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Bongards Creameries Unlocks Greater Efficiency and Process Improvements with Aptean ERP and Smart Hub

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Bongards Creameries Unlocks Greater Efficiency and Process Improvements with Aptean ERP and Smart Hub

May 23, 2023

John McCurdy
Dairy cows drink from a basin at sunset.

With more than a century of experience in the dairy sector and a reputation for high quality, Minnesota-based Bongards Creameries is well established as a leading provider of cheeses, both natural and processed, as well as powdered whey. The business manufactures hundreds of millions of pounds of finished products each year and serves a variety of clients across the globe in the foodservice, retail, convenience store, institutional and industrial channels.

While the organization remains true to its roots as a vertically integrated 300-farmer co-op, Bongards and its leadership team haven’t given in to complacency and accepted the status quo as “good enough.” Instead, they’re building on their long track record of success by deploying new solutions and smarter ways of working, with purpose-built software at the core of their strategy.

The company’s digital transformation journey began over 25 years ago with the implementation of Aptean’s process manufacturing enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, and the software’s costing, maintenance and manufacturing features have helped to improve operations significantly. More recently, Bongards added Aptean Smart Hub to its tech stack and that decision is also paying dividends in terms of increased efficiency.

“Part of it was just realizing that, in a 100-year-old company, you’re doing stuff in notebooks and spreadsheets,” Bob Grinsell, business analyst at Bongards, said. “Our leadership finally reached a realization that the company wasn’t going to grow, be able to make more product or gain more market share, if we’re going to keep doing everything manually—it’s just too slow.”

To more fully explain the ways in which Aptean’s solutions have allowed Bongards to increase productivity, streamline processes and boost the bottom line, we spoke with Grinsell and Justin Ruud, IT applications specialist at Bongards, for their first-hand take. Our conversation also covered how our collaborative approach to serving as a technology provider leads to better outcomes for our customers and lasting partnerships.

Solving Critical Business Challenges

One of the most valuable aspects of ERP platforms is that they act as a unified database and organization-wide “single source of truth,” which facilitates faster, more informed decision-making and helps to prevent duplication of data. By connecting with electronic devices—including handhelds like barcode scanners—Aptean’s process manufacturing ERP can also automate the collection process and thereby save time while improving accuracy.

“The data collection is what I’m most proud of and would say is our most significant accomplishment achieved thanks to Aptean ERP,” Ruud said. “That was my big project to get done, and I had a lot of great support from the Aptean team—a lot of hands-on help. And it went really well.”

The software has also helped Bongards get a better handle on costs with dedicated tools for that purpose, which has driven greater profitability and improved visibility of financial data. Meanwhile, integration between the ERP and Smart Hub has allowed for automation of warehouse processes, leading to big gains in efficiency and better inventory control.

“One of the huge impacts was automating inventory and warehousing down at our Humble, Tennessee, plant,” Grinsell said. “We’ve got automated guided vehicles and robots out there moving pallets and barrels seven stories high, and it’s all being run through Smart Hub and Aptean ERP, as they’re controlling everything in the plant. You see stuff moving without any human intervention—so that’s been amazing.”

Additional Smart Hub automations deployed by other departments have led to considerable benefits. For example, the accounts receivable team’s use of auto-invoicing saved 23 hours of work in a three-month period, and depending on the month could save as much as two and a half weeks of one person’s time. Automatic alerts for approaching credit limits and other potential issues have also helped the customer service team shift to a more proactive approach.

“Aptean systems have made our operations more efficient so that we can actually have an opportunity to expand our market now,” Grinsell said. “We’re doing things in less time and can use people more efficiently.”

Working with Aptean’s Customer Success Teams

From the time of the original ERP implementation to the deployment of Smart Hub and up to the present day, Bongards’s employees have come to rely on the dependable support of Aptean’s customer success professionals. That’s included best practice advice during the roll-out that helped to ease the transition between the old, accepted ways of doing things and the new methods facilitated by the systems.

“When you make a big change like that, it’s a culture shift for the plant,” Ruud said. “You can end up bumping heads with the existing culture, but with the Aptean support, it was smooth and simple.”

Staff at Bongards have also appreciated swift response times for their inquiries and assistance with learning the ins and outs of our ERP, Smart Hub and their functionalities. They know that they can always tap into the wealth of knowledge that our support and service teams have, and that in turn helps them get more out of their technology.

