Monsanto finds room to grow with open source software

The agriculture giant is using open source geospatial software to help visualize crop performance and yield information, thereby lowering costs and boosting IT's options to tailor applications for users' needs.

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Farming may be the oldest industry in the world, but the rise of the internet of things (IoT), mobility and other technologies present new challenges for agricultural companies. Scrambling to keep up with the explosion in crop data, Monsanto has turned to an unlikely source for help: open source technology.

Like most agricultural companies, Monsanto has traditionally licensed geospatial information software (GIS) to visualize crop performance and yield information on a map, and to process satellite imagery to understand where disease or blight might be occurring. But the proliferation in data volumes from yield monitors, precipitation sensors, crop health imagery and other sources meant Monsanto would have to buy more enterprise software licenses, says Martin Mendez-Costabel, who leads Monsanto's geospatial big data engineering and strategy efforts.

Such an investment would prove costly and unsustainable at a time when thousands of users require access to geospatial software from desktop and mobile devices, Mendez-Costabel says. Moreover, with the software scattered all over the enterprise, it proved difficult to manage. Craving more flexibility at a lower cost, Monsanto two years ago began using open-source GIS software from Boundless, a startup whose software helps manage data generated by satellites, GPS systems and a variety of sensors.

Open source helps Monsanto scale

"You can scale up without paying the penalty of spending more money and negotiating additional licenses and installing and configuring them," Mendez-Costabel tells CIO.com. "Cost savings is a driver, but there is also more flexibility in terms of how much you can customize different tools and analytics models according to your needs."

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