Cypress Grove Chevre Takes to the Cloud with Smartsheet and Google Apps

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When you think of a working goat farm and artisan cheese-making facility in rural Humboldt County CA, you picture serene pastures, fog rolling in from the coast, and modest milking and office facilities.

But cutting-edge cloud technology, a global distribution network, iPads, and automated quality assurance bacteria-leveling systems?

Enter the progressive and fast-growing Cypress Grove Chevre, makers of fine goat's milk cheese including Humboldt Fog, Truffle Tremor, Purple Haze, and Midnight Moon.

 

Goat Cheese Goes High Tech

Cypress Grove recently made the move to the “cloud”, running a vast majority of their business–from marketing to equipment maintenance to strategic planning–in two web solutions: Smartsheet and Google Apps. The shift aligned with their corporate philosophy of empowering teams to focus on making and selling the best cheese in the world, instead of spending time managing software licenses, infrastructure and connectivity.

Today, Cypress Grove Chevre runs a state-of-the-art sustainable business. Tech costs are low, collaboration is at an all-time high, and both people and processes are more productive.

According to Ian Ray, Information Systems Specialist at Cypress Grove Chevre, Inc., artisan cheese companies--like many in the food production and services industry--have lacked technological prowess. “Some in the industry are just starting to use barcodes, others are introducing financial programs for the first time. Most don't know where to turn for computing solutions, so end up at the mercy of whatever consultants come in to help them.”

With a history of unbridled entrepreneurism and a culture of empowerment, Cypress Grove took a more progressive approach. “Just because we make goat cheese doesn’t mean we don’t have legitimate business needs,” adds Ray. “It’s a highly competitive market and we have real requirements to drive efficiencies.”

Technology Requirements Are Set

In January 2010, Ray took matters into his own hands, and soon came up with a “short list” of
requirements for the company’s technology solutions. The tools must: 

  • Work across departments–from Marketing to Quality Assurance. Niche solutions could be powerful, but they also could be limited in scope, and most likely too expensive.

  • Be instantly usable and easy for the entire staff to learn

  • Be accessible wherever they were (in the different facility buildings, on the road, at home) on whatever devices the team used

  • Help them focus on making and marketing great cheese. With revenues on the rise, it was critical the tools help the company scale and expand, not spend hours focusing internally on managing internal networks and infrastructure.

 

Winning Combination: Smartsheet and Google

For the Cypress Grove team which was once steadfast in their loyalty to Microsoft Excel and related Office products, the combination of Google Apps and Smartsheet’s online project management and collaboration tool proved to be a winning combination. With the tools seamlessly integrated, Cypress Grove now runs a majority of their burgeoning business in the two web solutions.

Smartsheet is used company-wide to collaborate more efficiently on a broad range of work projects and processes. For example: 

  1. Creamery Requests - A Smartsheet form allows creamery workers to make requests regarding safety, efficiency, and quality concerns. The requests show up for managers and assistant managers. They are commented on, approved (or not), assigned to other department managers, and completion dates and employees responsible are recorded. Operations Manager David Estes: “Smartsheet has created a central location to assign tasks and record communications for a one stop accountability system.” <sample template>

  2. Preventative Maintenance - The Maintenance department uses Smartsheet to record ongoing maintenance to key systems. Smartsheet's ability to track cell history is useful in mapping past commentary and observing the long-term status of equipment. Green/Red symbols are used to quickly assess if tasks such as oil changes and gear inspections are on, or behind, schedule. Employees use their smartphones to enter data directly into Smartsheet from the manufacturing floor, allowing Estes to view updates at his desk as they occur. Before using Smartsheet, the team investigated several expensive maintenance-specific programs. “Smartsheet was intended to be a stop-gap solution until we found the perfectmaintenance tracking program, but now we believe Smartsheet is the perfect program for our needs,” added Estes.

  3. Sales and Marketing & Events - Both Sales and Marketing uses Smartsheet to track all facets of upcoming sales events and marketing programs. From task lists to shipping logistics to contact lists, their teams have all pertinent information at their fingertips. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at an event somewhere around the world and found I needed a sales contact or campaign detail,” said Janne Rasmussen, Sales Manager. “It used to be buried back in the office on a file server. Now I just look it up in Smartsheet from my iPad. We couldn’t do as much, or as well, without Smartsheet.” <sample template>

  4. Strategic Plans - Executive management uses Smartsheet to organize the overall company strategy. “Smartsheet’s Gantt charts are extremely useful as they keep projects in one location. It also ensures that team members keep commitments and allows project leaders to reprioritize,” adds General Manager, Pamela Dressler. <sample template>

  5. File Storage and Management:  The company uses Smartsheet to allow others to upload large files. “Many distributors and retailers have fiddled with YouSendIt, Dropbox and other services to send us large files. Smartsheet works better than these systems by allowing large files to be uploaded directly to rows. It’s far better organized than random emails and unstructured Dropbox accounts,” comments Ray.

  6. Cross-Department Meetings: Teams at Cypress Grove use Smartsheet to capture meeting agendas and related tasks and notes in Smartsheet. “We have weekly conference calls and from wherever we happen to be that given week, we open up Smartsheet to see the agenda, the progress, and immediately focus in on any trouble spots. It’s a real time-saver,” adds Marketing Manager, Jason Baxter. <sample template>

The company also uses Google Apps to increase productivity across many departments, including:

  1. Sales/Marketing: iGoogle Gadgets combined with secure-data-connector allow the team to publish real-time sales data so it’s viewable for the often geographically dispersed team. Because the data is pushed out to Google's servers, the Cypress Grove local network no longer takes a performance hit when remote workers need to check data. Additionally, the cross-platform nature of Gmail and Google Docs allows the Marketing team to collaborate remotely using smartphones and tablet devices.

  2. Warehouse: In the same way which sales data is pushed to Google Gadgets, warehouse inventory and usage data is pushed to Google Spreadsheets. This allows employees to quickly make informed decisions about stocking levels, pricing, and planning for new products.

  3. Quality Assurance: Google Docs has been indispensable to the creamery’s Quality Assurance department. Prior to Google Docs, bacterial sampling data had to be managed on-site with 10-year-old software packaged with the company’s luminometers. Since moving to Google Docs, live sampling data is not only available to QA, but also to workers on the floor which saves them time deciding what equipment needs more attention on any particular day.

  4. Safety Documentation: All food safety and procedure documentation is available via Google Sites, reducing the time it takes for workers to verify information and if they are following the latest version of procedural documents.

  5. Operations: Operations has been able to watch manufacturing efficiency very closely with Google Docs. Although this information was available previously, the speed at which it is displayed has dramatically improved with Google Docs. And, with the operations staff often working remotely, Google Docs allows them to quickly check plant operations while at home, at a conference, or in a different country.

“The combination of these powerful web tools has reinforced our corporate philosophy of keeping it simple, being efficient in everything we do, and promoting personal responsibility,” concludes Baxter. “They’ve been at the heart of helping us achieve our business and manufacturing goals. They help us be the company we want to be.”