The North British Distillery is one of the largest Scotch Grain Whisky producers in Scotland, managing around 1m casks in total. Operations are spread across various sites that include a distillery in Edinburgh; and warehousing facilities in Edinburgh, Muirhall, Livingston, Broxburn, Paisley, and East Kilbride. The Muirhall site is the main warehousing facility.
Ensuring this vast and disparate operation remains effective are two constants: Dave Smith (pictured right) who, as Stock Controller, is responsible for managing this produce; and the DRAMS system he relies on to do so.
Given that managing casks across multiple locations is an increasingly common challenge (“As everyone is aware, warehouse space is at a premium,” says Dave), we spoke with Dave to find out how he does it.
Dave Smith has worked at North British for more than 40 years and is a well-known figure within the industry. While his official title is Stock Controller, to the DRAMS team he fulfils another crucial role: we tend to refer to him as a ‘Superuser’ – that is, someone who knows the DRAMS system inside out; using this knowledge to improve operations and feeding into future product developments.
North British adopted DRAMS in 2008, replacing an AS 400 system that was becoming difficult to support. “Before we took on DRAMS we were of course all used to the AS 400 system functionality and there were a few concerns relating to the ability of DRAMS to access detailed data quickly enough. This proved to be totally unfounded,” says Dave. “In DRAMS it is easier to slice, dice and pull information. We have access to data in a way that was impossible before – and the ability to produce spreadsheets is done easily in a way that was not possible on the old system.”
“There are a number of excellent facilities on DRAMS but one of the most important elements that is used regularly is the palletised warehouse overview,” Dave continues. “We have a large amount of palletised stock, and DRAMS offers a graphical overhead view, so you can drill down to see exactly what’s in each pallet. This is vital for us: we have 10 DRAMS user licences across the business and most people will be using this view regularly.”
Interestingly, this feature was developed through collaboration between the DRAMS team and North British, says Dave: “We actually got this feature added to the system, and I would say it has been just as much of a benefit to the DRAMS team and other customers as it has to us.”
From a DRAMS point of view this is an extremely positive message to hear. After all, working closely with clients to build new functionality – and then passing new developments to other clients as part of the expanding core product – is a central part of the DRAMS product roadmap, and wider strategy to help our customers become successful.
But let’s return to Dave and his Superuser status for a moment. We wondered if Dave recognises the term and what it means to him. “Well, I did kick off DRAMS here and I’m the person here who knows the most about it. I am currently passing on this knowledge to my immediate team and the other DRAMS users to create the super users of the future!” he says.
“DRAMS is very powerful; people don’t realise the vast level of detail it holds, and it’s good to be able to bolt on additional modules where needed,” Dave continues. “DRAMS is central to everything we do and we’d be at a loss without it. If it stopped working tomorrow I’m sure we could survive for a little while with the paperwork – but there wouldn’t be many happy people here!” he jokes.
As Stock Controller, Dave has a team of three people: two are responsible for the day to day running of the Stock Control Department, and the third is a stock checker responsible for checking stock on a continual basis. “We used to do a random 10% check over a three-year period, but we are now doing a 100% stock check every year,” Dave reveals.
Clearly this is a significant – and impressive undertaking. “This provides comfort and reassurance to HMRC and to our customers,” says Dave, referring to the fact that North British manage casks for a number of customers. “Through this process we can demonstrate that our stock records are completely accurate and compliant.”
This level of commitment has very obvious benefits for North British: “Part of my job is to manage orders; when a customer needs a cask, we know exactly where it is, so we can find it and remove it. It’s accurate and saves a lot of time,” Dave concludes.
Clearly the DRAMS system – and of course Dave’s extensive product knowledge – is central to this process, but it goes further: “We also manage the buying and selling of stock; as well as producing invoices for warehouse rent for each customer. All this is managed through DRAMS and the system holds complete audit trails for all transactions,” Dave says.
Another big element of DRAMS is the communication with customers: “We have various interfaces with customers, from sending stock details to individual cask details to customers,” Dave explains. “We also have a bespoke interface with a major customer: We send the customer filling/ individual cask details and rent invoices as well as various stock reconciliation position details. The customer is able to input this data into their stock system allowing them to see the position of their stock in our warehouses. This helps them with the ability to manage their stock held by North British.”
“The interfaces with this customer have been in place for a number of years and have been enhanced at various times in line with changes to business requirements. These interfaces work very well and are of benefit to us as well as our customer,” Dave concludes.
This is another example of the DRAMS team delivering functionality to meet customers’ specific requirements: “As with anything we’ve asked the team for, the system they have put in has worked well,” finishes Dave.
Speaking to Dave, it is clear that the relationship he has with the DRAMS team is built on trust and respect. “The relationship is very good,” agrees Dave. “The DRAMS team know what we are looking for; they know what a warehouse looks like and what happens there! – so the system isn’t built only from a developer’s point of view. That was a big bonus when we chose DRAMS and remains the case today.”
Looking ahead, that relationship is set to further improve, given than North British have offered to host the 2015 DRAMS User Group. “We’re one of the major DRAMS clients and we are delighted to host the event,” says Dave. “After all, DRAMS is all about Stock Control and warehousing and we certainly have the warehouses and lots of stock in them!”