The importance of integration and business intelligence in coffee

Coffee is a complex product. It passes through many hands across the supply chain, from the coffee farmer to the roasting plant. Information is generated at each step, creating hundreds of data points that impact a roaster’s end product, efficiency, and bottom line.

Software as a service (SaaS) company Cropster has more than a decade of experience catering to the coffee industry, learning what data is important to the coffee industry and tailoring the service it provides to it.

Cropster Head of Enterprise Sales and Education Andy Benedikter tells Global Coffee Report not having access to this business intelligence is a competitive disadvantage in the coffee industry.

“It is key for anyone in the coffee business – for people in production, trading, and processing – to be able to track, manage, and share important information about the coffee, its success, and its traceability, to be able to make good decisions faster,” Benedikter says.

While a roaster’s existing systems may be able to gather data on their own, not collating this can result in ‘data islands’, isolated key information that cannot be turned into business insights.

Access to this collated data can improve the transparency of a coffee business. Benedikter says this shows due diligence to customers, can help build better relationships with suppliers, and provides a clearer picture of the business to managers.

“Well integrated information is important to make critical choices, whether this be buying supplies, processing coffee, or understanding the success of sales, financial planning, and growth planning,” Benedikter says. “Not having this data causes you to fall behind your competitors, and might mean making errors or not planning for the future in the best way possible. Better and faster decisions always save money.”

In his role, Benedikter works with Cropster’s larger customers, ensuring its service is optimised to their individual needs.

“Everybody has processes in place specific to their operation, or ways they track information about roasting, procurement, sensory, and so on,” Benedikter says.

“Only how they do it differs. As a SaaS company, we approach this by providing the broadest possible spectrum of data points and customise the existing application to the needs of the user, rather than building something from the ground up. This saves them time and money.”

Cropster has developed its platform in direct collaboration with the coffee industry, incorporating feedback from a variety of business of different sizes in different fields of the industry. It has also taught them how to adapt its service to different customers.

“Our goal at Cropster is to make sure our customers can use the tools and systems they already have in place and tie them into our system,” Benedikter says.

In a recent case, Benedikter travelled to the United States for a site visit with a prospective customer who wanted Cropster to track roasting information, automate the process, and tie into its quality control procedures. This information had to be shared with the enterprise resource planning (ERP) software the business used to manage inventory and the sales and logistics of the procurement process.

“We asked them for their workflow goal – what they want to achieve in non-software terms – which was to determine if their production is consistent, the next coffee they buy, and how they can improve their profiles,” Benedikter says.

“We integrated our interface with their ERP system to help them find the specific data points they needed. In this case, they have the green coffee stored in their ERP system, then push it to Cropster for roasting. That roast production is stored in Cropster, but is also synchronised back into the ERP system to keep things level.”

Common ERP systems Cropster comes across include Netsuite, SAP, and MS Dynamics. Not linking systems like these can become a cost burden on a roastery, as less reliable human labour is required to reduce double data entry and inconsistencies across different platforms.

Though Cropster mitigates human error, the company understands the importance of staff as a source of insight. The company provides Enterprise Success sessions and classes to teach people how to use its tools, about new functionality, and train new hires.

“There is a direct cost having a person sitting there making sure that inventory positions, orders, quality control information, or whatever you want to synchronise, is level in both systems. But if they make a mistake, it creates even bigger problems,” Benedikter says.

“Mismatches result in bad decisions. You could buy the wrong quality at the wrong price point, there could be mistakes in accounting, and then comes the indirect costs. Once an error has occurred, it’s close to impossible to go back and figure out what has happened. A tight digital integration is not only desirable, it’s almost mandatory.”

Increased business intelligence provides benefits across the company. Benedikter says CEOs and management can build solid growth plans relying on the accuracy of financial data, input versus output information, and reports from critical processes of the business.

Production managers, on the other hand, can ensure good use of the green coffee, that it’s bought at the right cost, and that production is fulfilling the orders that are coming in.

“If they had to manually work several different systems, they’d probably go nuts from reviewing all those data points,” Benedikter says. “But with tight integration, they can rely on the information being correct, and for it to be shared between systems.”

This increased focus on connectivity and business intelligence is not unique to coffee. Concepts like industry 4.0, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and machine learning are influencing many industries. Automation has captured the coffee industry’s interest in particular, in both roast production and wider plant systems.

“As a roasting business, you have the ability to automatically perform roasts, and replay profiles as and when you wish. It sounds easy, but you have to run smart processes in the background to make sure that the result and not just the process is replicated,” Benedikter says.

“Running a plant offline is not a doable strategy any more. Now during the coronavirus pandemic, if a production manager needs to, they can review and plan their production from home, including shifts for roast production.”

As a SaaS provider, Cropster is able to frequently update its software to provide its customers with more and faster business intelligence. This allows the company to incorporate new important data points, like water activity and environmental tracking of the warehouse, into its service. It can also immediately launch new tools, like the free webshop platform and directory, to help roasters mitigate the impact of COVID-19.

“Systems are becoming more digital, and the coffee industry understands that knowing more about the coffee and the processes involved is not only interesting, it’s a necessity,” Benedikter says.

“Businesses have more systems, more  equipment, more locations, and more people. The more variables you introduce, the more you rely on gathering this data tightly together. Otherwise you waste time chasing information.”

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