Farmers talking with laptop

Four reasons why co-creating with your customers drives business performance

We’ve noticed that the past decades have seen a significant and positive shift in philosophy with product design and development. It used to be that entrepreneurs and designers would be reminding themselves of Henry Ford’s quip – “ If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” If in doubt, the product development team knew best – and through their own creative brilliance, they could deliver the best solutions.

Then came the focus on technology, with the oft-cited Skunk Works example. Engineers and product teams craved big budgets and siloed spaces, where they could deliver fast-paced and radical innovations to unleash on the market.

None of those philosophies are wrong – but we think they are both incomplete. And we’re encouraged to see more and more organisations and entrepreneurs recognising the power of bringing customers into the product design and development process from the earliest stages.

We see the impact of customer centred design at Rezare each week. So we’re encouraged to see the wave of articles giving the fantastic advice – go and develop with your customers. It’s good advice! When this advice is partnered with strong technological capabilities and agile processes – good things happen.

Many of the articles just conclude with an encouragement for you to go and talk to your customers. Go to their world. Meet them. Understand them.

But two key questions are often neglected:

  1. Why should we go and talk to our customers?
  2. How should we go about it?

In this blog, we’ll cover the first question – why is it important to go and talk to our customers?

At Rezare Systems, we’ve discovered four key reasons why designing meaningful interaction with your customers can drive fantastic product development.

  1. Your customers are the ones who will use the product.

    We know this sounds obvious – but it is deceptively easy to get so focused on your product, you forget about the people who are going to use it. The result? A focus on technology and design, and a product that may have all the latest features – but is incredibly difficult for your customers to use.

    And – the vast majority of the time – your product development team are focused on solving somebody else’s problem. Agritech firms are designing products to be used by farmers – and many the engineers aren’t farmers in their spare time. Left unchecked, this results in many assumptions – rather than a best-fit solution.

    Designing meaningful interaction with your customers as you develop brings them to the heart of your process, and reminds every member of your team that they are the ones who will use the product. This means their voice and their needs must be listened to and integrated into your product design.

  2. Designing with your customers increases your speed of development (and reduces wasted development time).

    If you work in product development – you know the importance of speed. It is essential the product gets to market as quickly as possible, without compromising your value proposition. The longer the product stays in development, the more expenses rise, and the greater stress this can place on cash-flow.

    One of the greatest threats to the development process is dead-end development. Each sunk labour-hour into developing features that don’t make it to launch is a costly endeavour, adding wasted time and resource to the development journey.

    When you bring your customer to the heart of your development processes, you don’t’ spend time building things that aren’t valuable. Instead, you only focus your development on features that you know are valuable and meet a real customer impact. How? Because your customer is with you, every step of the way.

  3. Co-design identifies little moments that lead to big success.

    At Rezare Systems we like to explore hinge moments. These are the seemingly-small discoveries about the users’ problem and process, that result in big success when integrated into the product.
    Most products live and die on small moments of value – which we only discover when we’re interacting with our customers along the journey.

    Case in point – one online marketplace was seeking to redesign their interface. They involved customers for the journey, and discovered a meaningful insight – customers like to buy products when they can receive instant answers to their questions or offers from the buyer. In short – they want velocity to their communication.

    So, the marketplace decided to add a small little feature. Each listed item had a little indicator that would also show if the seller was online. This would mean that any questions or offers would be responded to faster.

    The result with this little tweak? 4% more contact by users, 10% more contacts using the chat function, and an increase in revenue for the company.

    Discovering these hinge moments can be critical to the success of your product, and trying to find them without your customer’s input is like spitting in the dark.

  4. Designing with your customers builds trust and loyalty

    Bringing customers into the product design process sounds scary. What if their – or our – ideas are bad? What if we can’t solve their problems? What if we discover that our current solutions aren’t great solutions?

    All of these things can happen. However, research from the Delft University of Technology in Holland highlighted that co-design with your users results in higher loyalty between your customers and your company – regardless of the result of the journey.

    In short – users enjoy being involved in designing the products they are going to be using. They appreciate their wisdom and experience being drawn on, and often they enjoy seeing the inner-workings of your company.

    We’ve found forming these relationships with a range of users often results in ongoing insights – as they provide feedback on problems and products long after any formal communication. They talk to their friends about their experience, and often look forward to the next engagement

We believe the above four reasons are compelling enough for you to consider moving to co-design with your users. 

But – how do you do that?

