You don’t have to be a big-scale operation to take advantage of IT, and a number of smaller bakeries have benefited from a long-established package, tailored to craft businesses, which has recently been upgraded.

Newcastle-based Thomsons Bakery - a retail/wholesale company that employs 15 full-time staff, run by husband and wife team Ian and Jan Thomson - has been using RedBlack Software’s CyBake business management solution for nearly a decade. Jan Thomson says a major benefit is cutting down on paperwork: "If my husband says to me: ’Tell me how much we’ve spent on flour over the last six months’, I can tell him in two minutes, if not less. Whereas if he’d asked me that when we had a paper system, I would have groaned - it would have probably taken an hour to do."

A big benefit is instant access to information. "If prices change, we can input and change them in the CyBake program and so we’re always up-to-date with costings, which is very important - especially now, with ingredient prices going through the roof. Also, we can keep tabs on our customers: what they’re buying, whether they’re paying and so on. It all just integrates and works together within our business."

Jan Thomson says they are already taking advantage of the electronic data interchange (EDI) facility on the latest version 2.0. "We’ve got a new client, an agent, and we have to invoice them, not the actual company that we’re dealing with, and they need it done by the EDI process. So now we’re able to get set up with that. At the moment, I can only email statements and suchlike from my Sage program, but I understand that, with the new upgrade, I’m going to be able to email and do news-letters and all sorts of things from the CyBake program."

The challenge for bakers

Meanwhile, having production sheet functions is key to Rugby-based John Dwyer Bakery, which supplies a wide range of bakery products to shops and foodservice via deliveries made during the morning, six days a week. Jackie Dwyer, who co-founded the company with her husband, says order entry and production sheets on Cybake are key functions. "We’ve got seven vehicles on the road and managing who has what on what days would just be a nightmare without the software," she explains. "Between 12.30pm and 3.00pm, we’ve got everybody trying to place their orders for tomorrow, so being able to have that order entry screen just gives people what they want on the day they want it. If we were to go back to a paper system, instead of two people in the office, we’d probably need a team of about 12."

While customers’ focus on traceability becomes ever more prevalent, improved traceability functions of version 2.0 could help smaller business keep tabs on the process, she says. "Sooner or later, any baker - wholesale or retail - is going to have to comply with traceability, which we’ve just started to implement," she explains. "If the flour company were to ring me up tomorrow and say, ’All the flour with batch code blah, blah, blah is poisonous and you need to recall all of your products’, it’s about being able to trace what it went into and to whom we supplied it."

Another Cybake user is Grandma Wild’s in Steeton, West Yorkshire - a traditional bakery with a wholesale biscuit arm and a thriving e-commerce website that caters to fans of its products all over the world. Since adopting the software three years ago, the e-commerce aspects have been integrated, says Grandma Wild’s Anne Scott. "Our business has grown and, with that, we’ve felt the need to have more controls in place and develop the way we’re running it," she says.

She uses the order processing, production information, invoices and delivery notes for the biscuits side, as well as doing purchase ordering through the system. "We’re doing all our recipe costings on it," she says, "so it’s improved our knowledge of what everything’s costing us as well. We’re managing the prices of the things that we’re buying."

So while some small firms baulk at the thought that introducing integrated IT will add complexity and headaches, the key to making it work is simply whether it makes running your business day-to-day any easier. Scott says the simplest functions such as recording notes of conversations you have with your customers, can make the difference in improving customer relations. "I see that as having a huge impact on us," she says.