Change, it’s a real pain the you-know-what. When it comes to technology and the fresh produce industry, a real problem. Technology and the fast moving fresh food business have such a love-hate relationship.
In the business of fresh food and agriculture, tech companies have built systems that simplify complex tasks. Take the rise of the payroll system. Managing and paying our massive, migrant labor force used to be the number one problem. Today, everyone uses sophisticated software systems to process a payroll. A complex process made simple by technology.
Today we have simplified software to…
- calculate taxes
- track finances
- execute trades
- manage inventory.
Leapfrog the concept even further and add to the list:
- precision ag
- machine learning
- process automation
- advanced irrigation management
If payroll was first, then accounting must have been next, but today, those systems represent yesterday’s innovation. What is going to propel us into the future? The ERP’s and the ecommerce systems are now nearly 20-years-old. Today, we take these systems for granted.
But what’s next? What complex problem can we make simple today?
The Rise of ‘The Operation’
To keep the needle aiming toward true north, the industry is entering a period where we will automate the entire operation. The systems of the near future will deliver facts and data, creating operational transparency like it’s never been done before. The need is rooted in the complex requirement to see it all, have all the decision data at our fingertips, have it mobile, have it summarized and most importantly, have it relevant. Driven by complex data management tools, IoT devices and alerting systems, the health of our operations and supply chains will be supported with moment-by-moment facts to support rational decisions. Information at our fingertips. Tomorrow’s systems will be cloud-based, incorporate IoT and blockchain, and work seamlessly with other systems across your enterprise.
Here are a few examples of where I see this playing out.
Yesterday’s problem, the issue of merely processing a payroll, will be replaced by comprehensive workforce management solutions. Look at companies like TriNet or Workday. We’re moving to a time where soon, each worker in the agriculture space will be carrying a personal GPS device, recording real-time aspects of worker costs, location and productivity. Scheduling labor, managing compliance, paying workers and knowing real time costs and productivity will blend together. No more disparate systems for each feature. No more looking back at historical reports to learn about last week’s productivity. We will manage the company by looking at ‘THE NOW’. Constantly looking backward is no way to drive a company forward.
Whether it’s a crop in the ground, a harvest estimate, a crop in transit, a packaged saleable unit, loading appointments, unloading schedules, order fulfillment, low stock level alerts or demand signals generated by cash register sales, future inventory systems will be much more fluid than they are today.
Inventory systems must evolve. They will be the vehicle to carry and validate compliance data. Key data will be incorporated onto every commercial transaction. Facts such as food safety, traceability and quality control will be a part of the inventory record. Disparate silos of information will be brought together on your mobile phone, spitting out real-time data, writing to a blockchain smart contract, with alerts and notifications, in the moment they are happening. See my recent blog on the concept.
To catch a glimpse of the future, look back at the vision Jeff Bezos had for Amazon. Today, from the luxury of our couch, 24 hours a day, we do it all. We shop, compare products, check prices, view product availability, manage shipping, delivery times, quality, read customer reviews and instruction manuals all from ONE cloud-based system. This obsessive attention to the customer experience has made Amazon the dominant retail platform. But behind the scenes, this comes from a multitude of systems with sophisticated data structures, IoT, blockchain and collaborative companies with interoperable online databases. The intuitive Amazon interface has created a customer experience that is second to none, fueling their meteoric growth.
Today’s ag-tech industry is receiving world-wide attention and loads of funding for new, sparkly technologies. But to deliver a deep ROI, these new tech offerings will likely go through a period of consolidation. Startups, focused on a single issue will roll up into complete features, features will evolve into true products, products will be combined into systems. These systems will deliver a true return on investment for their clients.
With this shift to operational efficiency, mere accounting systems, simple inventory systems or single threaded e-commerce platforms will be left behind. If you’re like most, you have several systems and a multitude of logins to remember. In the future, you will have a dashboard that turns your complex operation into something simple.
Taking the complex, making it simple and doing the hard work of ‘the business of the business’ is our future. Hang on, because when this kind of evolution hits the ag industry it literally changes the world. And I, for one, can’t wait.