked out at closing time for Fuller's brewery biz while Microsoft Dynamics is invited to stay for lock-in

Pandemic offers chance to change focus just four years after £10m deal

UK pub and hotel chain Fuller's has bet the farm on Microsoft Dynamics to run its core finance system after it kicked out a £10m Infor system following the sell-off of its brewery business.

Pandemic lockdowns have ripped through the heart of the hospitality industry worldwide, but Fuller's said it used the "downtime" to select a new supplier for its core finance project.

In the company's most recent results it said it would be rolling out a new Microsoft Business Central software package in October this year to "simplify" ordering and accounts processes.

ERP experts have pointed out that Business Central is the low-end of Microsoft's financial application offer, which can be prone to challenges in terms of the number of active users and performance on large data sets. It was an unusual choice for a FTSE-listed company, one source said.

A spokesperson for Fuller’s told The Register: “We chose Microsoft Business Central as it is a proven system that is already being used successfully by other similar sized companies in our sector.”

It has taken a few rounds to reach the decision to go with Business Central, though.

In July 2019, the 200-year-old company said it had completed the implementation of the cloud-based Infor system, and was looking forward to reaping any benefits, according to its full-year statement.

The rollout had begun in 2017 with a 15-year Infor deal that included CloudSuite Food & Beverage, Infor Enterprise Asset Management, Infor Contract Lifecycle Management, Infor Customer Relationship Management, and Infor Dynamic Enterprise Performance Management to be deployed on AWS.

"Completion of the rollout of our new ERP system [has] taken up significant management time during the year, but with new systems in place and the transaction completed we can turn our attention to building for the future," it noted on page 13 of the report.

Implementation had continued despite the sale of Fuller's brewing business to Japanese beverage biz Asahi for £250m in January 2019. The ambition remained to "deliver [a] continuous improvement programme using the ERP system to drive [those] improvements."

However, the mood changed. Fuller's half-year statement [PDF] for the six months ended 28 September 2019 explained: "Planning [is] underway to replace [the] brewery-focused ERP system with a proven, appropriate and simplified accounting system."

In January 2020, Bronwen White, head of IT development at Fuller's, told The Register that the Infor rollout had been going on for three years and the solution had been "designed for a vertically integrated business that included brewing, packaging and distribution."

"It is clear that it is no longer appropriate following the sale of the Fuller's beer business," she said.

Fuller's said in its fiscal '19 accounts that its continuing investment in the Infor ERP systems had been £6.7m, primarily comprised of "consultancy and incremental additional staff costs to support the project." This was in addition to the £3.4m confirmed in fiscal '18 profit and loss accounts. While the FTSE-listed pub group waved goodbye to Infor, it looked ahead to digital ambitions expanded by the COVID-19 outbreak.

In its latest financial release, Fuller's said the central finance system is based on Microsoft Dynamics and scheduled to go live in the second half of the year. Since coronavirus-related restrictions enforced pre-booking of pub tables, something of an anathema to the beer-loving British public, the company is looking to speed up the rollout of "digital solutions" including Order & Pay and improvements to the central booking system.

Looking for a silver lining to the COVID cloud, the firm said it sees an opportunity in a "single customer view database [to] continually improve understanding consumers' behaviour – enabling the right message through the right digital media, increasing bookings and sales."

Fuller's results document said the company database had grown by 42 per cent to 1.6 million people, of which over 500,000 are opted in and fully contactable. ®

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