Making better bacon: The Apple and Maple Leaf Foods story

OK. Fine. Maple Leaf Foods, a Canadian company that's expanding into the U.S., is about much more than bacon. It's about high quality, sustainable protein. That includes bacon, but it also includes everything from chicken to crickets. (Though, seriously, they had me at bacon.) To better achieve its goals, Maple Leaf Foods began working with SAP, its information services provider, and — surprisingly but perhaps not really so surprisingly — Apple.

Apple... and Enterprise?

Apple isn't a name typically associated with Enterprise. Steve Jobs didn't believe in selling to customers who weren't the end user, because they bought based on criteria other than product experience. But, with the introduction of the iPhone, the world began to change. Apple suspected it would. That's why one of the very first updates to the original iPhone included the beginning of VPN support. It's why the second version included Exchange support. And, as devices became more personal and powerful, end users started demanding them in enterprise.

Flash forward to the Tim Cook era, an iPhone achieved nearly universal penetration into the Fortune 500. It was broad, though, not deep. So, Apple did something just as unprecedented: It began partnering with companies like IBM and SAP to make sure the devices people wanted could not only do what companies needed, but do it in a way that made both the people and the companies more effective, empowered, and efficient.

From zero to app in five months flat

Maple Leaf Foods was already using SAP, and Maple Leaf's CIO, Andreas Liris wanted to be able to give his users a mobile front-end experience that was as good as the consumer apps on the App Store. By building for the iPad, he and his team could use the iOS and SAP SDKs (software developers kits), to create something that not only tied into their existing technology stack but took advantage of his users existing familiarity with Apple devices and the Apple ecosystem. That included everything from how basic navigation worked to how updates are distributed.

The process was also remarkably iterative. Maple Leaf could test its app, get feedback, improve, and test again with speed and agility. All told, the app took just 5 months to deploy and is currently up and running on 100 9.7-inch iPads within the company.

Marie Claude Vezina, V.P. of Digital Innovation explained why going mobile with iPad, and tying it into SAP, made such a big difference: Previously, for example, a supervisor who discovered a problem with a piece of equipment would have to take a picture, email it to themselves, leave the floor, change clothing, go to their office, retrieve the picture, enter it into the SAP system, change clothes again, and go back to the floor. It was a slow process.

With the iPad and the Maple Leaf app, all the supervisor has to do is tap the "add" button, tap the "camera" button, snap a shot, and it goes right into the system. No long walks. No clothing changes. The same with barcode scanning and other previously complex, error-prone, or disconnected tasks.

Because of the ease of use, tools like Apple's device management and enterprise apps deployment, and the ability for users to troubleshoot many of their own problems, Maple Leaf Foods is seeing a lower total cost of ownership with iPads. (Similar to what IBM previously reported with the Mac.)

Unsolicited, one supervisor told the Maple Leaf team that the iPad and instant access to SAP saved up to two hours of back-and-forth in a single day. Overall, Maple Leaf is seeing in-office data entry time cut by 50%, which gives supervisors more time to spend on the floor, and which has resulted in a 15-25% boost in productivity.

There's been a measurable boost to morale and, because a lot of work was previously done with clipboards and on paper, going to iPad has not just made the humans happy, it's made the trees happy as well.

It's enough to have earned Maple Leaf Foods a global SAP Innovation Award for Digital Transformation.

To AR... and beyond!

The combination is proving so valuable, Maple Leaf is now considering ways it can expand its Apple deployment including 175 more users across 18 plants, possible iPhone deployments, and — also surprisingly but perhaps not really so surprisingly — ARKit implementations. The power of augmented reality made available on devices that are already available and familiar opens the door to entirely new and novel opportunities.

We've come a long way from the rows and rows of static beige boxes on desktops. We've seen the mobile revolution. We've seen the BYOD (bring your own device) transformation. We've entered the age of apps. Now, we're on the brink of not just AR but ML (machine learning). And that's altered a lot of preconceptions and expanded a lot of playbooks.

That's not just something that benefits Apple and its partners like SAP but benefits the end users who, like in the consumer market, are finally beginning to be treated as the customers.

Liris joked he almost couldn't believe he was saying it, but Apple was something every CIO now had to understand in enterprise.

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Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.