In the world of agriculture-specific software development, three key trends have driven innovation: the rapid speed of technological advancement; the consolidation of private elevators into multi-division, multilocation conglomerates; and the volatility of commodity markets. Much of today’s operations management software has been tailored to utilize automated data collection and basic bookkeeping to allow agribusiness to promptly address its risk exposure. Instant access to real-time financials, inventory reports and market information has become a vital function in modern day grain and feed mill operations.
“The faster you can get at the information, the better you can manage your company,” explains Oakland Corporation’s vice president Chuck Carlson. “Without close observation, grain companies can quickly lose a lot of money — monthly reports won’t cut it.”
A solid software system allows agribusinesses to immediately address pricing problems or inventory issues before it’s too late.
“Risk management should be one of the primary issues a company addresses with its software,” says Sherry Drutman, vice president North American sales, OpenLink Agribusiness Solutions Group. “[Managers] want to know they’ve covered their exposure and they use the software to make better decisions — like whether to buy or sell — and to determine where the company should be profitability wise. Instant, live information is crucial in this process.”
Given the importance of this business tool, Feed & Grain asked software suppliers to weigh in on what they feel are the key features to look for if a company is considering upgrading its current software package or investing in a new one.
What to look for in operations management software
1. Select a Knowledgeable, Reputable Supplier
While the functionality of the software is important, the level of support the supplier provides after the sale and its understanding of your business also influence the success of the software application.
“If the software supplier has employees who have worked at a cooperative or an elevator site in the past — people who know what you go through day in and day out — this experience will help tailor the operations management software to your needs,” Carlson says
Many times the software representative acts as a consultant to the customer by introducing best practices and updated procedures innate to modern accounting and site management systems.
Ask the supplier for testimonials or other customers who may be interested in sharing their experience with the product. Also, find out how often the system is modified to gauge the company’s dedication to providing leading-edge updates.
“When a company buys an application, it’s not just buying it for a year or two; it hopes to never have to go through the process again,” Drutman notes. “Make sure [the supplier] you’re dealing with will be around to let you enhance the system and will grow with you.”
2. Full-service Training
The level of training necessary to bring locations up to speed varies with every employee and every company so it’s especially important that the software supplier respects the pace the person or entity needs.
“Our goal is making sure the employees are comfortable before considering the installation complete,” Carlson says. “We go on site to train and deal with real-time situations.”
Trainees will often be taught how to use the system using a dummy program so the real information isn’t compromised. This on site interaction also provides additional touchpoint for the supplier understand and customize the software to meet the client’s needs.
3. Feature Flexibility
As the grain business evolves, a company’s need may change so the software should allow for a level of customization.
“Sometimes [software] looks great when you buy it, but as the business changes, if you don’t have a software supplier who is offering updates and changing with these new requirements, you’re going to be back to where you were with an older system,” Drutman says.