Case Study: Distant Lands

Coffee Company Cost-Effectively Extends the Reach of ERP Companywide

"Light User licenses let us extend business-critical information from Microsoft Dynamics GP to help people throughout the company work more effectively—at a fraction of the cost of full licensing."

Steve Wales, IT Director, Distant Lands Coffee

Business Needs:
Founded in 1982 and with headquarters in Renton, Washington, Distant Lands Coffee has 500 full-time employees and operations that span from coffee growing, milling, and processing to shipping, importing, roasting, and packaging.

With such comprehensive operations, Distant Lands Coffee offers what Steve Wales, the company's IT Director, describes as "seed-to-cup delivery." In other words, for roughly 50 percent of its product, Distant Lands Coffee owns and manages the entire coffee production process—from the farm, to roasting, to distribution, to retailers. Because of this, says Wales, "We have the quality control that other medium to large roasters can't offer." For the remaining 50 percent of the company's coffee, Distant Lands Coffee does business with farms that it does not own, working diligently to implement quality-control processes and follow fair-trade practices across the supply chain.

The company sells its products primarily to food services companies and grocers as private-label brands. Distance Lands Coffee also generates significant revenue by selling its green coffee beans to other roasters. The company's major accounts include McDonald's, Safeway, and Panera Bread.

Distant Lands Coffee's recent history is one of significant growth through successful business development and the merger of three companies. In fact, over the last five years, the company has experienced year-over-year growth of 20 percent, bringing with it new challenges. "Through the merger, we inherited several incongruous systems for running the business," says Wales. "We needed a way to standardize on one system, and we also required more sophisticated financial-management capabilities because our company had undergone significant maturation."

Reflecting on the state of technology in the business at that time, Wales adds that, "All the work that a company would normally do with an ERP system, we were doing in a piecemeal manner with spreadsheets. To get information and reports not at hand, employees would generally call on the help of IT, which took days or even weeks to turn around. We have a very smart, talented IT team who can deliver any solution needed, but we needed them to focus on innovation and growth, not simple data extractions and reporting."

To take charge of its growing operation, Distant Lands Coffee worked with Microsoft Gold Certified Partner The Resource Group to deploy Microsoft Dynamics GP. Says Wales, "We felt that Microsoft Dynamics GP offered everything we needed and that it could grow with the company over the foreseeable future, making it a really great value proposition for us."

Comprehensive Functionality
At Distant Lands Coffee, business management with Microsoft Dynamics GP is pervasive. The company uses Microsoft Dynamics GP for core financials, including general ledger, accounts payable, and accounts receivable. Distant Lands Coffee also takes advantage of the solution's manufacturing and distribution functionality to fulfill orders and track inventory, including coffee and packaging materials.

Today, Distant Lands Coffee employees in Renton and at the company's facilities in Tyler, Texas; Burlington, Vermont; and Bar Harbor, Maine, work with Microsoft Dynamics GP. In the future, Wales plans to extend the solution to the coffee-growing team in Costa Rica.

Light User Model
Of the company's 500 employees, 45 employees use Microsoft Dynamics GP extensively. However, to keep operations running smoothly, an additional 238 employees need access to key information in the system. To provide these employees with the information they need, without incurring full licensing costs, Distant Lands Coffee takes advantage of the Light User licensing model for Microsoft Dynamics GP.

Through Light User licensing, employees at Distant Lands Coffee can use familiar tools, such as Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Word, and Microsoft SharePoint Server, to directly access the business-critical information they need from the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. At Distant Lands Coffee, employees who have Light User access include:

Customer service staff who create customer letter templates in Word that automatically populate with data from Microsoft Dynamics GP.
Department leads in finance, sales, distribution, and purchasing who need access to reports, key performance indicators, and other relevant information to better manage their respective areas of the business.
Executives who need decision-driving reports either directly in Excel or in an easy-to-use dashboard.
Says Wales, "With the Light User license, we've extended information from our ERP system to employees across the company—and they can access that information in the tools they are familiar with. Employees may not even always know they are actually connecting with Microsoft Dynamics GP, but the solution provides them with exactly the information they need to do their jobs."

Wales adds, "The measurable benefits of providing information in this way are increasing inventory turns, better use of working capital, aligning stock to actual demand, faster month-end closing, and faster and more accurate financial management and reporting. Most of all, these users require less support from IT, which allows us to deploy our limited time to other high-value initiatives."

Future Plans
Wales and his IT team of four currently work to get even more value from Microsoft Dynamics GP through closer integration with SharePoint Server. Microsoft Dynamics GP runs on a Microsoft SQL Server database, making it possible to use SQL Server Reporting Services to publish to SharePoint Server dashboard reports that draw on ERP data. Wales and his team publish these reports to the Reports Center—a resource site in SharePoint Server. The team is also looking at implementing demand-planning and warehouse management system integrations in the future.

By implementing Microsoft Dynamics GP, Distant Lands Coffee has a solution that it can take advantage of now and as the company continues to grow. Says Wales, "At a low cost and with great efficiency, we can accomplish most of what we hope to achieve with business technology by using Microsoft Dynamics GP."

Control Costs
By providing 238 of its employees with Light User licenses, Distant Lands Coffee avoids the costs of full-user licenses without sacrificing the ability for employees to do their jobs effectively. Says Wales, "For every user we can deploy Light User license tools to, we save $1,800 versus a full license."

For Distant Lands Coffee, the value of Microsoft Dynamics GP far exceeds the actual costs. Wales adds, "We've benefited from the low initial and ongoing investment of Microsoft Dynamics GP and taken advantage of its sophisticated features, which are more common among much larger systems."

Enable People, Prepare for Growth
Providing employees companywide with the information they need ultimately means better individual productivity and team effectiveness, helping everybody throughout the organization prepare for the challenges of company growth. Says Wales, "Certainly, the whole implementation of Microsoft Dynamics GP has been about increasing our efficiencies as a company—about how we can get the right information to the right people in an easy-to-consume matter. That's key to our growth."

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