Our next blog post will provide you with six key actions for designing powerful conversations that deliver meaning and value for your product design process – and a great experience for your users. In the meantime, if you have any questions about designing with the customer in mind, and how this might help with your idea, product or service – get in touch with us here.

Supermarket shopper

Digital data in the agri-food supply chain

Established companies and technology start-ups are all racing to create solutions that better manage agricultural data in supply chains. Does this mean radical new transparency for farmers and producers? And have we thought through the implications for data collection, management, and ownership?

In this post:

What is agricultural data?

Definition of agricultural data;

The facts, metrics, and statistics that describe elements of one or more farming or agriculture operations.

Most farms collect data in some form. Much of this may be in personal notebooks and mandatory compliance forms. Precision farming equipment, machinery, and mobile and desktop apps also collect agricultural data.

Most farmers collect information to:

  • Support improvements to farm management;
  • Follow government directives; or
  • Have something interesting to talk about in the pub.

So why are processors, food service and retailers, and dozens of internet start-ups becoming more interested in on-farm data?

How rich digital data can benefit agri-food supply chains

Three ways that digital data can benefit consumers, retailers and processors in the agri-food supply chain are:

  1. Traceability and tracebacks;
  2. Forecasting and efficiency; and
  3. Supporting product claims.

1.      Traceability and tracebacks

Tracking animals and crops through the supply chain helps the entire chain to respond to concerns about food safety or disease. This is especially important in livestock industries where animals move between farms, often through shared facilities.

Even for crops, on-farm records can establish linkages between the fertilisers and slurries, pesticides and herbicides used, and the resulting product.

2.      Forecasting and efficiency

Purchasing and processing goods from biological systems carries uncertainty and risk. Crop yields, dry-matter, or flavour will vary from the sector “average”. Animals may not be ready when first predicted or vary in how they meet processing specs.

If on-farm data were available before harvest or delivery, processors and retailers could predict the likely quality, timing, and specification of supply.

With enough lead time, processors and marketers could better match demand and processing capacity to supply. A dairy processor might vary the mix of UHT, cheese, and powder products based on expected quantities, fat, protein, and calcium levels. A fruit marketer could negotiate different market commitments based on predicted ripeness and flavour profiles.

Connected data may allow market signals to flow the other direction also. With the right information, producers could adjust harvest dates or livestock delivery to achieve target specifications and match market demand.

3.      Supporting product claims

Consumer interest is driving the creation of differentiated products, which make claims about what they do or do not contain. Examples might include:

  • “free from x”,
  • “organic”,
  • “naturally produced”,
  • “grass-fed”,
  • “local”,
  • “A2 beta-casein only”, or
  • “higher welfare”.

Consumers can see differentiation like “chocolate flavour” or gold kiwi fruit. “Credence attributes” are types of differentiation that can’t be seen. Consumers can only evaluate these based on trust and the story that supports the claims.

Small-scale producers can single-source from one or two farms that they own and closely control. For supply at scale, the evidence and controls to support credence attribute claims must be based on data and audits. And even audits make substantial use of agricultural data collected on farm.

Challenges of data in agri-food supply chains

Making effective use of agricultural data to benefit the supply chain is a worthy goal. In our experience, it is not necessarily straightforward. If you intend to use on-farm data to support an agri-food supply chain, there are four key challenges to consider:

  1. Data collection effort and methods;
  2. Data quality and completeness;
  3. Data flow between organisations; and
  4. Data ownership or control.

1.      Data collection effort and methods

With some exceptions, farmers have not traditionally been proponents of formal data collection. A few agribusinesses have built a culture of data gathering and analysis, but many farms would collect the minimum possible.

Recording has often been informal. Data to support a decision might appear on paper, in a notebook, or on an embedded device. After the on-farm decision, data may be discarded, having never been transcribed or centrally stored.

Apps are a great improvement over desktop software for data collection. But, collecting agricultural data is not as simple as rolling out a new app. Design effort needs to go into establishing when, how, and why data will be collected. You need to consider appropriate incentives and support.

A powerful data collection incentive is to immediately return useful insights to support on-farm decisions. For instance, a tool tracking mobs of animals for a processor might graphically show small changes the producer might make to improve their returns.

Remote sensing, image processing, and Internet of Things (IOT) devices promise to take farmer effort out of data collection. In our opinion, this could be transformative. At present the cost of some devices (compared to their perceived benefits) is still a challenge, as is network connectivity. Rollout of 5G networks may improve this!

