Custom Software for Agriculture

The agricultural industry is becoming increasingly data driven and automated, which means custom software has recently become a big player. Today, Andrew and Alexandra discuss some apps we’ve built for ag companies as well as great use cases for agricultural software.

Let’s take a look at some of the apps that we’ve already built in the agricultural space. One is an app for a company that does produce inspections. Their original process involved a lot of pen and paper, inspecting produce inside cold storage. The goal is to ensure that the produce met the standards of their end clients, usually grocery stores. So we transformed this traditional pen and paper process into a mobile application that could be used on the spot and would still work without internet connectivity. A lot of these big produce warehouses are far from cell towers or even once in cold storage are unable to connect. This is a great example of how custom software can shine: taking a very tedious, manual, pen-and-paper process into an automated, end-to-end solution.

We did a similar app for a company that audited the effectiveness of crop spraying. They had a long assessment that was also tedious to do on paper and had similar connectivity problems being out in the field. Likewise, we created a streamlined app that automated and standardized their audit allowing the company to be more effective and more accurate.

A mobile app can be really helpful for providing visibility. Whether that be monitoring many acres or even sensors below ground, these are areas where a mobile app easily solves the problem of not seeing problems that need to be addressed and alerting you to them with a simple push notification.

Project roadmapping looked a little different for our client who audits produce. With them we were able to go into the field to actually see their process in action. We got a very boots-on-the-ground assessment of what they are actually doing, what their process looks like, and what the pain points are. The closer we can get to your process, the better we can understand your success criteria. It’s a lot more than just hitting your timeline and budget. For example, with this client, we were able to see that the staff working in cold storage need to complete the process quickly and it shouldn’t require a lot of find dexterity. These types of details may be unnoticed until the app is actually tested in the field without a proper project roadmapping phase.

Providing an end-to-end solution may mean leveraging both web and mobile technologies. In this case, we built the mobile app for those out in the field doing the assessments and a web app for the clients to be able to see the reports, run analytics, and access the information the produce assessment uncovers. When you want to get information out to a lot of people, web applications are a great fit.

If what we are describing sounds like the solution you’ve been looking for, set up a free app validation meeting today! Get a full hour with our executive team looking at your needs and assessing the cost and timeline for you!

 

Episode Transcript:

Alexandra:

Hey, everyone. Welcome back to another Bixly Tech Tuesday. My name is Alexandra, and today this episode actually includes myself and Andrew talking about custom software serving the needs that we’re seeing in the agricultural industry. We talk about a couple of apps that we’ve built in this space, as well as additional ways that custom software can really serve your customers. I hope you enjoy the conversation.

Alexandra:

So Andrew, what are some of the apps that we have built in the agricultural space?

Andrew:

Well, one of them we did was for a local company called RJO and what they do is produce inspections. And so their original process involved a lot of pen and paper. A lot of people going out in the field to cold storages to inspect produce for their clients, to ultimately make sure that the produce met the quality standards that their clients, typically grocery stores, were paying for.

Andrew:

So they had a process that was very manual, a lot of note taking, a lot of very spotty internet connections. And what we were able to do for them was build a mobile app where they were actually able to do their inspections right on the app. And then a big part of that too, was knowing that they may not have internet when they fill that out. And so it could be a 30 minute drive before they get to a place that has internet and they need everything to sync back up.

Andrew:

So that was a really good fit because it took a very manual, tedious pen and paper process, and helped automate and just kind of streamline it and provide better communication logistics for them.

Alexandra:

That’s awesome. Yeah, we did a really similar app for a company called Adaptive, but instead of auditing fruit, they were auditing basically the effectiveness of crop spraying. So whether that was spray coverage or just making sure that everybody on their team was mixing the chemicals properly, was wearing the proper protective equipment. And they too had an app where it was a series of questions and photos that they needed to take and submit.

Alexandra:

They also had connectivity problems, because a lot of times these fields are really far out there. They don’t necessarily have cell coverage. So when you’re making a mobile app for agriculture, I think making sure that you have the proper server set up so that you can still record all of the data and send it when you’re reconnected is really important.

Andrew:

Yeah. Yeah. And what I’m hearing is anytime there’s a very manual process or a very tedious process, doing an app for that to help streamline that, that a lot of times can be a really good fit or a really good time-saver. And also just help reduce human error.

Alexandra:

Yeah, absolutely. And you have this payoff because pen and paper is 100% reliable. A lot of times when you introduce technology there’s unreliability or connectivity issues. So when you can solve it from both sides, have the reliability, have the streamlined process that is very fast and also extremely standardized, then you really end up with the best of both worlds.

Andrew:

A mobile app can be really good too, just for providing visibility. Maybe you’ve got some kind of sensor that’s not visible, it’s below the ground, or it’s just not where you are at the time. Maybe it’s a water sensor or something. A mobile app provides a really good way to look at that and be like, oh look, it’s working. Or, oh no, there’s a problem. Or even just, I don’t want to think about it, but I want to get a ding on my phone when something goes wrong. Mobile apps are really well suited for that.

Alexandra:

So I know we did a really in depth discovery with RJO. We actually took our team to some of the packing plants that they go to to see their process. So maybe you can explain to me a little bit more about what that process looked like and how that helped us to take their app to success.

Andrew:

Yeah. So RJO was a really fun one. And it was fun because we got to get in the field. And like you said, in the cold storages. Which, that part was not fun. But just to give you a little overview, what we did was our client, RJO, they do produce inspections for their clients, which are typically grocery stores. And so they go into these cold storages, which as you can guess, are very cold, large warehouses. And they actually get in there, they open up the boxes of produce, they cut open the orange or whatever the produce is, and they do all the ratings.

