Carlsberg ferments a business processes redesign with data in the cloud
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Carlsberg ferments a business processes redesign with data in the cloud

Mark Chillingworth — October 2019
Jawaz Illavia, VP for digital, commercial and data analytics for the brewer’s global business services unit, describes how data has become a critical ingredient for success in the beer business.

The new world of beer is frothing with competitiveness. Europe alone currently boasts around 10,000 beer-makers, as demand for craft beer has seen the number of microbreweries double in the past five years to more than 8,000.

That is putting incredible pressure on the larger, traditional players, who still dominate in terms of volume, to become agile innovators — not just in terms of developing new varieties of beer but in their business processes that surround its production too.

Jawaz Illavia was brought into the world’s fourth-largest brewer, Carlsberg, two years ago with an agenda to a refresh those business processes. As VP for commercial, digital and data analytics within the Danish company’s Global Business Services division, his remit was to apply new technologies, services and ways of working to help transform an organization where, by its own admission, modernization was overdue.

““Carlsberg”
Jawaz Illavia, VP for digital, commercial and data analytics, Carlsberg
While advanced technology is used in the R&D of brewing (from sensors in barrels that monitor freshness to AI that can predict the taste of beer varieties under development), there is also huge scope for new technology to enhance Carlsberg’s core business operating model, Illavia highlights.

A key focus for Illavia has been on application of technologies that enhance sales, marketing and R&D processes. Carlsberg is building a new range of sales and customer tools in-house using low code methods to help its teams understand and serve customers better, whether a bar operator or a beer retailer. “We are driven by our founders’ [ethos] to always pursue perfection and create a better tomorrow. This is as true for brewing beers as it is with [creating] the technology that drives our breweries,” he says.

He says the company, which sells 500-plus beers alongside its eponymous brand, including Kronenbourg 1664, San Miguel, Tuborg and Mythos, is aware that it has made a late start of to digital transformation.

That, Illavia argues, gives Carlsberg a ‘second-mover advantage.’ “Rather than following the path of companies a decade into their transformation, we need to use a Digital 3.0 mindset to fix 1.0 problems,” he says.
Data lake asset

Central to that vision is a focus on the data opportunity. Working from a relatively clean slate, Illavia has drawn inspiration from the approaches of the consumer market’s digital powerhouses, including several of the world’s social media giants.

“We wanted to look at data analytics in a different way,” he says. That has meant being set up to handle external data, such as market research or demographic data, in the same way as internal data, thereby smoothing issues around data integration and avoiding the need for elongated master data management efforts. That has allowed Carlsberg to accelerate the rationalization of the data it pulls from diverse sources, he says.

The launchpad for that has been the creation of a corporate-wide data lake hosted in the cloud on the Microsoft Azure platform. That central point of data interrogation has instilled a “mindset change” within Carlsberg, he says, with business colleagues now acutely aware that “data is an asset that can be used to drive business goals.”

Illavia says that has also enabled the organization to be much more agile and experimental. “Too often companies only focus on the output of a [data analytics] use case which often leads to a proof of concept that cannot scale.” While the output is very important, he says, it’s vital to also focus on the data sources to ensure they can be operationalized, scaled and extended.

“Get the data right and the outcomes will follow,” he says of creating good data governance that allows both PoC trials and improvements in business operations. “The data platform is going to drive the scale of what technology will do next for Carlsberg,” he says.

The adoption of cloud is by no means restricted to data. Carlsberg’s SAP business applications platform is now hosted in the cloud — a migration that was accompanied by a database move from DB2 to Microsoft SQL Server.

Illavia acknowledges this was “a bold move” but it has meant Carlsberg data can be safely exposed through APIs to technology partners, who can work within segregated areas of an Azure or AWS cloud. “The power of this means our partners can develop with us while not having to worry about data leaving the Carlsberg ecosystem,” says Illavia.
Reskilling for the new world of IT

To fuel that transformation Carlsberg has been ramping up its talent base — a skills pool that had become depleted at different stages of the IT department’s evolution.

“In the ’80s and ’90s, corporate IT functions were all about infrastructure. In the 2000s, the focus was on business processes management and outsourcing the organization’s technology,” he says. “In fact, one of the reasons pure digital players have been so disruptive is because they have the skills in-house.”

As a result, Carlsberg is building up internal capabilities in key technology areas such as software engineering and data analytics. It has also involved the company choosing the Portuguese capital of Lisbon as a global digital and analytics delivery center. As well as available talent and a flow of fresh STEM graduates, a Lisbon base helps keep operating costs in check.

“A strong core technology team is now the route to providing a joined-up customer experience, as well as providing the glue between us and our external partners — whether they are large consultancies or small start-ups,” says Illavia, who has company-wide responsibility for that tech skills build-up.

“For example, in areas such as user experience, it’s not just about making things look good, it’s about the design process that enables you to ensure that the UX you ultimately build is anchored to what the users really need,” he says.

“Start-ups are successful when they are obsessed with the customer — something which many corporates grow to neglect,” says Illavia, who draws on experience as head of digital transformation and global information systems at health and hygiene consumer goods giant RB and as IT director at marketing agency RR Donnelley.

“You cannot predict the future, but you can develop the capabilities in-house to ensure you can react and ultimately be a disruptor in the industry,” he says.
First published October 2019
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