Digital First: AB InBev’s Digital Transformation Journey



Hana Bísková

Digital Transformation Project Manager,
AB InBev

Mariya Ulasova

Mariya Ulasova, Digital Transformation Lead for Finance and Procurement,
AB InBev


[0:01] Hana Biskova:

Alright, so let’s talk about our company- Anheuser Busch InBev. We have the vision to build the company which will last for the next 100 plus years. And our dream is to bring people together with the best brands that we have and the best beers. I think you might have heard it. So that’s just a summary of how we envision our company. How did we start? So actually, our roots go back to the 12th century to Belgium, when the Belgian monks started brewing the beers in their base. And still today we have our headquarters in both Europe and global business in Belgium and we call Belgium the home of beer for our company. During the 18th and 19th centuries, of course, Belgium the beer production was evolving. And some of the key very famous beer productions such as Labatt in Canada, or Artois in Belgium, they later become also part of our company. So in the 2000s, what happened? There were two separate companies, Interbrew, and I’m Beth. They joined and the new company was established, which became ABInBev. Busch, an American company joined as well. And finally the Anheuser Busch was established. Also in the 2000s. We went through a couple of more integrations with the Groupon model and South Africans of Miller breweries. And actually, that is how we operate today. Finally, in the current state, so in total, we have more than 180 colleagues worldwide. Of course, that’s a huge business to manage. We have five zones in North America, in Latin and Middle America, Europe, Africa, and then also north and south. As you see, we also have a lot of very famous brands about which we will talk a bit later. So in total, it’s over 500. And we premiere presents in all the countries around the world around 150. And we have business operations in 50 countries.

[2:32] Mariya Ulasova:

Yeah, indeed. Here is a space for yourself. So let me see who knows at least one of our brands, I’m sure you know, the ones who watch this football session. I don’t know what you call the Super Bowl. I knew it. But now I forgot again. So what would you say it’s one of our key brands at least.

[3:07] Mariya Ulasova:

Yeah, indeed Budweiser, I think this is mostly connected to our football and all the big events. So also this NFL is still coming back to the heritage which Marcia was mentioning before Corona everything about summer beach farm, etc. And then we also have some light beer so you can also enjoy them with your daily life. And then, of course, we also focus still on our core brands within the country. So we are still through the heritage that we have there and we have specials for each country in boxes representing Germany, left Belgium and forgot the Netherlands. We also have certain goals when it comes to sustainability because we also have a big influence and impact on the climate as we are a worldwide company. So we also focus more on returnable packaging, using different materials. Also investing a lot in the new technical things for our agricultural suppliers. And of course, the biggest, what we need for brewing is water. So we also focus a lot on cleaning the waters and supporting a lot of programs there. And here now let’s go really to the core of our presentation to show you more about the journey, which we took as a company specifying live for Europe. So we are here representing the journey for Europe as we are both from there. So as well, as you saw the history, this is maybe one of the key kinds of topics which we always need to handle and work with is the legacy which we have, especially in Europe, when you see we have 515 different countries, but speaking 12 different languages.

So for us, it’s always difficult also when it comes to transformation, how to also support other languages. So that’s the complexity as well the different route to market. So we work with e-commerce, we work with our distribution, we work with wholesalers, so again, a completely different approach which again adds complexity. And also speaking about the way customers pay, there’s very much variety. So we always need to focus really on capturing everything. And coming also back to the legacy systems, we have so many different tools, which we need to always connect. And it’s also difficult for our end users to know where to find what this is also one of the key focuses which we want to achieve to build the 360 views where everybody can have one platform where they can see everything. And how it all starts for us? So even before, we didn’t have any center; we were having local operations in each country. And also so there was no real focus on the credit and collections at such key customers were somehow paying and we kind of didn’t monitor it. And then we decided as a company to start the foundation stage which is the build of our shirts and the center which we did in Prague, as the location and kind of Central Europe.