Andrew:

So we actually got to go along with them, put on the big orange jackets so we didn’t freeze to death, and step through the inspection with them. And it was cool because we got a very, just kind of boots on the ground assessment of what they’re actually doing, what their process looks like, and just really what the pain points are.

Andrew:

So the closer we can get in there to your business and actually feel your pain, feel the challenges that you’re going through, it allows us to really understand what’s going on with you. And like you touched on, define what is that success criteria? What does winning look like with this particular project? It’s a lot more than just, this is how much I have to spend. This is what I needed done. Check off these three boxes. It’s actually making sure that it really addresses the pain points. So that was a really good example with RJO of doing that.

Alexandra:

Yeah. And a lot of times it’s really helpful to talk to people at all levels in the process, even though the CEO of a company or the owner of the company may be aware like, “Oh, it would be really helpful if we had an app to streamline this process from start to finish.” The actual specifics of what Janet needs when she touches the file is really helpful to know from Janet.

Alexandra:

And then if that information or that process goes to another department talking to that department and really understanding what they need specifically, it can often be really, really helpful to get the 100% perfect fit, because it’s custom software. So it should be custom for each person using it.

Andrew:

Well, and also, being face-to-face like that, it helps you identify the unique needs of that client. In this case, you’re dealing with a phone, but you’re very cold, and you are in very poor internet connectivity. And so just being there with them, kind of seeing them do this in this environment, it’s like, okay, this shouldn’t take a long time. Shouldn’t require a ton of dexterity. You shouldn’t have to do real fine motor skills.

Andrew:

And by being there, we really got to see, to understand those fine things that may have been challenging for them to articulate to us. Or to them, it would already be so obvious, but to us as an outsider, it wouldn’t necessarily be obvious. So being able to get boots on the ground, like that was really helpful in understanding their unique needs so that we could create a perfect fit solution for them.

Alexandra:

And the app isn’t just for inside of the fridge storage when you’re assessing the produce, it actually does a lot more because we’re doing an end-to-end solution for them. So what are some of the other functionalities that we solved?

Andrew:

Sure. So the app is really for the inspectors that are going into the cold storage, but those are employees of RJO that are doing that. We also built, actually, a much bigger web application that provides visibility on all these inspections. So their customers will log into this web portal, they can go through and see all the ratings, and really most of the customer facing side or the user interaction is really with that online web portal.

Andrew:

So yes, we can do mobile apps for things that are maybe in the field or make sense for that. But then also there’s a really good use case for web based applications when you want to get this information out to a whole bunch of people to view reports and export to Excel and just kind of do all those things you’d expect with reporting.

Andrew:

Alexandra, what are some needs we’re seeing in the ag space that could be addressed by custom software?

Alexandra:

Yeah, I think custom software is a really good fit for ag. We’re seeing farms become more and more data driven. And on top of that, you don’t have a lot of visibility. You touched on this earlier, you don’t necessarily have a lot of visibility into what’s going on in your acres and acres, right? So whether that be below the ground sensors for water table levels or all types of other things that you can monitor, that allows you to be very intuitive and react very quickly to the needs of your crop.

Alexandra:

Or whether that be processing lots of data. That’s something that computers are really, really great at and highly, highly accurate, that allows you to be extremely adaptive as you go through your growing cycle. Or whether that be auditing apps, like the two we’ve been talking about so far. All of these processes are usually done on such a large scale that the more you can automate it, the more you can standardize it through applications, and the more you can leverage the technical computing power of computers. I mean, that’s just a huge advantage to these farms that are running on such large, large, large operations, I guess is what I’m trying to say.

Andrew:

And with ag, too, consistency is always a big thing. They need to have consistent output. Whether it’s a great growing season or it’s a poor season where maybe prices are very low, they need to have consistent output from season to season. And when you’re dealing with that much square acreage, it’s not practical that you’re going to have visibility on all things, especially when you’re dealing with things potentially below the ground.

Andrew:

And so custom software is really good at collecting a bunch of information on things you couldn’t see and making it very accessible to you in a form factor like a mobile app or a web app. Or however you need to digest that.

Alexandra:

Well, I think another thing that we should probably consider, maybe on the budgeting side, on looking for an ROI and really talking to farm owners or agricultural companies of why this might be a good investment for them, is that there are third party solutions that are off the shelf for a whole bunch of different things that lots of farms use, lots of operations use. And they can be great. For most of our clients, what we’ve seen is that it really takes them maybe about 80% there.

Alexandra:

But if you’re doing a lot and you’re making really big decisions for your company based on this software, you may really need that extra 20% to being exactly custom for you and replacing what could be a very expensive, maybe subscription model, with something that’s proprietary, that you own. You make a one-time investment in, and it’s like a perfect glove for your operation. That’s really when the ROI starts to make sense for you as a company.

Alexandra:

So thanks so much for joining us for this episode of Bixly Tech Tuesday. I hope you enjoyed the conversation we had today around custom software and the agricultural industry. If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to leave them in the comment section down below. Or if you have any other topics that you’d like us to cover, let us know.

Alexandra:

If you have an app idea that you want to start building, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. You can access us online at bixly.com, and even get a free consultation. We have that button up on our website to start talking about what your app might look like. Until next time, I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of Bixly Tech Tuesday.