“People and partnerships matter.”
For Andrew Goodin, this aphorism applies, whether as CIO or chief digital officer, two roles which he has held at Zespri.
“Success comes from working together,” says Goodin, who stepped up to acting chief digital officer at Zespri, following nine years as CIO.
“It is very difficult to create value or something of value alone,” says Goodin, who is now head of New Zealand growth at Fresh Supply Co.
Goodin, who has worked at Zespri for over 10 years, says this lesson was drilled into him when he and his team successfully migrated the SAP landscape and infrastructure to the Azure public cloud.
This was a global first, but they had to do it in partnership with SAP, Microsoft and Datacom.
“We delivered an outstanding outcome for the company,” he says. It was a demanding project with new technology, but all three project partners “used their collective resources and brain power to find solutions together”.
More recently, he applied this approach with a project that involved partners outside the technology industry, but which has massive impact on the kiwifruit industry.
He explains that a critical phase of fruit development on the kiwifruit vine is a process called “bud break”.
This is when winter buds open into flowers. Understanding when bud break is due to naturally occur is important from an orchard management perspective, as its occurrence is used to determine when to apply growth enhancers.
Bud break enhancers such as hydrogen cyanamide (HiCane), AdvanceGold and horticultural oils should be applied to vines a number of days before natural bud break. If the timing can be improved, the yield of the vines is increased, resulting in greater returns to growers and Zespri, he says.
Plant Food Research developed a simplistic model for predicting the timing of natural bud break based on the temperature in four locations across New Zealand (Te Puke, Kerikeri, Gisborne and Motueka). This bud break model is manually recorded into an Excel spreadsheet and has been created using Visual Basic.
He says his team enhanced this predictive model and improved the process using digital technologies that can be consistently used throughout the kiwifruit industry.
The new technologies involved included IoT on orchard sensors, machine learning and advanced analytics.
The idea complements and builds on the manual approach to estimate bud break timing, he says. The innovation leverages technology to gather orchard specific forecasting using sensor information and analytical outputs.
He says the solution includes placing standard sensors on orchards to capture climate data which is then pushed to a database using IoT.
This also improves accuracy of data by automating data capture. This allows Zespri to capture more complete samples.
They then used algorithms to accurately predict when natural bud will occur. The algorithms leverage data using machine learning, enhanced analytics, and visualisation tools.
With a strategic goal of doubling revenue within the next eight years, this innovation will support the industry to optimise the quantity and quality of fruit grown in New Zealand, he says.
Goodin says Zespri worked with other industry partners, including growers, to maximise the value from the kiwifruit supply chain.
By integrating the data from the sensors into algorithms, meaningful information can be shared throughout the industry which will enable an increase in revenue from the supply chain, he says.
This innovation goes further, by increasing the effectiveness of the growth enhancer process by improving the timeliness of application. This will result in reduced costs for the orchardists and increased yield from the orchards.
“The overall outcome will be a higher quality kiwifruit crop,” he says.
The biggest challenge has been the acquisition of data and undocumented knowledge to support the development of variables to create the algorithm, he says.
Goodin says the project is ongoing and presents a massive opportunity for Zespri.
Robotics in the workplace
The technology team is also working on an internal project using robotic process automation (RPA) for their sales plans.
Goodin says currently, the Zespri customer service staff maintains a sales plan for each customer.
These plans are updated weekly with the actual sales order data up to the end of the previous week and planned orders for the current and future weeks.
This data is shared by email with the customers who confirm their orders for the current week. These confirmed plans are then entered into SAP as current week orders.
The RPA pilot aims to automate the weekly updating of the sales plan with actual orders and distributions to customers. It will include monitoring for responses from customers and updating the sales plan with amendments made by the customers.
Zespri looked to improve the current business process and augment resources through the utilisation of two RPA bots.
The first is an attended bot that manages the weekly updates of the sales order plan with actual sales order data prior to sending to the customers. The second bot is unattended and monitors responses from the customer and updates the sales plan based on this data.
The pilot aims to assess the use of RPA technologies within Zespri and identify where the company can augment resources, or replace them, says Goodin.
He says the key challenges of the pilot has been the concerns from business resources that robots will take over their roles.
“We managed this through stressing that they are augmenting, not replacing resources, and that removal of manual tasks frees people up for higher value tasks.”
He says the RPA pilot has proven successful, saving 11.5 hours per week, and is now being scheduled for production rollout.
Communication as a cornerstone strategy
As shown by the RPA pilot and other projects, communication and engagement are hugely important for all organisations, says Goodin.
“For Zespri the global nature of our business makes regular communication a cornerstone of building and maintaining the culture of the company,” says Goodin.
To keep people up to date, his team actively participates in Zespri’s global forums. These are facilitated company meetings where the executive team covers key issues and topics related to delivering the business strategy.
In order to work across the multiple time zones in which Zespri operates, the company holds two forums which are livestreamed and recorded for people to access at a later date.
As CDO, Goodin conducts a monthly ‘skype hour’ where anyone in the organisation can dial in and ask a question about the digital function and strategy. “These sessions are unscripted and provide a transparent glimpse into the digital function.”
From a team perspective, he uses a SharePoint site and digital newsletter to share information specific to the global digital team.
The digital team has a weekly Monday morning briefing. “We discuss the work in progress for the next three weeks via a Kanban board,” says Goodin.
“This ensures we continue to track progress of key initiatives and remove roadblocks when necessary.”