2.      Data quality and completeness

Data quality issues in agricultural data don’t always arise from insufficient validation of input boxes. Sometimes just the opposite! Issues include:

  • Software and tools that are too clumsy to use or take too long, so don’t get used.
  • Overly tight validation that forces farmers to lie or “fudge” data to get it accepted.
  • Farmers who record results they believe that they should be getting, rather than what is really occurring. A farmer once told me about lamb growth rates that matched industry best benchmarks: I only to discovered later that they did not own any weigh scales.
  • Farmers recording data “just to tick the boxes”, so records are abbreviated, approximated, or (potentially) fabricated.

Transcription errors are another common cause of problems with data quality. We can understand this where data is captured on paper and later transcribed (and certainly in-field data collection can reduce errors). We have also seen real cases of manual transcription between software systems – with an advisor placing their laptop by the farmer’s computer so they can manually re-enter data from one screen to the other.

For supply chain data to be timely and useful to all parties, careful attention needs to be paid to the underlying design issues that cause missing and inaccurate data.

3.      Data flow between organisations

Supply chain networks face potential challenges in managing the flow of data between organisations. For example, farmers may potentially make use of several similar-but-different tools that capture data on farm. Or supply chain partners may request that a grower or farmer use their preferred tool – which can be challenging if the grower sends produce to multiple markets with different preferences!

In an ideal world, producers would not be locked into a single software tool or equipment manufacturer. Use of global standards would allow farmers, growers, processors and retailers to “mix and match”, selecting the best tool for their circumstances with confidence of compatibility. 

Such e-commerce standards have existed between large supply chain partners for many years. Consider electronic ordering, ship notifications and invoices exchanged in the automobile supply chain, for instance. Equivalent progress in the agricultural market has been slow and fragmented, although initiatives such as ICAR, DataLinker, and AgGateway are changing this.

4.      Data ownership or control

As supply chains start to leverage agricultural data, a key question that needs to be asked is “who owns or controls this data?”. Is it the producer, the manufacturer of on-farm equipment, a software vendor, or the processor or market partner who receives data?

It may be tempting to take the approach of “possession is nine tens of the law”. If the data has made it into our database, surely it is ours to use?

With some exceptions, rights to control data fall under copyright law. This leaves the “ownership” decisions about who can use data, and for what purpose to the party who invested time or money to create it – unless changed by a contract.

Surveys show that farmers worry about who controls and uses their data. Surveys of US farmers from 2014 and 2016 showed that 77% of farmers were concerned or very concerned about which entities could access their data, and whether it could be used for regulatory purposes. The November 2018 Farm Credit Canada survey showed similar results.

These concerns motivated the US Farm Bureau to draft its Privacy and Security Principles for Farm Data, and the NZ pastoral farming industry to create the NZ Farm Data Code. The position of these codes has been that organisations and farmers should explicitly agree what data is shared, and for what purposes, and that the starting point should support farmers rights to data about their businesses.

When we work with supply chain and agritech companies, we recommend that organisations are definite about the uses to which they will put data, and that they communicate this clearly and trustfully with producers.

In summary

There are compelling reasons why supply chain organisations in procurement, processing, marketing and retail, are looking to make greater use of agricultural data. Effective use offers greater forecasting accuracy and supply chain efficiency, as well as supporting differentiated product claims. If this is your vision, you’ll also want to consider how you will tackle the challenges of agricultural data – collection, quality, connectivity between organisations, and rights to data.

Rezare Systems helps organisations collect and make sense of supply chain data. We focus on your intended outcomes, rather than a single technology. We use design-led processes to collaboratively look across the issues of collection, quality, connectivity and rights – to identify what must be tackled, and when. If this resonates with you, let’s discuss.

Going round in circles

I’ve just finished refilling my Ecover washing up liquid bottle at work. Here in our shared office facilities our landlord is trying to get us all to go green and so has invested in a large returnable drum of Ecover from which we can all recharge our plastic bottles and avoid yet more plastic into land-fill.

My eco-crusade doesn’t stop there. In the past month we’ve stopped buying milk from the supermarket and I’m now popping into our local dairy farm on the way home and refilling glass bottles from their state-of-the art milk dispensing machine (at twice the price I might add).

Now I haven’t done the carbon calculations on any of this but what I do know is the amount of plastic we are getting through as a family has reduced significantly with just these two simple changes in habit.

At a time when Greta Thunberg is making waves across the Atlantic (literally) and movements like Extinction Rebellion are on the front pages, we simply cannot ignore the fact that the planet is in crisis.

So what does this mean for agriculture?