“When I ask questions or for clarification, responses are always well-informed,” Grinsell said. “Aptean’s customer success representatives understand not just the system but also what we’re doing with the system. And they’re always very responsive and understanding of what we’re trying to do and what the problems might be.”

“Aptean has some very talented people on the support team, no doubt,” added Ruud.

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hours of work saved by Bongards Creameries over a three-month period thanks to auto-invoicing with Aptean Smart Hub

Growing the Business and Scaling the System

Going forward, Bongards’s team is confident that they’ll be able to get more and more out of their Aptean systems over time by working closely with our internal experts and leveraging additional features. Grinsell and Ruud point out that improvements made in process mapping are helping the organization develop a more forward-thinking mindset, and they’re excited by what’s to come.

“We’ve been looking at the graphical scheduling tool and all those features that simplify modifications to a release,” Grinsell said. “They simplify that process to just a click or a keystroke. So in the next few months, I definitely think Aptean ERP is going to streamline how we do longer-term planning and scheduling.”

Smart Hub has enabled integrations with the company’s transportation management system (TMS) and Document Connect, which personnel use to manage paperwork in a digital format, for great results. Still, additional integrations are possible, especially considering Bongards has team members with expertise in structured query language (SQL) to implement them.

What’s more, the platform offers additional time-saving automations that Bongards can put to use in the future, including inventory minimum alerts that can inform procurement plans and help ensure that the business doesn’t run low on critical materials when they’re needed to fulfill pending orders. Price adjustment automations are already making it easier to work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture—one of the company’s largest clients—and can potentially be utilized with other high-volume customers.

Imparting Advice for Business Solution Implementation

When asked what advice they’d give to the decision-makers at another business considering a new solution implementation, both Grinsell and Ruud are quick to concur on one key point—it’s vital to have internal champions for the change that can generate buy-in among team members. That can help get everyone on the same page, eager for the improvements to come and ready to embrace the challenge.

“Get advocates in the plant excited, and quickly,” Grinsell said. “Get a couple of your plant managers, your logistics people—get them sold that the solution is going to help them excel once they go through the transition and adapting how they do things.”

“You get them championing it, and it’s much easier during implementation and adoption to get more of the organization on board. They’re the ones who will have their hands on it, so if they’re bought in, you’ve solved a lot of problems already,” he concluded.

It’s also important to demonstrate how everyone’s jobs will be easier with the solution in place. Leaders can help impress upon workers that ERP software, as well as integration- and automation-enablers like Smart Hub, are designed in part to promote efficiency and eliminate the need for tedious manual processes. That means employees will have more time to put their unique skills and qualifications to good use on mission-critical tasks.

Working closely with a provider like Aptean is also a good way to increase the chances that deployment goes smoothly and the company sees the desired results come about through the use of the system. It’s ideal if the company can act as an ally—not just a vendor focused on selling a product—and is willing to offer guidance based on experience, awareness of industry complexities and modern best practices.

“It was definitely easier to do with Aptean representatives who came on-site to help,” Ruud said. “They’ve seen it done in plenty of other places, so they’ve experienced it and can communicate the benefits to get people on board.”

Understanding What Makes Aptean a Top Provider

The story of Bongards Creameries and the organization’s successful digital transformation efforts is just one example of Aptean’s superior solutions and dedication to customer satisfaction in action. There are additional reasons to trust us for your business technology needs, some of which have been alluded to before but are nonetheless worth reiterating in closing.

First, there’s the collective decades of expertise that our team has accrued working in our target industries and with clients that serve them. Our dedicated professionals really “speak your language” and have a good grasp of the nuances inherent in various product niches. That allows us to assist you in overcoming the challenges you face and provide guidance during implementation, including helping to sketch out a roadmap with observable milestones and a realistic timeframe for the project.

Beyond that, we also offer more than ERP solutions and Smart Hub—our complete solution ecosystem extends to overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), enterprise asset management (EAM), product lifecycle management (PLM) and transportation management systems (TMS). The fact that we can serve many different needs can simplify your search for a provider and help you form a more cohesive tech stack.

Finally, our high ranking on The Software Report’s Power 500 Software Companies of 2023 is a testament to our products’ quality and reliability, as well as our commitment to customers and organizational reputation. We came in at the 30th spot overall, putting us in the top 10% of businesses included—truly the upper echelon.

Ready to learn more about Aptean’s purpose-built solutions and how they can serve as the foundation for your business’s digital transformation? Contact us today, or request a personalized demo.