At Swift Prepared Foods, a subsidiary of JBS USA, producing food products, such as sous vide entrees, bacon, canned hams, and deli meats, is all in a day’s work.
As Matt Goldsby, Director of IT at Swift, will detail at the upcoming ASUG Best Practices: SAP S/4HANA® and SAP Business Technology Platform (BTP) conference (March 7–9, in Glendale, Arizona), activating the power of SAP BTP has been instrumental in unlocking Swift’s true business potential while leveraging the economies of scale and production optimization enabled by JBS USA’s access to major world markets.
Goldsby, a veteran of SAP technology since 2004, has managed full lifecycle implementations of SAP and many peripheral modules that support and enhance the SAP workspace. Between his keynote address, “Activate the Power of SAP BTP to Accelerate Innovation,” and another event session, “Automation and Problem Solving with SAP BTP,” Goldsby will reflect on how Swift Prepared Foods has used BTP to save time and money while increasing accuracy and preparing its global organization for future digital transformation, including its very imminent go-live on SAP S/4HANA.
This is an edited version of our conversation.
Q. How did you arrive at this place in your career where you’re simultaneously working on an SAP S/4HANA migration and working within BTP?
A. I've been very fortunate to have been aligned with companies that are forward-thinking in terms of technology. It’s not uncommon for a technology company to spend 7% to 10% of its budget on technology initiatives. But you’re not going to find that in the consumer-packaged goods (CPG) or food and beverage industry. We don't spend numbers approaching that, but I have been very fortunate to have been aligned with companies that prioritize the enablement of technology and how it benefits the business. Personally, I draw a very distinct line when it comes to implementing technology: it has to serve the business purpose. There has to be a value that we can immediately associate, that can be articulated, and that doesn't require a bits and bytes degree to understand. That’s always one of my pet peeves—when my colleagues speak over the business leaders’ heads, trying to articulate a specific or associated business value. It's really black and white and straightforward to me.
As for what drives the conversation, we are obviously in a very cost-sensitive environment as of recently. This year brings a lot of challenges across our economy. I think you're going to see a lot more reticence in spending this year, and we’ve already seen huge amounts of cuts in personnel in different segments and companies. Some marquee customers or businesses have made broad announcements in that regard. When you have a more introverted economy, you tend to be more focused and have a higher priority because the risk tolerance goes way down. We have to be focused on that as an organization.
Q. What was Swift Prepared Foods’ path to BTP, specifically?
A. Organic growth presents one challenge, but growth by acquisition presents another challenge. You get an amalgamation of businesses, platforms, and processes between which there may not be a direct correlation. And yet, you have to maintain certain businesses for some period of time. Integration of those business platforms is always a challenge because you’re on this version/platform, and they’re on that version/platform. You make all kinds of concessions with a roadmap going forward. Everybody has probably heard or been part of those conversations.
I started with Plumrose USA, which is what Swift was formerly known as; it was held by Danish Crown up until 2017. I was brought on in 2013 specifically to implement SAP for Plumrose. Danish Crown was an SAP shop, and Plumrose had been a holding of Danish Crown for quite a while, yet the inconsistencies between platforms didn’t allow for a lot of synergy between the parent company and Plumrose. I was brought on in 2013, and we went live on SAP in 2015. We had $500 million in gross revenue and continued to advance along in that regard with a pricing process that was fairly manual. The market in meat processing is somewhat dated, with a lot of manual processes; the market fluctuates because pork bellies and muscles are still traded on the market. There are the dynamics of customers wanting to make sure that those are formula-based for food services, which is yet another market that’s challenging to sell into when you're dealing with meat products.
The best way to accommodate this had been to that point manual; it was a world where pricing records were created manually, every day, for some period of time. One individual, who has been with the company for a very long time, was responsible for all of the pricing. The manual introduction of pricing brought errors. Sometimes, we would end up charging customers millions of dollars for a product that obviously wasn't worth millions of dollars. Conversely, they would get a product for pennies on the dollar. Not only is that not good for our finance teams, but it's not good for the relationship. Everybody wants to deal with a supplier they have confidence in. You always want to make sure you’re in the best possible place and that your customers are confident that you can carry out whatever strategy they wish to carry out.
Fast forward, and we continue to evolve. We were acquired in 2017. JBS is very active in the technology arena, so we introduced a lot of different platforms. I moved forward with SAP Integrated Business Planning (IBP), SAP Business Technology Platform (BTP), and several other technology platforms that are SAP products. With BTP, we wanted to find a way to create a pricing process that didn’t involve a whole lot of development in our ECC platform, requiring ABAP, integration, testing, and regression testing. Bearing in mind that JBS is a global company, our instance of SAP services is the globe. Anytime you have a situation like that, you approach these types of endeavors with a great deal more caution.
