logisticstechoutlook

Riding the Technological Momentum

By Gary Acromite, CIO & Chief Logistics Officer, Gavilon Group

Gary Acromite, CIO & Chief Logistics Officer, Gavilon Group

Solutions Matching the Technological Spin

Generally speaking, many of the biggest technology challenges facing the Agribusiness sector are a combination of factors; the degree of technology offering fragmentation; the existence of legacy / traditional applications; the lack of fully integrated solutions; and the emergence of next generation technologies (e.g. data analytics or high-resolution image processing) for which the value propositions are still evolving. As a consequence, the commercial, logistics, and technology teams are faced with the difficult ongoing decision making process of matching technologies and process solutions to business improvement actions, while ensuring the delivery has a clear return on these investments.

"It’s a very exciting time for technology and logistics leaders in the Agribusiness sector"

For agriculture commodity businesses, the real opportunities in my mind are twofold; an end-to-end supply chain automation capability; and a single SKU data analytics platform. Both delivered as a cloud based, subscription based service. Both have yet to be realized.

Bird’s Eye View through Data Integration

Successful data integration teams must pay strict attention to these five priorities and figure out how to excel at all of them;

1. Generating clean data–at least clean enough to enable multiple models to be engineered off the same dataset.

2. Engineering a smart data model–one with flexibility and the end goal in mind.

3. Leveraging a portfolio of integration tools–data originates from an array of sources.

4. Having a great set of visualizations–many analysts and decision makers (maybe most) need pictures to ‘see’ the insights and possibilities.

5. Creating actionable insights which will have a direct impact on revenue and profits–otherwise it’s not worth the cost and effort.

Building the right visualizations and creating actionable insights are most critical to the success of enterprise-wide data integration efforts and will require a new team of talent and skills in order to achieve it.

Towards Cutting-Edge Technology

It’s a very exciting time for technology and logistics leaders in the Agribusiness sector. Although the top technology selections would vary depending on different points-of-view, depending on your place in the competitive landscape, the most notable and most impactful technology solution candidates in my opinion include;

1. Analytics solutions, especially delivered as a platform;

2. Logistics and supply chain automation including all modes of transportation and connection to all trading partners using contemporary B2B integration tools;

3. The combination of sophisticated crop performance / yield forecasting models, and high resolution image processing within a single analytics platform; and

4. Next generation trading platforms that disintermediate traditional market trading mechanisms by bringing buyers and sellers together more efficiently.

Technologies Steering the Industry

We have been using cloud, subscription-based products, and other support services from the marketplace for several years now. For us the two most exciting technology trends we expect to have a significant impact on our future are; technologies which advance our ability to optimize and predict farm field-level production (yield and revenue), and distributed analytical capabilities allowing us to uncover profit producing insights within super-sized datasets which were previously not attainable.

Changing Role as a CIO

For us, we have worked very hard to break many of the traditional IT roles using two primary organizational development axioms; the way we run IT, and the way we work with the business teams.

In terms of running IT, we operate on lean principles with an overarching objective to buy services first (that is to say subscription base technology services as a platform), buy products second (the more traditional model), and build it ourselves as a last resort (usually driven by competitive differentiation, lack of marketplace availability, or lack of economies of scale).

In terms of working with our business partners, we are driven to understand all commercial and operational activities needed to generate revenue and profitability–our IT team knows how we make money. We participate with our commercial business partners to deliver technology services to run the business, and secondly, we identify technology investment actions to improve the business. Then, we operate as an integrated cross-functional team to achieve the objectives. In fact, this process even impacted me personally when the executive leadership recently expanded my role to include logistics and transportation.

Techniques Driving Internal Transformation

As an organizational philosophy, we use a flexible assignment approach – typically in the most critical roles needed for the success of our company – where individuals are given different medium-term assignments that require skills generally outside of his or her core skillset, but are well within their potential to perform. Pressing IT professionals into these new assignment areas on a regular basis affords them an opportunity to grow, gives the company the benefits of their hard work and commitment, while creating innovative ways to add value to the company.

Achieving this level of flexibility requires the right IT leadership, the right operational model, the right kinds of IT professionals on the team, and the right level of confidence from business partners (earned by a team with a reputation for success).

Advice for Fellow CIOs

Be patient. The Agri-business sector has been under-served by technology solution providers (as compared to retail, healthcare, energy, financial, etc.) in the past. Consequently, there’s no obvious pathway to success–this needs to be crafted to align with the strategic objectives of the business and in partnership with the commercial leadership. However, this is an exciting time since we have a chance to leap-frog some of the technology solutions from the past decade and move directly to those that will flourish for the next one.