Those who have far better crystal balls than I do are suggesting that the future of business and the economy will be in what’s known as Circular Design. Unlike our current linear way of living (design, consume, throw away – or at best recycle), Circular Design is based on the rationale of there being no more waste, only the recycling of nutrients with a goal of arresting resource depletion and exploitation. Global sailing icon Ellen MacArthur is one of the big names leading the charge.

If the recycling of nutrients and a sustainable approach to our use of natural resources is the ambition, then agriculture must be central to the mission. And that’s the bit as someone in the agtech sector that excites me.

In an increasingly data-driven world, the opportunities for machine learning and AI to help us rethink the way we do things are growing by the day. As producers of food we are already seeing the norms of food production being challenged – impossible burgers, vertical farming and insect protein to name three. Whether these are truly “circular” I can’t say but they do signal the start of a revolution that is challenging what the farming sector has done for generations – and to traditionalists it feels uncomfortable.

But the truth is there isn’t a future in comfortable. We have such an existential crisis in an environmental sense that the rule book must be ripped up and those that tear the hardest are likely to win out.

To me that means adoption of smart, data-driven tech is an obligation not a privilege. It means we need to start collecting data on farm as a matter of urgency to begin to understand the complex dynamics of food production and resource use, and to deploy the best minds and technologies to redesign how we produce what we eat, how we consume it, and how we recharge the environment throughout this process.

We have such an existential crisis in an environmental sense that the rule book must be ripped up and those that tear the hardest are likely to win out.

Myriad projects could and should emerge that can establish the best production systems optimised by machines (sounds scary but isn’t) that calculate the “circularity” of the on-farm choices being made and that could be tied to market incentives for those that are indeed truly circular.

Imagine a future where data (privacy compliant of course) from your car, home and elsewhere is all linked up to the decisions you make about what you buy. In other words, the way in which you acquire and consume a product (food and non-food) is a dynamic calculation based on its own production history and your subsequent behaviours with it. Your “circularity” could become a badge of honour.

Governments the world over must incentivise the farming sector to make a step change. It is not good enough (in fact shameful) that something like 75% of the UK’s farmers do no electronic data recording at all. That might be fine to run an individual farm but it’s a collective disgrace when you look at the lost opportunity in a sustainability sense. Instrumenting farms and gathering good data is essential.

So as I take my refilled bottle of Ecover home via the milk dispensing machine, I can’t help but wonder what things will look like in five to 10 years from now. If it’s more of the same then we will all have failed. But if I and my children become more enthralled by sharing on social media how “circular” we are rather than obsessing about Snapchat streaks and Instagram likes, then that might suggest the tide has turned.

Or to put it another way, MacArthur won’t be the only one going round in circles!

Five reasons to attend Ag Innovations Bootcamp

The Ag Innovations Bootcamp returns October 1-2, 2019.  Hosted by Rezare and Fieldays Society, this bespoke training opportunity for New Zealand agricultural businesses offers a curated learning journey to grow your business capabilities.  The two-day bootcamp covers new product development, understanding your customers, business model development, creative problem solving and a whole lot more.

We know there’s no shortage of training opportunities out there, so you could be forgiven for wondering: “What’s so special about Ag Innovations Bootcamp?”

To answer that, here’s five reasons why attending the Ag Innovations Bootcamp will be one of the smartest investments in your innovation leadership and problem-solving capabilities.

  1. You will learn a valuable, value-added skill

    The Ag Innovations Bootcamp will teach you the fundamentals of the framework of Human Centred Design and Agile, and how the two frameworks integrate to create better customer-driven solutions at a faster rate of learning.

    These innovation frameworks are backed by rigorous research with innovation leaders IDEO and management consultancy McKinsey & Co each publishing their findings on the impact of embracing design into the heart of your organisation.

    Their insights? Companies pursuing design-thinking at the core of their business out-performed industry revenue benchmarks by over 100%; and design-driven organisations deliver a total return to shareholders 80% higher than industry benchmarks. Increasing their innovation capability using the model taught at Ag Innovations Bootcamp had the impact of increasing revenue and growing efficiencies, delivering a better end-user experience and a better business result for their organisations.

    In addition, research revealed companies utilising design-thinking de-risk their product development and increase their relationship with end-users.​ We want to stress this point – learning to innovate better is not about becoming riskier. It’s about seeking to de-risk your organisation by leading the charge towards the unknown future rather than reacting to changes that will head your way.

    Over the two days you’ll learn the fundamentals of these innovation processes, and gain a foundation to begin to implement these into your business.