Enter BTP. On the face of it, I said, “This is something that limits our risks substantially. All of our heavy lifting can be offloaded into the cloud.” And we have a fantastic process now that allows us to create records for customers with a great deal of complexities. Our customers may want their next week's pricing to be based on an average of the last 12 weeks of data, but all of their orders are to be based on order date—not delivery date, ship date, or any permutation thereof. You have all of this complexity that is now being accommodated in BTP. The pricing records are calculated automatically and then inserted into SAP without error, fuss, or muss. Not only did we eliminate the trepidation around the potential for error, but we also freed up a very valuable resource in that individual I mentioned earlier, who has an incredible amount of knowledge about businesses and processes. This has allowed her to expand her department and devote more time to other more value-added areas. We’ve recently added a fixed price component; we didn't have that in our food service previously, but we’ve become more active in the food-service area. Food service is yet another division of the market that communicates differently when it comes to purchasing, so we obviously had to be able to accommodate their requirements. It has worked out fantastically well for us.
Q. What do you remember of developing the initial business case for BTP?
A. First and foremost, there was the level of complexity. One of the values we espouse here at JBS USA is “simplicity.” We have seven values that drive our everyday conversations, and simplicity is one of those seven values. Eliminating that complexity for introducing new development or new technology was a huge decision factor. As I said, anytime we talk about introducing any new development into our environment, everybody starts sweating and worrying more because now you have to regression test. You’ve got all these different companies around the globe. I don’t even know the number of company members in our instance off the top of my head anymore.
You have those concerns when you’re talking about introducing new ABAP. Everybody in SAP says, “We don't do any modification. We’re template-driven.” In my experience, that’s not true. I have yet to find a company running SAP that hasn't performed some Z code at some point. You have that to consider whenever you introduce new development, and the effort around that was a decision factor.
The next decision factor was speed-to-market. Using Java-based development without having to worry, thanks to ABAP, I can get to my goal faster and much more inexpensively. That was another huge factor. The interface and UX on it were more or less up to us. People complain a lot about some of the native screens within SAP, so you can use Fiori in different personas to mitigate that. Here, we had this opportunity with BTP to totally drive that conversation and drive that UX. Those were the areas that were most quickly available to help us make that decision.
Q. The title of your session at the SAP S/4HANA and BTP Conference is “Activate the Power of BTP to Accelerate Innovation.” What does that mean to you?
A. It certainly captures the essence of what we're trying to accomplish here. I also have other plans for BTP that have not made it to the development table yet, but we have purchase orders that are now being manually updated daily because of the market changes. BTP would be able to go in and—using the market prices we've captured from our commodity markets partner Urner Barry—update those purchase orders painlessly and automatically without having a human do it. We continue to find great opportunities with direct business value for BTP, especially in this environment. Not that we weren't sensitive to it in the past, when there was a friendlier market from a GDP standpoint, and we’re still doing well, but everybody is more conscious now, of course. That said, it's really nice and refreshing to have opportunities like this, which have yet to be mined.
Q. I understand that Swift is also preparing for an SAP S/4HANA migration. Will you discuss this at the conference?
A. The wonderful thing about BTP is that it’s running SAP S/4HANA right now, at this moment. It’s about us catching up and making sure that our connections are moved away from our ECC platform to our SAP S/4HANA platform—that we get alignment there. I plan on discussing it. It’s still a bit of a TBD because I can't tell the future, but we’re well-prepared. We've worked hard at all of our migration activities and our preparedness.
I'm looking forward to having a very good story to tell, and I’m optimistic. The cloud platforms that I use to this point, I will say, have proven to be the least challenging of our migration activities.
We will go live on Feb. 20. That’ll be our first day of running SAP S/4HANA. We’re right now in the final minutes of the launch. This coming weekend will be our master data cutover, and the following weekend will be our big cutover. I’m not looking to sleep much over the next couple of weekends, but it should be fulfilling. Swift Prepared Foods has six waves of SAP S/4HANA go-lives around the globe, which will extend in 2026, and Feb. 20 represents our execution against wave one. We’re out front if you will.
Q. Are there any major takeaways you hope conference attendees will have from your keynote?
A. One of my biggest takeaways regards the stigma associated with development endeavors in SAP, which have always been fraught with anxiety and fear. I would like users to be able to take away that this was not very painful at all. It was actually liberating and did not create the angst to the balance of our SAP community that a large-scale implementation would have created. The freedom and flexibility BTP brings to the table should empower people to take more chances because risk tolerance is not very big at all. We should walk away saying, “Let's at least try it in BTP.”