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Steering Fevertree beyond spreadsheets and through the AI bubble?

Kate Stables on a tech transformation with AI on the horizon but humans at the core

Kate Stables, Head of Technology, Fevertree.

People will go to great lengths to deliver the perfect (gin and) tonic. But racing from manually populated spreadsheets to the brink of AI in four years?

That’s roughly the path Kate Stables has steered at Fevertree Drinks Plc since joining the firm as head of technology in 2021.

When Stables joined the premium drink mixer manufacturer it was just emerging from Covid, which had created multiple operational challenges – not least everyone being remote. But more pressingly, Fevertree was just 20 years old, and had grown incredibly quickly, particularly in the last 10 years. Its 2023 revenues came in at £364.4m and it has around 400 employees.

While it had had an ERP system since 2018 in the shape of NetSuite, its broader systems just hadn’t evolved in line with its growth. Running a business scenario typically meant pulling data from multiple sources– a days long process – and then pouring it into spreadsheets.

Stables, now global technology director and DEI Lead at Fevertree, kicked off a full maturity assessment of the firm’s capabilities, asking questions like “What are all the processes in the business? How does our business fit together? What's the business strategy?”

From there, the question was “What are the capabilities we need to support that and then understanding where we are, where we want to get to, where we want to be.” As well as maintaining a competitive advantage, she knew systems had to able to scale along with the business.

Stables worked with a partner firm, Pebble Business Transformation, to build out the business processes. “Which are largely focused on supply chain and finance because the kind of operational end, but obviously have key touch points with commercial and so on.” At the same time, it used that business process design to inform the RFPs for the new tech that would inevitably be needed.

That included choosing Anaplan for planning demand supply materials, and financial planning. It also brought in a transport management system and a new service management tool to support tech but also provide an end to end service management strategy across the company.

It chose Boomi to ensure “That every application that we were bringing in was able to be integrated with the others, to make sure we've got the same data flowing through. One version of the truth across the business.”

“We’ve kept NetSuite,” she adds, “And just made sure that NetSuite is plugged into everything else we’re doing.”

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That broadened tech palate coincided with an expansion of the tech team from two, when Stables joined, to 13.

“The way that I've set tech is that we are ultimately fusion teams of tech delivery, working hand in hand with the business teams.” What she didn’t want, she says, is a technology service centre approach, saying “give me your requirement and I’ll go away for six months and build it and come back to you.” Rather, it’s a product owner, product driven development model.

The result has been the removal of manual tasks throughout the company. The transformation means that running a business scenario now means “a couple of hours to get that data at our fingertips and make the decisions when they’re needed.”

This frees up business staff to spend more time on customer service or working more closely with suppliers. That’s critical as the firm outsources all its manufacturing. Its largest partner is in the UK, but it also has production in the US which unsurprisingly, is a massive growth opportunity – the US is now the company’s biggest single market. “Upscaling the production facility there is key,” says Stables.

Which emphasizes just how critical supply chain issues and quality control are, to ensure the right materials are in stock and in the right place to ensure a consistent product worldwide.

While the immediate aim of the transformation process was to eradicate manual processes and break the reliance on spreadsheets, AI was at least on the horizon from the start.

“It was part of the vision but much longer term,” says Stables. “Because we needed to build our foundations before we started putting the decorations up.”

The platforms in place now give Fevertree the ability to scale into the future she said. In the near term, Stables says, it’s a question of getting ready and ensuring the company is on top of risk, compliance, and governance issues around AI.

“In the meantime, we're making use of embedded AI, within the tools that we have.” That can mean utilizing some of the capabilities in its service management tool or using the Copilot features in Microsoft platforms to get some value.

“Large scale is about working with our partners on what that roadmap looks like over next three to five years,” Stables says. “Because we've done all this work to get the competitive advantage, to be in the right place. If we don't have that in our sights, we're not going to be in the right place in two years.”

Undoubtedly there will be lots of AI use cases across the business, says Stables. But it also has to remember that Fevertree is a customer focused business, both on a relationship level – and on a visceral, sensory level.

“Our brand proposition is great flavour, great ingredients, great taste,” she says. “We're not going to risk the brand by trying to replicate the humans.

See also: Google Cloud's Matt Renner: “Half of all AI PoCs are just a bad idea"