Mariya Ulasova:

So, it was also a logistically kind of advantage to have it there. And we started to work for three countries there, for Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg as kind of back-office support. And we created firstly the credit and collection teams as the base for further improvements. And the main focus here was to even build something like a credit policy, so a set of rules, which we need to follow, which will then help us further with the processes. Afterward, some years past nothing was happening. To be honest, though, we said that- Okay, now it’s time to focus at standardization and even mapping which processes are we having, dividing them into buckets stages and then planning the full transformation at such so here the main focus was the decrease the commercial losses because they were high they were in millions and millions of dollars and all. So to focus on the overall production so what we did we met the first wife one and then we said we will focus on page two. So what was the first important thing to start with assessing our customers regarding their credit risk and regarding also how credits do we give them in terms of the limit. So that was why we said this is a core before we really can go further, we need to assess the risk of the customers, we need to put in place the new buyer creation, also process and already at the time when the customer is created to the credit check. So we prevent the losses further. So what we did was we split our kind of countries with whom we work into different views. So and also we’re assessing the maturity where they stand across our standards, which are in the policy at that moment. And you see it took us two years basically to turn most of the processes to green which means they are following the standards, which we said, and then as the next wave, we said, “Okay now, the focus is also to bring operations from other countries to that service center because so far we have just three countries. So, what about the rest?” So, we worked on the project to not only transform but also transition the activities to the center. So, we can leverage the knowledge which we have and apply it to different countries.

[8:26] Hana Biskova:

And of course, you have in this case imbalance, that the financial risk is not always properly taken into consideration. So, what we have done, we created an entirely new structure in the function in the zone function of finance, so irrespectively from the countries it was a regional zone structure, with the role of sales finance lead, the origination of the role was key here and the naming of the role was key to keep the link between sales and finance and then the entire credit management team moved under this organization, there will there was a lot of discussions and disputes in the company, whether it’s the right move or not. But again, the situation with the overdose and bad depth levels was really bad. So everybody recognized that something needs to change in the way we manage it. So that’s why we also called it transformation because there was a big change in the process, there was a big change in the people organization. And at the same time, all of these steps were supported by some of the technological and automation solutions.

[9:37] Mariya Ulasova:

Indeed, and here also, we want to show you a bit of the way how we approached it, so we also did a small pilot. So we didn’t say that we need to also prove especially to the sales organization that the changes which we want to do on the credit side to be more strict, to have more strict rules when it comes to blocking the customers if they didn’t pay are bringing the value. And we are not only losing the volumes as it’s always the response from the sales if you block my customer, but he will also go and he will open the beer from a different one. So that’s why we needed to prove and to also have support with the change management, as Marcia was saying that the change brings the result. And here is just a snapshot of the situation where we measured the overdue evolution. So you’ve seen mostly it was a success in decreasing the value between the two different years when we started to block our customers earlier. So just to compare, before the transition transformation, we blocked customers, even after 20 or 25 days of overview. In some countries, we didn’t even have any block established. So there was no way to control the payment behavior of the customers. And with this pilot, which we launched, we actually reduce this number of days up to seven, which was kind of the maximum which we could reach also comes from during the other, let’s say process inefficiencies, delivering an invoice to the customer, which is still something where we have gaps, because of the legacy of the way that it needs to be coming via paper, etc, we couldn’t go shorter, but already this abroad a lot of good results.

And then the process was launched further to the whole country and the whole of Europe. And then other processes which we look into. So before we’ve it was just the credit assessment. And then the next stage was the order block part of the dancing. So also the way we communicate with our customers, not only reactively but also trying to show them already before your date, what is the balance would they need to pay? And there again, due to the bylaws and due to the way we launched it, we also managed to at least more or less standardize within the limits of the current systems which we were using, which is also something whereby we need the digital stage later on. And when it comes to the IP landscape just for you to see which one does the work before So we have SCP RP as the main one and the court system. And then for any kind of approval tickets, how do we solve our disputes for our current Salesforce platform, which then communicates, again, inserted limits with SAP, and also for our reporting. Currently, we are still using Craig and also Power BI recently, to display the dashboards and to also show the results to other stakeholders.

[12:28] Mariya Ulasova:

And now moving to the next stage, so we did the big transformation, but again, with the limits of the systems or also with the limits of what we were capable of doing. So it was still not enough, which you can then later. See also on the stakeholder mapping and their satisfaction, and also the vision to go digital and to kill the manual workload and to transform also the kind of way how do we understand credit and collections and such. It’s also coming from our VP finance. So that also maybe helps. The direction is throughout the organization. And there is the same spirit of what to do next. Yeah, and then how we also plan and look and what we need is not to look into that from a project perspective, but looking at what our end users need, what are they missing? What are their points? Why are they not happy with our transformation journey so far? And we look into three main kinds of groups of stakeholders which we have, which is for US sales, right? Of course, the collection teams that such and of course, also our end customers, the biggest group of 40 we work with, and we kind of try to list the main problems which they still have, and then see why, how we can transform it, to not be set, but to be happy. And that’s why we launched also this year, our digital stage, where we also are trying to transform the department to be more analytical to be copy-pasting and trying to search between systems, where should I see this and that, but try to more improved the way how we build the relation with the customer with the sales as well, so to not compete, but to be partners. And for that, we need, of course, technology to help us.