    But it isn’t all theory, because…

  2. You will learn by doing

    Learning the theory of Human Centred Design and Agile is great – but you know what’s even better?

    Learning HOW to do it.

    Ag Innovations Bootcamp is built on the principle of Action Learning – we learn by doing, and we do by learning. Over the two days you will hear about case-studies, models, frameworks, tools and approaches and you’ll also be getting involved.

    You’ll be building things, interviewing people, refining problems, creating prototypes, pitching ideas, playing with canvases, practicing collaboration, iterating, clicking on new websites, downloading new apps, eating good food and learning together.

    It’s not two days of being talked at. It’s two days of listening, talking and doing – ensuring you are engaging with and trialling out the processes, not just hearing them.

    This means when you head home you’re going back as a beginning practitioner, as someone who has dipped their toes in the water of innovation and who can begin to adapt these frameworks to your own organisation.

    We want Ag Innovations Bootcamp to be an investment that makes a difference in your innovation leadership. That’s why we also create the space for Traction Conversations…

  3. You will apply your learnings back to your environment

    Ag Innovations Bootcamp is designed to pull you back to the space where the rubber meets the road. We have regular time for Traction Conversations – where you can question and wrestle with the application of your learnings with the expert facilitators in the room.

    Perhaps you’re questioning how the framework can be applied to your situation? Or you’re wondering how you can interview your end-users when they’re geographically diverse or don’t want to talk to you? Perhaps your management team doesn’t value innovation or you’re wondering whether this whole thing is just a fad?

    We don’t shy away from these conversations – we encourage them. It’s in these questions learning moments occur and we get to co-create together how these valuable frameworks can make a real-world difference in your context.

    The Rezare team connects every learning moment with your organisation and provides intentional space for you to voice your doubts and questions. This is where the magic happens and where we see the light-bulb moments really begin to spark.

  4. You will learn in a diverse community

    At the last Ag Innovations Bootcamp we were delighted with the diversity of our attendees. We had managers from agricultural banking services, developers from ag-tech start-ups, members of large industry bodies, with dairy, beef, sheep, deer and crops all represented.

    We love this. Why?

    Because in diversity, really good things happen.

University of Chicago sociologist Ron Burt’s seminal research explored this concept, mapping out the personal networks of a large electronic company and discovering who submitted the best ideas for improving the organisation.

His results were staggering. The most innovative ideas (as rated by the senior leaders) were thought-up by the managers who had the broadest networks. Managers who created ties across the organisation were most capable at generating new solutions and solving complex problems.

This was supported by research done by InnoCentive, the online innovation broker. When reviewing their InnoCentive success stories, they discovered that, on average, physicists were more likely to find solutions to chemistry problems than chemists and chemists were more likely to find solutions to biology problems than biologists.

At Ag Innovations Bootcamp, you’ll be rubbing shoulders with people from across the agriculture industry. You may be working with a scientist or an app developer from areas you’re unfamiliar with. That’s great – because as you work together and share together, you’ll start to unlock problems and see your business with a new set of eyes.

5. You will grow your toolbox

The strongest innovation practitioners have a solid understanding of innovation frameworks and an ever-growing innovation toolbox. These tools help them adapt to changing situations, facilitate new discoveries and add value across a range of business contexts.

At Ag Innovations Bootcamp, we guarantee you will learn a wide range of tools you can begin to use within your own context.

You’ll learn about new digital tools for capturing ideas, rapidly prototyping digital solutions, crafting beautiful presentations and mapping value. You’ll learn how to use familiar digital tools – such as Microsoft PowerPoint – to create rough testable website prototypes.

You’ll acquire new techniques for generating ideas from your team, engaging in meaningful conversations with your users, listening deeply to customers and ways to create powerful insights from the noise of data you collect.

Your toolbox will grow with new note-taking skills, physical prototyping practice and the ability to craft interview guides focused on discovery and connection.

These tools are clearly explained and then you are coached through the process of using them in context – allowing you to experience them in action and bring them back to your own work situation.
5.

The Ag Innovations Bootcamp provides opportunities for networking and enjoying the laughter and connection that comes with creating.  Our experienced facilitators give you space to bring other work questions to a team of experts.

If these five reasons have sparked your interest and you’re keen to begin developing your innovation skills click here to find out more about the Ag Innovations Bootcamp and register your attendance for October 1-2, at Mystery Creek.

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Time to demonstrate sustainable delivery of human nutrition

As the debate about the carbon footprint of livestock farming rages on, I was encouraged to hear a very persuasive presentation from Professor Michael Lee recently.

