S.E.T for Success in AgTech: Enablement

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S.E.T.: Scalability, Enablement, and Transformation  

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In the previous article, we covered the concept of Scalability and how technology could enable exponential increases in productivity and value. Also represented in the article were the “how-tos” of approaching scalability opportunities – primarily three fundamental steps agtech firms can follow to understand, plan, and execute on opportunities to scale products and services. 

Within the S.E.T., scalability sits closely to enablement, but both concepts approach value generation from different angles.  

While scalability is about rapidly expanding products and services to bigger audiences with minimal effort, enablement asks the question, “how can we radically improve our team or user’s workflow with new or enhanced tools or processes?”

There are many examples of enablement throughout history. The understanding and utilization of nitrogen fixation in the early 1900s enabled growers to increase yield substantially, the automation of the combine harvester by Holt Company (now Caterpillar Inc.) enabled farms to reduce painstaking labor and increase overall efficiency – the list goes on.  

While ‘agtech’ as a concept was more rudimentary and closer to the dirt in the past, technology was and is a constant theme behind each success story.  

Today, enablement may come in the form of enabling agronomists to make better decisions through richer soil testing or enabling growers to plan more efficiently through digital, real-time interfaces. This article focuses on translating three trends that are supporting enablement initiatives across hundreds of agtech firms and millions of users. 

Based on investor interest, major technology breakthroughs, and areas of most need, products and services most likely to succeed in enabling users, teams, and agriculture verticals tend to contain one or several of the concepts below. 

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Powering Real-Time Decisions  

Comparatively to the 1900s, today growers, agronomists, and agtech companies alike are generating, transforming, or consuming data. Real-time decision-making tools enable teams and users to act on insights and windows of opportunity quickly – meaning more productivity and fewer risks. Smart Farming and Precision Agriculture are just a few of the agtech developments fueled by better, more available data and data processes

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Big Data will have a large impact on Smart Farming as it involves the entire agri-food supply chain. Smart sensors and devices are producing unprecedented amounts of data that are offering companies the opportunity to provide decision-making capabilities in real-time.  

Companies can provide predictive insights in farming operations, drive real-time operational decisions, and redesign business processes for game-changing business models. With so much data and opportunity for discovery, how does a company know where to focus their data enablement strategy to power real-time decision efforts? 

  • Data-Enabled Infrastructure – Capture, aggregate, and analyze rich, clean data in the ingress pipeline. Companies can prescribe specific actions when there is discoverability to insights. 
  • Platform Pattern – Platforms have the power to shift, create, and influence new opportunities and forms of relationships between users, clients, producers, and sellers. Use this pattern to handle input and output of data for interoperability and accessibility.  
  • Business Processes – Defining maintenance protocols, auditing procedures, goals, metrics, and automating processes allow companies to have the proper data governance required to mature their real-time decision capabilities. 
  • Teaming – Building the right team that has access to the right tools, expertise, resources drives your business forward. These teams should comprise multiple disciplines, such as engineering, marketing, science, and business.  

With the adoption of new technologies and the evolution of artificial intelligence and machine learning, companies that have the right infrastructureprocesses, and teams to capture, clean, aggregate, and analyze this data will best be equipped to make and provide real-time decisions for the business and its customers. 

Leveraging Self-Service  

Self-servicing allows team members and users to ‘feed themselves.’ Creating digital pathways for companies, teams, and people to effectively do their jobs without relying on over-complex processes or outside assistance is a value driver with ripple effects throughout food supply chains and agtech ecosystems.  

Product managers should be on the constant lookout for self-service opportunities in these buckets: 

  • Digitalization – Turning an analog into a digital experience may be complicated but can significantly reduce reliance on manual processes and networks of 3rd party helpers.  A prime example of digitalization is the increasing usage of iPads with robust G.P.S. connections to serve on the field activities.  
  • User Experience Improvement – Improved user experiences on digital tools allow users to solve problems they face on their own. Chatboxes can enable users to resolve a hurdle within an application quickly. Well-designed guidance and training materials allow users to learn all the tips and tricks that may have required a service call otherwise.  
  • Smart Data – For many teams and departments, data may site in a million different places with varying degrees of sanitation, format, etc.  Improving the quality and integration of data sources naturally enables applications to provide better information to users. 