Mariya Ulasova:

So we also need to use AI or any kind of data forecasting to be able to show sales and insights. So to build a partnership, not to only go with them when something is burning, and we need their support to kind of kill that and we’ll go that last-minute last second. It’s not a good relationship as well. So we need to go up front and show them what will happen in the next week or two weeks. We also want to transition the collector or to not be collectors anymore, but to be a more analytical person who can analyze the data, who can just basically look into some dashboard and know- Okay, this is the core of what I need to do. As we said, at the very beginning, our core issue is language dependency. So here again, we need some tools that can help us to eliminate that. So it’s also easier for us to find the right profiles. Because currently, what we do is mostly we look at the language skills, rather than the functional skills of the people, which again brings us some kind of gap that we are not able to be the best in the class.

[15:26] Hana Biskova:

And then to share with you more about working with HighRadius and why for these digital stages we selected HighRadius. So first of all, coming back to the point about having multiple applications and very complex it landscape, we’re looking not only for one more tool to resolve one or few needs of automation but an end to end solution, one platform, which will help us to build an end to end capabilities right and in this case, of course, HighRadius is a perfect choice because it has all the capabilities in different modules. And then you can build them up one by one or all together. And you don’t need to go to any other extra applications. The second point was also very important for us is the flexibility and the customer focus, and the service that we get together with HighRadius. Previously, we were working with SAP and also with SAP Adams companies, which were providing the solutions on-premise. And there you cannot have the flexibility you need to fit your business into what the solution can do for you. Whenever you need to do something else, then it becomes a big problem. It’s becoming a change request. It’s becoming a custom. It’s an additional budget.

Do you have all these discussions about- why didn’t you say it in the beginning? Why didn’t you ask for it in the high-level requirements gathering stage, and so on, so forth? And this is what we have not seen with HighRadius, we realize that we can have a cloud solution, which is out of the box, great as it is, but also if it doesn’t fit fully our needs, they are very open to customizing it for you. And that was quite surprising for us and a very important factor to go for it to keep that flexibility. For one, we started with the cash applications module. Why because everything else during the transformation journey will already purchase the solutions? But for account receivables, we didn’t have any solution. And we thought that it would be a good model to start with and see also whether it will satisfy our ambitions or whether it will bring the results that we are aiming for. So we did the proof of concept which was not a production rollout. Just a desktop rollout without any integration to our CP, and we saw that the results of the cash application were over 90% which was good. So we were happy to see that it can work for us on our data with our clients. And that was also one of the reasons, one of the factors why we decided to go with them. And the fourth is also very important again, we would, of course, want to go in a more Intelligent Automation because what we realize is that especially when you work with the customers, you cannot put all the rules in the solution.

Hana Biskova:

There will be many situations when your customers are behaving very specifically and you need to adjust to them rather than trying to standardize what way to work in, in line with your tool. And for this, you need more Intelligent Automation right for this unit, a component of AI and this is what HighRadius was also having In their models, which we haven’t seen on the market elsewhere. So based on these four, we first went with the cash application cloud. And Europe started as the first zone to roll it out. We are now finishing it, hopefully, it will be over by the end of February. And then other zones when they saw which results it brings, they also started following our journey. So North America is doing it, it’s the same in South Africa, Mexico, India, other countries and business units. They’re also very much interested and they are doing the same. And then we also decided to go for the other three modules, credit cloud EAP collections called and, we are now considering deductions club. So for the three ones, which I mentioned, we’re only starting right now. It was kicked off in December. And for deductions, there are still some discussions on going because in our country it’s a bit difficult in terms of responsibilities and organization, it’s not fully in the scope of finance and control of finance in between finance, customer service, commercial and sales. And if you want to implement a solution, you also need to make sure that everybody’s onboard and this is not what is happening. So directions are still under discussion.