Michael heads up the team at UK-based Rothamsted Research’s North Wyke site, a world leading centre for farm-scale ruminant livestock production research.

In the past couple of years, North Wyke has had considerable investment in facilities to support its work and it really is an impressive mix of cutting edge science and pragmatic farming knowledge.

So what was Michael saying when it comes to global warming and livestock production? His argument is many of the figures being bandied about are an oversimplification of a complicated subject. But golly did he do a good job of distilling down the key points. It is true he suggested that when you look at simple measures for global warming potential (GWP) such as C02 equivalent/kg of meat product then the much maligned beef and sheep farming systems do fare rather poorly.

But does one kg of beef have the same nutritional value as a kg of chicken? The answer according to his analysis (actually that of his colleagues Graham McAuliffe et al. he respectfully conceded) is no. And here’s why:

Recommended daily intake

The North Wyke scientists have looked at the recommended daily intake (RDI) nutritional requirements of us humans and mapped this across the nutritional content of the different forms of meat (and systems) to produce a nutrient index based on 10 encouraged and two discouraged nutrients. Then they have compared the typical measure of C02 equivalent/kg of meat with a new measure of C02 equivalent/1% RDI and this rather turns some of the analysis on its head.

As the graph below shows, beef which performed rather poorly from a GWP perspective on the old measure (see top chart), comes out best on the new one. That is to say, for every % of RDI we need in our diet, beef production produces fewer kg of C02 than even chicken!

And while lamb might seem to be lagging even in the new analysis, by looking at arable land used to support the various livestock production systems, lamb does best with chicken again performing rather less well than ruminants on the RDI measure.

The point is not to crash the cause of UK poultry (or even pork) production but to point out that ruminant bashing doesn’t stack up on a RDI basis when measuring C02 equivalency. And while human consumption of plant-based products (as opposed to meat) might be even more sustainable, North Wyke’s work provides a strong argument for grass-based ruminant systems on non-arable land, and that’s even before all the negativities associated with potentially ploughing up swathes of pasture land for arable production and releasing tonnes of sequestered carbon.

So why as a technology provider am I interested in this? Well, if here in the UK rewarding farmers for preserving (even building) “natural capital” is going to become the big game in town, then we need some ways to measure it. Right now, to my knowledge, there isn’t a livestock recording software package out there that measures performance based on (for example) delivery of the human RDI index. This seems an enormous opportunity to start creating a tangible link between human nutrition (society), farm productivity (economy) and the environment through an empirically-based approach. Indeed, these were the three pillars of sustainability that Michael opened his presentation with.

Our own pureFarming livestock recording platform is already a feature-rich white-label tool for organisations helping farmers measure, record and monitor livestock performance but how much better could we make it if we added a new set of sustainability metrics to link on-farm production with the delivery of a healthy diet? That would be bringing farmers closer to meeting the needs of the consumer in a scientifically rigorous way.

I feel a project coming on! Anyone?

Prototyping at a whiteboard

5 reasons not to prototype your AgTech product or service. Seriously?

(and 5 reasons why you should consider it)

Prototyping. Its all the rage in product development because of design thinking, lean, and minimum viable products. But it might not make sense for your agricultural product or service. Here are some reasons why:

  1. It takes too long. The window of opportunity is small, and the race is on to beat the competition. Execution is everything. Better for the team to just get coding.

    • Of course, if the team build head down the wrong track or your customers just don’t like or use it, you may not have saved time at all.

  2. It’s too expensive. Your budget is finite. If you have 100k to build a product, you can’t afford to waste 10k on fluff. Worse, if the prototype shows our idea is wrong, you’re going to have to spend again on another prototype!

    • Or you could spend all your budget on developing the real product. And then spend it again changing the product, instead of changing the prototype.

  3. Our team is very busy. I don’t want to distract them with a prototype or mock-ups. Can the developers just get underway on the work?

    • The developers can build something. But what? Unless they have amazing knowledge, they may go off on a tangent or interrupt your team instead.

  4. Prototypes are risky. You don’t mind creating wireframes and mock-ups, but it could be embarrassing if your customers don’t like them.

    • Instead, you can wait until the product is ready to discover that your customers don’t like it.

  5. You already know what the customer needs. Perhaps you were the customer in the past, or you have worked with them for years. Regardless, this idea is yours and you know what they need.

    • And no one likes to be wrong, or to find gaps in our knowledge. That said, I’d rather find those gaps as early as possible, and I’m sure you would too.

