High Tech Whisky

My name is Lewis and I have a confession to make…

I often find that when I’m not working, I become unnecessarily interested in other people’s IT systems. This can lead to me asking what could be viewed as strange (and somewhat untimely) questions…

“The card machine thing is broken or can’t connect or something.” muttered my local barman, which I took as an opportunity to discuss business telecoms solutions…

His response? An expression which suggested that should any more IT related questions be posed, I would be receiving flat pints and my change provided in twenty pence coin denominations for the rest of the evening.

When the receptionist of a Highland hotel told me that I couldn’t get WiFi in the room, I received a similar response when I proceeded to ask if that’s something that they would like resolved.  Surely they had a PDF of the building floor plan available? Unsurprisingly, I was met by a familiar stare – thankfully I resisted the temptation to joke, “You look like my barman.”

Very occasionally these encounters with somewhat confused bar/retail staff/ family members are politely described by the other participant as “useful”. More often than not they couldn’t care less about IT and greet me with a fake smile and/or expletives.

I promise I am working hard to become more self-aware of this ‘annoying’ trait of ‘IT geekery’ (as described by some).

However, I am also known to get upset when companies don’t adopt freely available technology, such as having a decent online presence (how can I contact them!?) or are using pre-historic computing systems yet claim to be a “cutting edge” business (my bank being the worst).

My ‘IT geekery’ (I can’t think of a better description either), as found in many fellow IT professionals, is born out of our love for technology.

We tend to get frustrated when technology is not being utlised to help drive a business forward – or worse – when it is been loosely implemented by an organisation, but isn’t being adopted by staff to its full potential.

At TSG, we see new technology solutions before they are widely adopted (SharePoint 2013 demo anyone?) which makes the job of keeping my mouth shut harder!

Just like my colleague Paul when he noticed a few supermarket chains ran their self-checkout machines on Windows XP:


However, recently I was very pleasantly surprised when I visited a local whiskey distillery which was almost 200 years old.

The tour alone was great as I am no stranger to a single malt. But for my inner IT geek – it was about to get a whole lot better.

I was expecting an old antiquated distillation process that hadn’t changed in 200 years, and paper based business processes to match. And to keep their brand of hand-crafted whisky intact, that would be the way they would be keeping it! I couldn’t have been further off the mark…

It was on the tour of the distillery itself, when I began to realise the paradox of high-tech whisky.

Our guide started to describe the process they use to track the whisky stock as it lies all over Scotland, maturing in barrels for decades (apparently HMRC tend to get rather upset when some goes missing…).

What he described was a fairly decent ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system. I noticed the barrels were all tagged and the way they monitor ‘Whisky in vs. Whisky out’ (the Angels share is what evaporates over time) tells me they aren’t doing this on spreadsheets.

He also asked for contact details from us all to ‘stay in touch’ via various marketing channels. Their marketing to me since, has been well co-ordinated across different channels. Therefore, I suspect they may have some form of enterprise CRM system. And then of course there is their impressive website which I had used to book the tour in the first place!

Unfortunately, we were half-way round the tour when I did have to fight to control my annoying trait – I noticed a PC which was running Windows XP. Thankfully I resisted the temptation to smugly ask, “Do you know XP is end of life?” in the Q&A session at that stage of the tour. I’m glad I didn’t – I would have been treated to the ‘barman stare’ and my brother and dad would have ditched me at the gift shop.

I’m also glad I didn’t ask that question because I realised how high tech the whisky industry can be and what streamlined processes they have – and I’m now fairly sure their IT department are more than aware of the latest changes in technology (I’m also sure our engineers at TSG would be all be queuing up to go and give them a helping hand!).

This prompted me to research the topic a little further – i.e. Google search! It turns out the industry is hugely high-tech, from the systems used in the distillation and later blending/bottling, to the systems used for storing and logistics. It seems I couldn’t have been further from the truth with my pre-conceived notion of 200 year old systems.

So what did I learn? The main thing was I still have a lot of work to do to prevent alienating friends and family by controlling the IT Geek function of my brain…

The more interesting point was that if a 200 year old distillery can adopt modern technology to drive efficiencies and productivity, yet keep their brand of hand-crafted whisky intact, then any business can benefit from adopting the latest technologies.