[20:25] Hana Biskova:

In terms of benefits, I think, for those of you who did not yet choose with HighRadius or you’re still building up your business case, that could be something to look into. First of all, we are looking into the people manual workload reduction, and again, the resource allocation due to this as one explained, we want to make sure that collectors are focusing on analytical added value drop, especially building their partnership with sales, that they can point out to the sales teams, to which customers better to sail, which are going to grow and support the growth of the company rather than the putting the roadblocks and bringing only the risks on the table. And for that, they need to stop doing all the manual work. And also, because in our case, we have a lot of legacy solutions. If we decommission them, that will also bring quite some benefit to us. So that’s the second value-added point. Of course, we have some of the benefits. In our case, cash flow benefit is not something that we can nail down to the bottom line, right? That’s more a softer KPI. Also, higher customer satisfaction and customer-centricity became the key point for our company in the last three years. So whatever contributes to it, is getting a high priority. Employee Engagement. That’s for sure. Another point also on the order block processing, today it is reactive. And we want to make sure that it’s getting proactive, also not stopping our logistics processes to be on time to enable first-day delivery, same-day delivery, etc. And visibility. And then I think also, a couple of things we want to share with you for your projects. If you’re starting with hydration Based on our experience with the account receivables module, you need to be careful with assessing the process and team maturity before you go into the tool implementation. I don’t think that this is something new for those of you who are managing the projects.

Hana Biskova:

But even with us after doing four year of transformation, it became a surprise, we were underestimating whether the process is ready or not for bringing that kind of in terms of what you have today in your landscape, in our case, we had already a lot of automated jobs running in the background, doing the cleaning of the payments, and posting the payments. And the problem was when you bring HighRadius, which is, first of all, doing the same, but also bring in more automation, you need to make sure there is no duplication between the two. And also need to make sure that there is constant sync between what you post in HighRadius and what you show us successfully allocated payment versus what you then replicate in a CP. And this is a very complicated task again, in our case, all our IT services are outsourced so we don’t have any IT developers in the house. And in this case, HighRadius doesn’t have this service, right? So you need to find somebody else who will bridge that gap and cover the part that you need to do on your earpiece side phased implementation approach. In our case because of the above problems, what we faced when we launched all the countries together also saw old problems all over the place. Of course, the phased approach would be much wiser. And this is what we are going to do next, internal developers. So in general, we are going for the DevOps organization and bringing in house a lot of its capabilities. So also advising you to do the same if you have the possibility, please do it and not depend on the external IT providers, third-party providers in such projects. And the last point, which we also want to focus a bit more is agile, right?

[24:34] Hana Biskova:

So far we were working in the waterfall, which means that you step by step, gather the requirements, make the design, then do the testing, building testing, and then the goal life. So why did we decide to do it also and why do we advise you to do it? It’s also a simple example here on the screen. What you want to have, first of all, you don’t necessarily know how to express it. In spite of the fact that it’s out of the box solution, you still have a lot of internal specifics that you can’t express well, and you don’t really know in the beginning, and then what you get at the end is not what you aim for. Right? So that’s what I mentioned that the waterfall didn’t work for us well, and it doesn’t work well for 50% of the projects, unless you know very well in the beginning what you want to build, for sure you’re going to fail in building it. And this is our reality. We don’t know everything right, we go step by step and we realize it steps by step. So we’re going to go in Sprint’s bringing the different developments, step by step. And also we will change the way we cooperate with HighRadius in terms of the project team. So we will have a product owner, one person on the side of function, not the project team, but the function of the users, who will be the ones to express all the needs of the users. And then those needs will be there in the backlog as the requirements and they will be delivered in Sprints of two weeks. And the one more very important aspect to go in Agile is customer-centricity. So before starting with the next module of HighRadius, we also build so-called personas. So it’s the portrait of our users and what they need, what you see here is one summarized portrait of Shawn. So we call her the manual worker. So it’s one user, one person who has the set of needs and challenges and expectations that needs to be met with the solution. And we have five or six more of these personas. And for all of them, we are going to build together with HighRadius, our features, and our product. Yes, so actually, that’s it what we wanted to share with you. So we’ll be happy to hear some of your questions.

[27:13] Audience:

Congratulations on the presentation of the delivery, a very comprehensive presentation. Number one is what are your business pain points during these multi-year potentials? I’ll give you an example of a reduction in sales or an increase of doubtful accounts because you’re protected by sales even with bad customers, right? It’s a sacrifice. There’s going to be a payback down the road. That’s number one. The second one you embed. It is not about investing behind the company, right? But he’s very keen on what he needs to deliver productivity. And in your business case, I didn’t see anything clear, we do not produce amounts or something like that. Could you elaborate on that?