If you’ve read this far, you’ve probably realised there’s a bit of tongue-in-cheek at work above. To be fair, I’ve heard all those reasons from one or another customer. Or our team. Or me.

It can be tempting to skip from customer empathy and ideation straight into development. In the early days of a new service or product development, it seems to make sense to just get underway. Building and testing prototypes takes money, time, and customer goodwill. Done well, prototyping should deliver a huge return on that investment.

What is a prototype?

A prototype is an early model or an experiment that helps you learn about the thing that you hope to construct. It helps you turn the ideas you gain from building customer empathy into something tangible. Something you can “handle”, before you invest in building your full solution.

Why should you prototype your product or service?

Use prototypes at different times and in different ways to reap a variety of benefits:

  1. Use sketches and paper/card models when you are coming up with ideas. This helps stimulate more ideas by engaging different parts of your brain. The process must be easy and lightweight otherwise you’ll suffocate those ideas before they appear.

  2. Build storyboards and low-fidelity prototypes with your team and tame users. This “learning by doing ” will increase your understanding and identify gaps. You want to identify gaps early rather than have developers and testers do it later.

  3. Validate your ideas by testing prototypes with real customers or users, before you build your product. You may worry about showing an important customer something half-baked, and its ok to invest a little more time in making the prototype look good.

  4. Prototyping not only helps you “build the right thing”. You can also use it to not build the wrong thing. Kill an idea if it becomes obvious it won’t fly, and you’ll save far more than prototyping ever cost.

  5. Even digital prototypes are more “concrete” than ideas on paper, so they force you to face up to reality. You can’t read livestock tags by Wi-Fi from a drone (yet)? Or the data for the AI you had your heart set on doesn’t exist? Your prototype might have to show a system without these magic bits. If you can identify practical limitations early, you can manage expectations of your customers and stakeholders.

If you’re thinking about incorporating prototyping into your agricultural product or service, talk to us. We’d be happy to help you with where to start.

Talking with a farmer

How do you build empathy with your agricultural technology customers?

Customer Empathy will be well-known to anyone who has heard about design thinking. So too, for that matter, anyone who has attended an Ag Innovations Bootcamp. Customer empathy is fundamental to creating great design that meets people’s needs. So how do you do it?

Empathy or sympathy?

Often “customer empathy” can sound a bit soft and “fluffy”; and rural professionals won’t want us to “empathise” with them, will they?

It’s easy for us to mistake empathy for sympathy. Both words involve understanding.

  • Sympathy involves understanding emotional or physical hardships, and then offering comfort and assurance.
  • Empathy builds personal understanding of what others are feeling, and the ability to put yourself “in their shoes”.

Embrace what you don’t know

Design practitioners we work with exhibit a similarity – they cultivate a “relentless curiosity”.

You’ve experienced this yourself, with someone who took a deep and genuine interest in your work or hobby. They listened attentively and asked thoughtful follow-up questions. They made you feel as though you were the most interesting person on earth!

Too often, when we venture into the field to talk to customers, we try to validate our own thoughts. We are the experts. We ask questions to qualify the customer, and to quantify the value that our solution will offer.

But what if our intended solution is not what the customer needs? What if there is an opportunity for something even better and more interesting?

Prepared questions will help you start a conversation. Deep listening and genuine curiosity will help us learn more than we could imagine.

Many beats one, and one beats many

How many customers do you need to interview? Will one or two be enough?

It would be nice to think so. Interviews take time to arrange. They take a lot of time and energy to carry out, and they often involve much travel. You can’t usually interview agricultural workers on a city street with a clipboard.

If you interview too few people, it can be hard to distinguish the important from the frustration of the hour. We know that diversity is an essential to high performing teams and great decisions. Seeking diverse views will also help you to create better products or services.

Plan for at least five interviews. You should find both commonality and the breadth of variation between your interviewees.  If you’re finding great diversity (or your first interviews don’t fit your early adopter profile), you may need to find more.

If you need to interview that many, should you consider a focus group instead? Could you get a group of customers in a room or on a Skype call and make more progress?

We don’t recommend this.

Focus groups have a different dynamic to one-on-one discussions. They good for uncovering trends and areas of concern. Detailed insights into the jobs your customers are trying to do are less likely to surface.

Will all users share their experiences and frustrations in a focus group? You may only hear personal experiences from the extroverts. There’s also the risk of “group think”. People may agree with well-expressed comments from others, regardless of their personal experience.

Make the effort to interview customers as individuals, or at most in twos.

