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“We expected a few drawings or designs to see what the product-tasting app would look like – but instead, they came in with a working model. We were all speechless, and really impressed at how fast Power Platform allows you to build something that works.”
Valery Thomas, Head of Business Intelligence, Analytics and Digitalization at Bell Food Group, recalls working with Microsoft partner, novaCapta – and how the low-code app they created helped his team begin to digitally transform one of Europe’s leading food processing organizations.
“At Bell, we’re food specialists not IT specialists,” he says. “Many have been working at the company for 30 years and have always known the same manual, paper-based processes, which can create a lot of inconsistencies.”
With no centralized system and rooms overflowing with paper, sharing important data across the wider group was a challenge – and audits were a timely and often painful process. But as a Business Intelligence (BI) specialist for over 10 years, Thomas knew the value that digitalization could bring.
The key was to start small with a simple use case that would provide quick results and get stakeholders on board for a bigger project. So, working with Microsoft and novaCapta, a proof of concept for Microsoft Power Platform was quickly put in place to help streamline the group’s product-tasting processes.
Founded in 1869, Bell Food Group is one of Europe’s leading processors of meat and convenience products.
With 65 sites across 15 countries and more than 12,000 employees, the group operates through a number of different ERP and BI systems. Combined with a paper-based culture throughout the wider business, IT integration and data sharing has been an ongoing challenge that until recently had never been a priority.
“We needed to build a strategy that would help consolidate this data so it can be accessed by everyone from a single source,” explains Thomas. “This meant starting small – building one area of the business into a proof of concept to get stakeholders on board before rolling out multiple solutions across the entire group.”
Thomas knew this first project would need to give fast results without investing a lot of money, so after exploring a number of use cases, he settled on an important area for Bell Food Group that would easily benefit from digitalization – product tasting.
The current process was simple. Participants are given a range of products to try and asked to rate them based on their look, smell, consistency and taste, with additional comments if anything is rated poorly. At the end of the week, written feedback from multiple tasting sessions is then inputted into an Excel spreadsheet for a product manager to review.
“A clear difficulty here is transparency,” he says. “The whole process is paper-based, which takes a lot of time and doesn’t allow any follow-up questions with the participants once all the data is in Excel.
“There’s also no reporting possibilities, but these were all parts of the process that we could help improve.”
With the first use case decided and a familiarity with Microsoft BI solutions, Thomas collaborated with a local Microsoft team to explore what technology would be best suited for the group’s needs.
The solution was Microsoft Power Platform – a strategic platform that allows organizations to easily analyze data, build end-to-end businesses solutions and automate processes through a range of intuitive low-code development tools.
“The initial proof of concept showed us how Microsoft Power Platform could really help digitize a lot of easy processes,” says Thomas. “Not only to help manage our product tasting, but also other business areas across Bell Food Group in the future too.”
This led Microsoft to introduce Bell Food Group to novaCapta – a Microsoft partner who had experience working with Power Platform and could help them create a Power App to streamline the product-tasting process.
“Power Platform is a low-code platform, so we were able to quickly build a Power App that showed off a lot of features they weren’t expecting to see,” says Marco Lötscher, Senior Business Consultant at novaCapta.
“Showing the data structure at this early development phase and how the Power App would look and feel really impressed Bell Food Group, and helped us make faster decisions about additional functionality that both product managers and participants would need.”
The Power App needed to be tailored toward two different groups – the participants taking part in the tasting sessions and the product managers controlling the sessions behind the scenes. Both needed different functionality and UX, which novaCapta were easily able to tailor through the various tools Microsoft Power Platform offers.
“We decided on Power Platform as it offers a lot of user interfaces and functionalities we could use out of the box to manage our business process flow,” says Lötscher. “It’s easy to sort and filter data, and allowed us to give product managers full oversight of an event across three stages: preparation, ready to conduct, and completion.”
A product tasting Power App was then created that could be added to the smartphones of participants, allowing them to easily choose from multiple-choice answers and add any additional comments through structured feedback criteria – helping product managers more easily compare answers among the testing group.
Managers also have their own version of the Power App that provides additional features, such as a live view of the tasting results and the ability to take pictures through the app and keep them on file for later reference. All in all, a more streamlined and efficient process for everyone involved.
Once the tasting moves into the competition stage, all results and feedback can be easily viewed by product managers as a BI report and shared to reduce decision-making time and show transparency with suppliers and B2B customers. “We also added an extra workflow that automatically generates a comprehensive PDF report of the tasting,” adds Lötscher. “Which helps provide long-term evidence for Bell Food Group to comply with any auditing or product revisions in the future.”
With the product-tasting app just one part of Bell Food Group’s overall transformation, this digitalization has already helped lower the group’s carbon footprint by reducing paper consumption and also provide higher quality data – helping to better track product development and reduce the time it takes to carry data-heavy processes like audits.
While Power Platform still has more to offer Bell Food Group to help centralize data and make other business processes more efficient, for Thomas, this is a positive step towards a paperless future. “We have multiple business areas outside of Switzerland that do similar product testing, and a lot of other ideas for new use cases and how we can evolve the app to suit other needs.”