[28:07] Hana Biskova:

So maybe first on the business objectives. So first of all, we targeted the commercial losses and the bad depth, because historically, we accumulated a lot. And, as we mentioned, the focus was more on giving the freedom to sales to decide whether to block or not to block the orders with the delinquent customers. And in some cases, when we did this study, for some of our countries like Belgium and the Netherlands, the portion of the customers who are very probable to go bankrupt was 25%. That’s also the nature of our direct market where we sell to the very small pubs and not professional businessmen, but more amateurs. And this is the reason why it was also very risky. So our main target was commercializing. And then, of course, overdose to prevent that, in the past years. Last two years, our strategy has grown. So we started the direct business in Europe, in Nordics in Eastern Europe where we were present on the US export. So our sales need to launch a lot of new businesses, and they need to go to new markets where we don’t have any information about customers. So, in this case, we also need to change accordingly. So that’s the moment when we want our collectors to become more the analyst type, and point out to the sales where they need to go, rather to the good customers, this is your good customer with whom you will not have problems. And also you will not have any discussions with us about it, rather than go into the others. So these were the primary business challenges and objectives to tackle. And then for your second question on the metrics, there is a productivity metric. But so the project is aimed to deliver on the headcount productivity for sure. But those costs will be then reinvested because again, we are very keen on changing the role and what we are bringing in terms of the analytics, right of this department. But there is a hard KPI on productivity for sure.

[30:28] Moderator:

Any other questions?

[30:33] Audience:

What are your companies and a much larger kind of digital strategy transformation? And then where did you guys kind of fall naturally for you? Were you kind of the final test and pulling them front is your middle of the journey started doing like the top-line sales stuff be interesting to understand where you guys are on the journey?

[30:50] Hana Biskova:

So we have a very heavy agenda on digitalization when it comes to sales and commercials. So it’s a very broad strategy and it started I think, at least five years ago when it comes to back-office operations like finance, procurement, etc. It has always been a lower focus because it seems that those functions are the one which is spending and not bringing the profits to the company. So, it was rather the automation and cost-saving strategy applied there. Then digitalization and only in the last, I would say, two years, this is the change which is happening. First of all, we are changing the methodology of how we’re on the project because we were spending a lot of millions on CAPEX in it and not delivering the value to our users and not seeing the realization of these benefits that we were promised. We are not selecting the right solutions or we are not piloting enough. So we don’t explore and innovate a lot. So in recent years that is changing. So what we showed you in terms of agile and bringing in house more DevOps capabilities, this is what is happening now all over the globe for AbinBev. And if you look into our top management structure, our chief officer for technology and finance is the same person. So its core activity, also of finance, to make sure that they go digital. That answers your question.

[0:01] Hana Biskova: Alright, so let’s talk about our company- Anheuser Busch InBev. We have the vision to build the company which will last for the next 100 plus years. And our dream is to bring people together with the best brands that we have and the best beers. I think you might have heard it. So that’s just a summary of how we envision our company. How did we start? So actually, our roots go back to the 12th century to Belgium, when the Belgian monks started brewing the beers in their base. And still today we have our headquarters in both Europe and global business in Belgium and we call Belgium the home of beer for our company. During the 18th and 19th centuries, of course, Belgium the beer production was evolving. And some of the key very famous beer productions such as Labatt in Canada, or Artois in Belgium, they later become also part of our company. So in the 2000s, what happened? There were two separate companies, Interbrew, and I’m Beth. They joined and the new company was established, which became ABInBev. Busch, an American company joined as well. And finally the Anheuser Busch was established.…

What you'll learn

  • ABinBev’s vision of digital transformation being realized within their O2C team
  • Insights for future from ABInBev’s first-hand interaction with automation systems

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HighRadius Integrated Receivables Software Platform is the world's only end-to-end accounts receivable software platform to lower DSO and bad-debt, automate cash posting, speed-up collections, and dispute resolution, and improve team productivity. It leverages RivanaTM Artificial Intelligence for Accounts Receivable to convert receivables faster and more effectively by using machine learning for accurate decision making across both credit and receivable processes and also enables suppliers to digitally connect with buyers via the radiusOneTM network, closing the loop from the supplier accounts receivable process to the buyer accounts payable process. Integrated Receivables have been divided into 6 distinct applications: Credit Software, EIPP Software, Cash Application Software, Deductions Software, Collections Software, and ERP Payment Gateway - covering the entire gamut of credit-to-cash.