Dutch distillery Lucas Bols is 444 years old, and is thus one of the oldest companies in the Netherlands. It is remarkably innovative for all that, both in how it develops new products and in its approach to management information. In Oracle Planning & Budgeting Cloud (PBC), external data is combined with the company’s own data in a detailed sales planning.
Predictability is key, says Eric de Vries, Finance Director Brands & Markets at Lucas Bols: “We work with more than 20 brands in 110 countries, with all the dynamism that this entails. To respond quickly within this environment, you need a good forecast. The more detailed your planning can be, the more predictable you can become.”
“We want to be able to see what the consequences of trends and developments are.”
Sales planning in Oracle Planning & Budgeting Cloud
To make this happen, Oracle PBC (formerly Oracle PBCS) is used for sales planning. The effects of trends and developments are immediately taken into account. “We want to be able to see what the consequences are,” says Eric, “if excise duties go up somewhere, let’s say, or if the Argentine peso is devalued. And we also want to be able to assess the impact of developments such as Brexit.”
With more than 20 brands in 110 countries, Lucas Bols is a major global player in liqueurs, genevers, gin, and vodka. The organization has been around for 444 years, thus making it one of the oldest companies still operating in the Netherlands. Despite this long business tradition, though, the company is really innovative. For example, new products are constantly being developed to respond to trends in consumer behavior, such as cocktails containing less alcohol or fewer calories.
Supporting a growth strategy
Lucas Bols wants to further strengthen and grow its global brands, such as Bols and Galliano. Detailed sales planning supports this strategy. As Eric puts it, “You need to be able to see where you think the growth will come from, and how you are going to make it happen.”
With these insights, specific KPIs for the commercial team and marketing are created. “It’s helpful,” says Eric, “if you can track the achievement of goals with facts. From a financial perspective, we can use the data to show whether or not something is successful.”
Combining external data with your own forecast
The forecast is fact-based and very detailed. A significant part of this data comes from external parties. Part of the forecast is also shared with another external party. This fits in with Lucas Bols’s organizational model: “Only in the US do we have our own subsidiary,” Eric explains, “while in the Netherlands we have a joint venture that we own half of. The rest is external: production has been outsourced, and there is a distributor for each market.” “We compare the forecasts from the 100 external distributors with the forecasts from our commercial team. And we then translate the results into a plan for the outside producer.”
As Timo van Leeuwen, Business Performance Management Consultant at Finext, explains, processing the data from so many external parties is quite a task: “The 100 different distributors deliver their data in 100 different formats. We then convert all of this data into a single sales plan in Oracle PBC.” Timo has been involved in the planning process at Lucas Bols as a consultant and trusted advisor for about 13 years.
From private-equity owned to initial public offering
Lucas Bols has been listed on the stock exchange since 2015. Prior to that, it had several owners: it was part of Remy Cointreau for a number of years, and after a management buy-out in 2006, a private-equity party came on board.
Eric de Vries sees a clear distinction between the information a private-equity party needs and that needed for a stock exchange. “Whereas private equity is primarily about the return on investment, shareholders also want to see the robustness of the profits, and whether these are in line with the strategy. And for that, you need more-granular detail.”
The initial public offering was thus one of the reasons the switch was made from Oracle Essbase to Oracle PBC. “We wanted to be able to provide more insights into where the growth is coming from,” says Eric: “Which brands, and which markets are thriving?” The emphasis is on financial reporting and the insights you can get from it.”
Innovation fostered by Oracle PBC, FCC, and ERP
It is not only in terms of how it develops its products and of its business model that this international distillery is an innovator. It also likes to be at the forefront in terms of its approach to its financial systems. A few years ago, Lucas Bols was one of the first organizations in the Netherlands to work with Oracle PBC.
In addition, Oracle Financial Consolidation & Close (FCC) and Cloud Enterprise Resource Planning are now being implemented. “It’s dangerous for companies to get their data from a lot of different systems,” says Eric. “I believe you should go for one system so that you have one source in which you record as much as possible. That way, you don’t waste time linking up all the different elements.”
Multi-day backup with Swap Automate
The standard back-up in Oracle cloud solutions stores only one day. That is reason enough for Lucas Bols to install Swap Automate. “When so many people are working in PBC,” says Eric, “there’s a greater chance that a mistake will be made, so it’s important that you can rectify it right away.”
This back-up functionality has been developed by Swap Support, a sister organization of Finext that specializes in support, to enable multi-day back-ups in Oracle cloud solutions as well.
Errors are often discovered only a few days after the fact. “We’ve found this out the hard way,” says Eric. “We then had to work with a manual backup that was already a few weeks old. So it was a no-brainer for us: we installed Swap Automate as soon as we heard it was out there.”
“Instead of discussing the calculations, we can now start questioning the details. The discussions are more about the content than about the process. And that’s how the quality goes up.”
Faster and better forecasts with Oracle PBC
Eric is up-beat about the new planning model Oracle PBC offers: “The big advantage here is that you can calculate scenarios much faster than before. Within an hour, I can see the consequences of something we see going on outside. It used to take us a day or two, and even then, we had to do a lot more in the way of manual calculations.”
The quality of the forecasting has also improved, he says: “Instead of discussing the calculations, we can now start questioning the details. The discussions are more about the content than about the process. And that’s how the quality goes up.”
A fully automated forecast
Eric is continually working on optimizing the planning process, one step at a time: “In addition to trends in volumes, I also want to see planning around trends in pricing: which flavors are doing well, and what are the consequences for our margins? And I want to add more outside sources, for example regarding consumer behavior. My ultimate goal is a fully automated forecast, where the trend metrics are already in place.”