The Pitfalls of Juggling Multiple Ag Software Systems
If you run an agricultural business enterprise today, you are very familiar with juggling multiple ag software systems. It might be typical for you to have three to five agronomy systems, your two to four grain systems, your fixed asset system, your maintenance program, your portal/mobile provider, your patronage or member management tool, your separate HR and payroll programs, and Excel. When you have that many systems to manage, you end up with a few key questions you need to consider:
- How do you secure all those systems?
- How do you integrate data between systems?
- How do you maintain/upgrade these systems?
- How do I train my team on all these different systems?
It is great to go with a "best of breed" strategy because you get a system that works well for the specific function it performs. The problem with that strategy, however, is having to answer the tough questions above.
Below are some key topics to think about when answering these questions.
Keep the Data in Your Multiple Systems Safe & Secure
I've written earlier about the best ways to protect your systems from ransomware so I'd encourage you to read that if you haven't already. The best way to do this is to move your systems to the cloud and implement two-factor authentication. If you do that, you need to closely manage access to your systems.
If you have your systems on-premise, it's going to be a constant battle to protect your systems against threats.
If you are hosting any of these solutions, I'd recommend you consider hosting them on Microsoft Azure or another cloud provider like AWS or Google. For all your Excel files, that are an easy target for ransomware, put them up into SharePoint or OneDrive so they are hosted in the cloud as well.
If your vendor is hosting your systems, ask them where they are hosting it and what protections they have in place.
Ensure a Smooth Flow of Data Between Systems
When you have data in multiple systems, it's inevitable that you'll have inconsistencies between the same data. The biggest example in most systems is Employee Data. You probably have employee data in Active Directory, your HR/Payroll system, your ERP system, your CRM system, and likely a few more.
This is a lot of data moving through many different systems. That means you'll have to address inconsistencies such as name changes when someone gets married. That isn’t your biggest concern, however, that comes when you don't clean up your employee and login data when someone leaves the company. That presents a security hole and will confuse the users in your system. If you're going to have employee data in multiple systems, you have to have a diligent set of processes to follow when employee data is changed. I recommend a strong off-boarding process to make sure you can clean up your user base every time someone leaves.
I highlight the employee data as a common issue but ultimately every system where data exists in multiple places will cause the same inconsistency issue which will require attention to avoid problems associated with bad data (reports not accurate, incorrect customer data, etc.)
Maintain and Upgrade All of Your Systems
The good news if you're using disconnected systems is you won't have to worry about an impact on another system if you're upgrading one of the other systems. The bad news is you'll have to run a lot of systems updates every year or you'll be using old systems.
Most on-premise systems should be updated or patched roughly every two years, so if you have 12 systems you're supporting, you'll be doing 6 updates a year - that's a lot of work to put your IT team that doesn't really drive your business forward - it's a lot of work to maintain the status quo.
If you have this many systems to upgrade, make sure you build a schedule and combine certain upgrades to reduce the amount of weekend work your team will have to do. Make sure you have prepared updated training guides for your new systems as you roll them out; it’s very easy to roll out a new system and forget to tell the users something has changed.
Well Trained Staff Yield the Best Results
If you have multiple systems, you will need to train your end-users on each one of them, which is certainly harder than training users on one system. Even harder than that, you will need to train your IT team to support all these different systems. This is a tall task because for each system, you'll want to identify a subject matter expert who can serve as the lead trainer and you'll need to produce content for each system to make sure your users have resources when they get stuck - if not, they will be calling that subject matter expert non-stop to get real-time support. In this scenario, you often end up with your best IT folks focused on maintaining existing systems and supporting users rather than focusing on the future.
For Ag clients, our approach at Stoneridge Software is to combine the capability of Dynamics 365 with Levridge, our Ag-focused solution, to minimize your systems. We can bring together a system that combines your contracts & settlements, scale tickets, mark to market, inventory, sales and purchasing, fixed assets, asset maintenance, and all your finance needs. We won't necessarily eliminate all of your separate systems, but we'll make it possible to reduce down to a handful of systems rather than an auditorium full of systems.
You will be able to focus your team and your IT staff on enhancing your systems rather than purely maintaining your systems.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you have any questions about this or any other software solutions we provide.