BRF, the largest poultry exporter with operations in 130 countries and boasts iconic brands including Sadia, Perdigão and Qualy, is using tech and digitising its Middle East operations to enhance supply chain management, waste management and predictive maintenance. Cristiano Possato, Head of IT, International Markets at BRF, tells Intelligent CIO Middle East how the company has integrated its value chain systems and enhanced workforce mobility using technology in Saudi Arabia.
BRF, one of the largest food companies in the world with 34 manufacturing plants in Brazil and another five abroad, is on a mission to offer increasingly tastier, good-quality and practical food to people around the globe through the sustainable management of a vivid, long and complex supply chain that provides everyone with a better life.
Headquartered in Brazil with a solid 90,000 employee workforce working out of 130 countries, more than 250,000 clients and millions of customers globally, the food multinational is not new in the Middle East, having established its footprint in the 1970s. The company’s main brand of frozen chicken Sadia, is the market leader in the poultry category and is recognised as the preferred brand across the Middle East.
In the GCC markets, BRF operates and follows its ‘farm to table’ approach with a fully integrated value chain, offering a wide range of quality products comprising whole chicken, chicken parts and ready to prepare products.
In 2016, BRF consolidated OneFoods, a subsidiary that positions BRF to be a leading food multinational in Islamic markets and with a high consumer preference.
Over the years, BRF Sadia has grown its operations in Saudi Arabia and following the COVID-19 pandemic, the company has partially revamped its IT infrastructure which has been leveraged to facilitate a full-scale shift of over 10,000 employees to a work from home (WFH) model.
Cristiano Possato, Head of IT, International Markets at BRF Sadia, said the Coronavirus pandemic has created challenges that only a handful of people could have imagined a few short months ago.
“The pandemic has drastically and radically changed the way we work and where we work. At BRF Sadia, all corporate functions and more than 10,000 employees across all countries in the world where we operate in have been migrated to a WFH model. This has posed a common challenge for the IT team, that is, how to enable and empower the team to fully function from outside the office parameters, while retaining the same level of security and performance? Thankfully, the governance and architecture to enable this mammoth operation was already in place.”
Possato said a few years ago, the company had initiated a project to partially revamp its IT infrastructure which was leveraged to facilitate a full-scale shift of over 10,000 employees to a WFH model. He said Microsoft Teams became one of the most important tools, connecting people and leveraging the virtual work experience, as well as Citrix brought the mobility scalability the organisation required.
Integrated business planning
With the growth the company has seen in the Middle East and in particular the GCC markets, deploying IT infrastructure to ensure the efficiency and resilience of its supply chain and logistics is critical.
And with many enterprise organisations in the Middle East rolling out Digital Transformation projects in order to keep up with the rapid growth and business needs, BRF Sadia has had to implement digitisation projects to boost proficiencies and agility in its complex value chain.
Possato said many supply chain digitisation projects implemented recently by the company have proved crucial to ensure resilience against this unprecedented situation created as a direct result of the pandemic.
“We have a long supply chain that spans from farm to table, hence we focus on projects like integrated business planning (IBP) in order to integrate and prioritise technology, people and process enabling the transformation. Such projects connect strategy with operations, local with global and volume with value. Over the course of implementation, we have been witnessing the benefits provided by these projects such as reduction on planning cycle, integrated global process, better forecast accuracy, mobility and increased team productivity,” he said.
AI and automation enhance operations
As the enterprise sector in the region is moving from process automation to decision automation in IT using Artificial Intelligence (AI), the technology brings in a proactive quality to an IT environment and that can guarantee better business and consumer experiences.
Possato explained that as BRF Sadia is one of the biggest food producers in the world, the company has partnerships with thousands of farmers who work meticulously to grow chicken, forecast the weight of the batch among other statistical studies.
“Since it is animal husbandry, it’s a complex activity as there are many metrics involved and the research needed can be very difficult to conduct. We managed to pilot an AI project to forecast the weight of a batch of chickens and the results are 65% assertive with limited number of variables. BRF Sadia also implemented a virtual assistance module called ‘EVA’, which operates with Machine Learning capabilities. Powered by IBM Watson, it is fully integrated with Service Now and WhatsApp, as a customer service support to our internal customers. Currently, EVA manages 2,700 requests per month and has streamlined process efficiencies by 94%,” he added.
According to Possato, another very promising initiative the company is working on is a programme to match large customer payments against their respective invoices, which will dramatically decrease the reconciliation efforts and reduce the clearance cycle.
“AI is a new language for us and one that we are keen to learn. As such, we are committed to daily learning and discovery of the various applications where AI can benefit our company and the entire operations. For BRF Sadia, this new technology holds unforeseen opportunity to rewrite the way things are being done internally as well as externally.”
With technology playing a crucial role in BRF Sadia’s supply chain management, waste management and predictive maintenance, it comes as not surprise that the company has embraced Digital Transforming all in an effort drive efficiencies and value in the supply chain and logistics.
Possato pointed out that the extensive digitisation in industrial and manufacturing sectors, which has been brought on by the Industry 4.0 concept as well as the Internet of Things (IoT) technologies is creating substantial opportunities for efficiencies and value creation.
He said the technological concepts are driving solid changes to supply chain and logistics, and a result, BRF Sadia has embraced Digital Transformation as a key pillar, which it has recently been heavily invested in.
“Recently, we went live with the Industry 4.0 project in the context of a few of our factories and the immediate production benefits were quite clear: Real-time production monitoring has been streamlined and optimised, higher quality control at the fraction of the waste and manual labour, improved efficiency of operation and cost reduction by IoT applications, diminished production downtime and enhanced productivity and increased output, traceability and general maintenance.
Possato noted that in comparison with the banking or telecoms industry sectors, the fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) businesses have not historically been operated at the vanguard of digital technologies. However, he said the increasingly competitive nature of this market as well as constantly shifting consumer trends have pushed many companies to adopt technological prospects in order to flourish in the market.
“TheFourth Industrial Revolution is changing how companies operate, in many different aspects. From communications, to customer interactions to process optimisation, the onset of Digital Transformation has moulded traditional business components into a streamlined version of itself. This new change will in turn innovate on those legacy systems and replace them with new operational models that will help to reduce costs, develop new products, adapt to market shifts, as well as adapt to new competitors in their markets,” he said.
Possato added that as the food industry is quickly learning the importance of tech adoption, it is vital to understand that technologies only play one part of the change and concepts like AI, Big Data, Machine Learning and IoT must be tailored to specific business needs and their requirements.
“Additionally, the people culture also plays a huge role in the adoption of these tools and an organisation must train its people to use these systems and adopt a more hands-on approach.”
With IT security high on most organisations in the Middle East as cyberthreats continue to evolve, it is important that enterprise secure their own IT environment.
Possato said BRF Sadia has an IT infrastructure centralised and partially outsourced with specialised suppliers managing 30,000 users and running 70% of its applications on the cloud.
“This architecture assists in the flexibility and scalability of our operations. Since the COVID-19 pandemic has facilitated an environment in which cyberthreat actors can exploit IT infrastructure, we have followed best practices and shifted efforts to mitigate risk by implementing multi-factor authentication to restrict access and protect enterprise networks, strengthening all layers of IT security and firewalls and initiating training and awareness campaigns about phishing and social engineering.
“In addition, we have enhanced Business Continuity and endpoint protection, adapted access control, data loss prevention (DLP)and monitoring procedures, improved the remote access management policy and procedures and ran multiple penetration testing procedures to ensure highest level of security within our IT environment.”Click below to share this article