Ballance Agri-Nutrients says it now has “a digital core in place” with deployment of the SAP S/4HANA technology platform.
“We now have the base on which to build our digital future,” says David Scullin, CIO of the farmer-owned co-operative.
“It is about faster and improved decision making and more simplified business processes,” says Scullin. “It is also positioning us beautifully for the future world of the Internet of Things, and a personalised customer experience.”
We need to start connecting our customer experience systems to that digital core David Scullin, Balance Agri-Nutrients
“We know increasingly the world is becoming more connected and our customers, our farmers are no exceptions,” says Scullin. “They will ultimately have a lot more connected things on their farms.”
“We want to be ready for the Internet of Things and not have to play catch up.”
Scullin explains becoming a digital business for Ballance is about creating competitive advantage and enabling its business strategy.
“We need to start connecting our customer experience systems to that digital core so that we can provide online and mobile access,” says Scullin.
“Our purpose is to create the best soil and feed on earth together with our farmer shareholders. We are a co-operative and to do that well for our customers, we need to digitise their journey,” he says.
He describes the three pillars to building the digital business at Ballance.
The first, he says, is customer experience.
The second is knowledge management. “We want to grow knowledge within our business through information sharing and analytics,” says Scullin.
The third is simplification. “We want to make sure processes are simple, easy to use and are efficient.”
He explains Ballance has a range of customers, from family farming operations through to major corporates.
All of them have increasing requirements for information to be incorporated with the products and services we deliver to them, he states.
“They are also more demanding,” he says. “They want a more personalised view of their information and a more personalised experience in terms of the products and services we offer them.”
For example, he says, Ballance does tests to understand the productivity or deficiency of the soil and where their products could add value.
“They [customers] may want to see as soon as possible when soil results are done, and how those results would trend over time, and perhaps benchmark regional and national averages for similar farm types.”
Ballance is the first New Zealand organisation to go live with SAP S/4HANA.
“We understood the power of real-time data, and the need to get this into the hands of our employees,” notes Richard Hopkins, CFO at Ballance. “Our people are more productive. They have access to the right tools and information at the right time, enabling them to serve our customers with confidence.
“The team now has more time to focus on the job at hand, and already our month end [reporting] is easier and quicker to complete.”
Since the deployment, management sales reporting has decreased from two hours to 20 minutes, while key business processes have become 75 per cent quicker, says Scullin. In some cases, delivering real-time insight on a year’s worth of data takes less than a second.
“That is just the benefit of the speed of the platform and the stability to analyse large data sets.”
Invigourating the IT team
Scullin says last year, Ballance refreshed its business strategy, and identified 14 strategic pathways to focus on. One of these pathways is digital and data value.
This project and implementation are aligned to that strategy and to our future growth, says Scullin.
Scullin says the new strategy “invigourated” his team.
“We have increased headcounts to enable our new strategy and we have aligned it better to deliver that strategy.”
“They now see a long-term roadmap they are working to, and they are working on some exciting new projects.”
Scullin shares three lessons from the deployment.
First, you need to do it based on a strategy, both on a digital strategy and how that enables the business strategy.
Second, you need to have a business case and clarify the benefit.
Third, given how new this platform is, “testing and dummy runs in mock environments a number of times and going through that process are very important.”
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