Marston's turns to Bluefin for strategic IT support and advice

Bluefin's Support Service has allowed Marston’s to maximise the benefits of SAP without the hassle. Like many SAP users, brewing giant Marston's discovered it didn't have the breadth of skills in-house to make the most of its implementation. So it turned to Bluefin for support.

Bluefin started providing routine front-line support services for Marston's. But its flexible approach, expertise, energy and openness saw the relationship blossom. Bluefin now routinely contributes to Marston's strategic plans for its SAP set-up.

The problem

"Marston's is a £600m turnover business, but we only have 28 full-time IT staff. As soon as you move to SAP, you need a very diverse skill set – it's hard to develop all the competencies you need with a relatively small number of people. So you're talking about a requirement for a 20-something-strong team just in support and development, not just the whole department." Phil Cartwright, Systems Development Manager, Marston's

In fact, Marston's had a number of third-party vendors supporting its SAP implementation. While this ensured access to some of the niche expertise it needed to exploit the power of the system, the arrangement was also unwieldy.

When you have a number of suppliers all with a small interest in a larger undertaking, it becomes too easy for individual issues to be passed around." Phil Cartwright, Systems Development Manager, Marston's

A third problem was that demand for support was far from constant. Both in-house IT teams and its consultancies would face quiet periods, followed by intense bouts of activity.

"It's not just the range of skills we required. The demands on an IT function like this are elastic. It just wouldn't be efficient to staff-up for peak demand and have people idle at other times." Phil Cartwright, Systems Development Manager, Marston's

The solution

Marston's needed to find an expert SAP partner to support its systems.

"A Bluefin consultant was already at Marston's to support their SAP platform. At that point, they decided to set up an ongoing support contract which has really grown with increasing SAP support." Mark Buchanan, Former Support Services Director, Bluefin Solutions

Bluefin's in-depth strength in SAP solved the first problem: the need for breadth of expertise. The Marston's IT team is still a critical component – they have important project management and development roles.

"But they're free to focus on these areas now we run all their support services. And because we have more SAP experts with a broader range of skills than a company of Marston's size would ever be able to justify in its IT department, we can offer them a degree of flexibility that suits them perfectly." Mark Buchanan, Former Support Services Director, Bluefin Solutions

That breadth of expertise also dealt with another problem, the proliferation of suppliers. 

Marston's is in complete control of the arrangement. We provide straightforward weekly reports on usage and performance and feedback is a crucial aspect of what we do. If we sat remotely just answering support queries, it simply wouldn't work. We try to work as an extension of the customer's team, like an invisible member of their IT group." Mark Buchanan, Former Support Services Director, Bluefin Solutions

Because Bluefin services a number of clients, additional resources can be drawn in when Marston's demands peak.

"Bluefin can smooth demand across their client base. If you're too dictatorial about dedicated resources, you weaken the support service and that means you weaken your own business. But when we need help, they deliver every time." Phil Cartwright, Systems Development Manager, Marston's

As a result, Bluefin has undertaken Marston's SAP support for the past three years.

Why Bluefin?

"Bluefin was in the early stages of developing BOSS when we started talking – so they seemed like a good fit for us. We knew they were industry leaders in BW development – and their support offering was just as strong."
"In any case, it had become apparent that supporting a small part of an SAP implementation wasn’t the best use of resources. Bluefin understood that, saw the potential to set up a flexible approach covering a host of potential issues and so the arrangement was escalated." Phil Cartwright, Systems Development Manager, Marston's

Bluefin offers an innovative approach to account management. Rather than offer customers a fixed support contract, the team tailors its offering to each situation.

"We don’t walk in and put a fixed price on the table – it’s more like a menu card. Together, we can assemble exactly the right service for the client." Mark Buchanan, Former Support Services Director, Bluefin Solutions

Building relationships

The support offering was immediately attractive to Marston's and the way the service is run has cemented the relationship. The watchword is "partnership". For example, Bluefin staff routinely train customers' own IT personnel to fix commonly occurring problems – it's real "open book" support.

"By enabling the customer to handle things themselves, we build up an entirely different level of trust and customers feel able to come to us with more challenging issues and questions." Mark Buchanan, Former Support Services Director, Bluefin Solutions
"We've also really appreciated their ability to work with the business. If you outsource support, you need your provider to interface with the business teams, otherwise your own IT function can become an interfering layer. So we love to see people working together onsite – and the Bluefin guys are willing to develop relationships with a bit of face time." Phil Cartwright, Systems Development Manager, Marston's
"There are lots of reasons for the success of this relationship. But one must be that, three years into the relationship, the same Bluefin team who were working on the contract at the beginning are still here."
"A lot of outsourcing companies will move their best people around different clients, and backfill with juniors once they're up and running. But while managing customer relationships at the senior levels is important, we think it's critical to lookat how they work on the ground, too." Mark Buchanan, Former Support Services Director, Bluefin Solutions

A strategic partner

The drinks industry is very competitive and the pricing of products, for example, is extremely sensitive. Marston's needs every advantage available in terms of efficiency and clarity within the business.

"So once one part of the operation has been improved, it's straight onto something else. That's why it's essential their own IT people are free to focus on development and building their own relationships throughout the business – without worrying about support." Mark Buchanan, Former Support Services Director, Bluefin Solutions

But the strength of the relationships and Bluefin's willingness to share knowledge has elevated the arrangement from straight-forward support to something far more high level. The brewer now gets the Support Services team involved in areas like remote development and even strategy.

"We certainly provide a lot of input around issues such as upgrades." Mark Buchanan, Former Support Services Director, Bluefin Solutions
"Without a doubt, Bluefin is Marston's key IT supplier. They're the people I go to first on any issue." Phil Cartwright, Systems Development Manager, Marston's

That's why Marston's has recently added its order fulfilment process – "the crown jewels of the business", according to Phil, to the Bluefin Support Services arrangement.

Key benefits

  • Straightforward billing and contract management.
  • Expertise on tap, allowing the client to exploit every facet of SAP.
  • Flexibility to manage bursts of support and development activity.
  • Consistency of personnel.

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