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With the help of Axians, Dutch Flower Group is using data to limit costs, make supply more predictable, and better serve its customers.

Dutch Flower Group, as its name suggests, operates in a business often associated with happy events and opportunities to give people pleasure by presenting them with a bouquet that has moved through the Dutch company, which supplies a wide variety of sellers and re-sellers such as wholesale importers, supermarkets, and garden centres.

But before the flowers are arranged in a vase, they run a gamut of pitfalls. Some end up in a landfill since flowers are, between the time they are sown and the time they are sold in a bouquet, highly sensitive to time and susceptible to wilting.

To limit losses and thus reduce costs, and to help suppliers better predict demand, Dutch Flower Group worked out an action plan based on big data. Implemented with the help of Axians, the VINCI Energies ICT brand, the plan is designed to make use of the large volume of data that the Dutch company and its partners can collect throughout the lifecycle of flowers.

Because it is based on a real-time process with numerous inventory fluctuations, trading in fresh products is difficult to plan and adjust. The solution is to introduce reliable digital markers to help give sellers and producers detailed sales forecasts, taking everything into account down to type of customer, location, quantity.

75 million stems per week

This is what Dutch Flower Group, a structure bringing together 30 individual wholesale and retail organisations, has set out to do. Together they handle 75 million flower “stems” per week, 10 million assembled bouquets, and more than 5 million plant units.

These figures, like the extent of the group’s wide-ranging customer base, suggest the scale of the big data plan being rolled out to make the group more than a supplier – to make it into an ally of its partners. “We hope to increase our added value for customers and to work with them to optimise revenue,” says Dutch Flower Group Digital Director Michel van Hout, who is convinced that “data plays a key role in this transition.”

His conviction is based on several previous successful experiments. “In Kenya, for example, we are helping growers to better predict the harvest based on historical data. The tool gives us greater certainty by making the supply of flowers more predictable. It also has advantages for the producers because it enables them to better schedule their employees.”

“It is at the points where the parts of the value chain intersect that we can generate the most profit by making better use of data.”

Michel van Hout mentions another example: with the help of Axians, Dutch Flower Group installed a system for predicting bouquet demand for a leading supermarket chain. “We estimated fluctuations in customer demand based on data. This enables them to keep waste to a minimum,” he says. “In addition, these forecasts are valuable data for calibrating our purchases from producers and for optimising the logistics chain. By using big data to predict what the customer of our customer will do, we both are able to reduce costs and optimise our sales. It is at the points where the parts of the value chain intersect that we can generate the most profit by making better use of data.”

Time and method

Of course, in an action plan like the one rolled out by Dutch Flower Group, introducing tools and changing the practices of the various participants takes time and requires method. The group needs to “sort out” its data and its infrastructure, says Michel van Hout.

In the flower sector, “Automation and digitalisation have been introduced but there are a lot of customised technologies and outdated ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems out there, and the use of the more recent tools is still in its infancy.” To accelerate the process and achieve significant technological progress, “It is important to have the support of everyone within the organisation.”

To “get everyone on board”, what is needed is to “get people to look at digitalisation and demonstrate its advantages.” It is all-important, says Michel van Hout, to be “certain of the quality of the data we will be using.” The most recent lesson learned, says the Dutch Flower Group Digital Director, is that “It is important to continue to learn, share experience, and talk to each other freely about what we are doing.”