Computer Desk
July 2, 2018

Five Tips From An IT Guy That Will Digitally Transform Your Dairy

 |  By: Anna-Lisa Laca

It seems there is always a new piece of technology for farmers to try. But do you have the necessary infrastructure in place to take advantage of those tech tools? Last week at the VAS Connect Summit, Brent Raeth of Catchmark IT shared five tips for farmers to prepare their farms to take advantage of new technologies. 

Why is technology infrastructure important? “Can you imagine Turbo Tax without good bandwidth or Uber without smart phone?” Raeth said. “The dairy industry is being thrown all this really wonderful cutting-edge software and hardware. All these wonderful, shiny things but they don't have the infrastructure many times to actually operate it or professional services to manage those things. It's a bit like trying to fly a fighter jet with a steam engine.” 

According to Raeth, the key is not only technology, but culture. He says the dairy industry needs culture change in five key ways. 

1. Embrace and Commit. “No longer can we afford to work around technology,” he said. “We can’t put things in place and find ways that we use it, but we don't really commit to it.” Instead, Raeth said digital transformation requires a top down commitment. For example, we can ask our employees to be committed to new technology to find cows but allow the manager to use a printed sheet. 

“We also need a disciplined management team because culture change is hard,” he said. “It's simple in a sense when you start talking about it, but it's really hard to execute. So, we need to have a disciplined management team to do that.”

2. Invest in People. Contrary to popular belief, this is not an IT job, Raeth said. “As a matter of fact, people like myself were probably the least prepared and the least successful in changing culture,” he said. “We need to be part of that team, but we can't lead it. It’s gotta be somebody that's in the dairy doing it.” 

According to Raeth, dairy managers need to start embracing that commitment to technology and what it means for their rolls. “They need to realize they're going to be part dairy manager, part CEO and part technologist,” he said. 

Another key piece of this puzzle is ensuring staff is capable of using technology. That includes getting over language barriers, he said. Dairies should consider having a technologist on their teams, he said. “Not just somebody to call when you want to put your head through your computer screen, but somebody that can advise you,” he said. 

3. Proper planning. “In a digital world, everything impacts everything else,” Raeth explained. “Technology, strategy and planning needs to happen. We need to have an idea of where things plugin, how this and that all work together.” For example, if you implement a robot on one side of the dairy they’re relaying on the same network as a piece of technology on the other side of the dairy. “It can impact your camera system or your herd management system,” he said. “Everything's interconnected.” 

4. Investment. While he admitted investment is a touchy subject in $15 milk, he says it’s an issue that needs to be emphasized.  While he’s quick to clarify he’s not talking about 10’s of thousands of dollars, he says dairies need to plan for this. “You need a line item for technology,” he said, adding that the funds should initially be used for baseline framework technologies. “I talked about the shiny good cool things coming. Well, I think you’ve got to have a foundation before you can build a house,” he said. “Of the dairy that we've worked with over the last several years, the very first thing we figure out is getting solid bandwidth to the dairy.”

5. Processes. Even within one dairy business, farmers often have different processes for different sites. Technology doesn’t like variation, Raeth said. “Technology needs standardization to drive efficiencies,” he said. “We need to have a commitment to process standardization as a necessary thing.” 

If standardization isn’t possible, farmers need to realize there are trade-offs for that. “If you're developing a custom piece of software, and you're looking at that piece of software, if you have five dairies you want to pull in five sites which each have a little different way of doing it, then you're going to have to develop five different software and that gets expensive,” he explained. “So for technology to work most efficiently variations need to be eliminated or consolidated.”

The benefits of digital transformation are plentiful, according to Raeth. Top of the list? Improved profitability. 

“You're going to do more with less, you're going to also have improved decision making, you should see problems sooner,” he said. “Then last but not least, you have business efficiency and improved profitability.”