An interface can only do so much if insights can only be gathered by contacting a data scientist or working with I.T. 

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As companies deliver self-service solutions, they create more than just digital resources; they are making a community and feedback loop that is invaluable to the business model. Getting self-service right will reward a company with not only an optimized engagement process with customers but reduce costs for the business simultaneously. 

Successful Self-Service Case 

AgTech companies such as The Climate Corp are adapting like never before to “deploy creative solutions to ensure safe, meaningful connections with farmer customers during COVID-19”. By providing introductory webinars, additional virtual help through crop and agtech videos, and walkthroughs, Climate has pivoted their digital onboarding strategy and self-service tools effectively.  

Creating Connections 

Large ecosystems form when collaborative tools, integrations, and platforms are connected.

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These ecosystems are significant and, when done right, can have a gravitational force that can naturally generate leads for new business and partnerships across the agri-food value chain. Ecosystems can typically provide the following value: 

  • Gateways – reducing friction as customers switch across related services allowing for seamless transitions in user flow 
  • Harness network effects – ecosystems of products allow for unique insights and consolidation data for optimization  
  • Integration of service data – provides opportunities for aggregators to capture high-fidelity data and improve farming practices 

With ecosystems projected to account for 30% of global revenues by 2025, it’s no surprise that John Deere announced they were opening their data platform for development by partnering firms. This and their opportunity for creating a Machine Data Sharing interface further amplifies the value of their data and digital infrastructure.   

Building an ecosystem is complex and has many interdependencies. AgTech companies can focus on the following to position themselves to develop or join an ecosystem strategically. 

  • Business Strategy – identify emerging tech or systems that can disrupt the marketplace, develop strategic actions to capture the sources of value. 
  • Infrastructure development – with bidirectional integrations with ecosystem partners, developing dynamic next-generation architecture and standards is key to optimizing data exchange. 
  • Consumer Management and Processes – service level agreements and clearly defined escalation and resolution protocols are crucial when considering the infrastructure support process and ensuring good customer support.
  • Cyber, Legal, and Partnerships – working with 3rd parties requires updated cyber and legal policies and processes for the protection of I.P., privacy, and regulatory compliance.  
  • Investment in Teams – ecosystems cross many technologies, investing in a team that has full-stack architects and engineers are essential to bridge the gap in business goals and tech requirements in the ecosystems generated.  

Connections Case: Ecosystem Partnerships 

Data-enabled farmers are becoming better financial partners as digital history and transparency have mitigated risks and unknowns to financial leaders. With the agri-food value chain becoming highly integrated and farmers taking advantage of the data they have, fintech ecosystems and partners can integrate confidently.  

Vast amounts of data, especially combined with machine learning-enabled analysis, dramatically enhances the ability of potential lenders to predict the outcome of financing agricultural ventures, allowing financial firms to loan more with less risk and the promise of more profit. 

With Conservis, farmers can organize all the data being collected from different sources and platforms, eliminate manual entry, create successful business plans, and confidently manage their cost and production operations throughout the year. In turn, farmers will be able to generate lender-ready, up-to-date reports they can share with their Rabo AgriFinance lender”

This flow of information cycling between firms creates feedback loops that significantly amplify the initial value, allowing for greater opportunity and potential prosperity with each new actor in the ecosystem.

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Our last article covered Scalability and the importance of seeking opportunities to scale while investing in innovation even during economic instability. While S.E.T.: Scalability, Enablement, and Transformation are called out separately in this series, when combined, they complement each other and create maximum value for AgTech companies. These ideas will pay dividends to companies willing to invest in the right processes and mindsets to innovate their way through the competition and macro-economic trends.  

Part 3 of our S.E.T. series will cover the concept of Transformation – or the integration of technology in all areas of a business, fundamentally changing how you operate and deliver value to customers.

About the Author 

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Dominique has 8+ years of full-stack development. She is a Project Leader and founder of the Headstorm AgTech Special Interest Group. Her work with startups and Fortune 500 companies has given her the ability to see many perspectives and provide the best solutions for her clients. Currently, she is focusing on driving engineering innovations and standards in AgTech.

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