Go where they are

In our experience, there is some value in bringing farmers or rural professionals into a meeting room or board room. They are less prone to interruption, and you have more wall space for Post-It notes and diagrams.

Yet you miss seeing the actual environment where they work and will use your product or service. You may also miss the environmental influences that affect the tasks they are trying to do.

Being on the farm or in the customer’s work environment allows them to pick up equipment and show you how they use it. They can point and describe the flow of animals, the pressure of people and machines. You can observe the frustration of sunlight on displays.

Most important: when you bring an end user into the boardroom, they become an amateur designer. This might be valuable, but it also becomes easier to talk in general terms. You may map general processes and forget to delve into experience.

Go to where your customers and end users work. You’ll gain richer insights and higher fidelity than you ever could in the boardroom.

Do we really know what’s coming?

One of the questions I am often asked is: “How does farming in NZ compare with the UK”?

Right now I think it’s a slightly loaded question with all the Brexit talk – subsidies and all that. But in reality given the context of the question is usually in the knowledge I head up a UK-based subsidiary of an NZ agri-software business, what many are really asking is: “How will technology change what we are doing, and is NZ ahead of the UK”?

Now this is a harder question to answer. I guess at a high level I would say adoption of technology in the NZ dairy sector is some years ahead of the UK, but equally, there are big advances in UK arable and hort which one might say are further ahead than NZ. One thing I would say is that NZ farmers are, more typically, open to change and innovation and less wedded to the way it is.

But I think there is something bigger going on than simply comparing one country with another. Sure NZ is a focus for our sector just now because of the way it has, in a generation, turned itself into a very globally focused and innovative economy; one that tops the global rankings for ease of doing business (and one that I would say punches well above its weight, and that’s not just the All Blacks!). No. I think we are witnessing the early stages of an utterly transformative period in global agriculture.

And that’s why I ask the question: “Do we really know what’s coming?” By this I mean, how is technology (and maybe digital and data in particular) going to change the sector?

In short, from where I sit, I would say those of us in the tech world do have a good hunch about what’s coming and the potential impact it will have. But I am not at all convinced the “average farmer” (which is a horrid term) does.

To me it is inconceivable that a farming business (whether in the UK or elsewhere) will be in any way competitive without the use of data-driven decision support tools in the future. The level of accuracy and objectivity that data will deliver (and we are seeing this already) simply puts subjective observation in the second tier of good decision making.

That isn’t to say good husbandry and farming experience have no place in the future (of course they do – I know some brilliant, intuitive and innovative farmers) but those who apply that experience with the latest technological tools will become the Premier League while others languish in the lower divisions.

Give me an example I hear you cry? Ok! A couple of weeks ago I sat down with the CEO of an innovative dairy cow data capture company (based in the UK) that is effectively putting Fitbits on cows. The volumes of behavioural data they are collecting from those animals is now substantial. But it’s what they are doing with it that so impressed me.

By using clever algorithms to understand normal and outlier behaviour of animals they are achieving two great things. The first is the ability to provide alerts flagging animals that are not exhibiting typical behaviour. In other words, “go look at those ones, that’s where you should prioritise your time”.

But the second is what really excites me. Who’d have thought that by analysing cow behaviour data it would be possible to identify lameness, mastitis and other disorders days (even weeks) ahead of when the clinical signs might be observed? I don’t care if you are the best herdsman in the world, it is hard to compete with decision support from data that is identifying things well before they are ever observable by the human eye.

This “power” has the potential to transform the way we run our farms. The application of digital technology will not only potentially save time and labour, it will enable better focus on meeting market requirements, predicting and avoiding problems, and increasingly importantly, be able to provide a substantial evidence base to back and improve welfare standards and all sorts of other production areas currently under scrutiny.

But this future is a far cry from where many on our farms sit currently. Sure there are those that are the early adopters, but I think there is a large majority who simply don’t see this massive change coming, or if they do are in denial.

There are many analogies over the years of where technological change has been transformative and where at the time many did not see it coming: Henry Ford and so on. But it’s the sheer scale of change from tech-driven ag that I think we underestimate at our peril.

The upside is that all this talk of agriculture being a high-tech industry that our children and students should be enthused about is not just talk. It is absolutely true. The more we can find demonstrable examples of great (even cool) innovation, the better it will be for our farming sector, not only because we can farm better, but because we can also excite the right people into the industry.

In my 25-plus years in the ag world in the UK and NZ, never have I felt there is a better time and more opportunity for non-farming people to get involved in the industry, whether that’s in agribusiness, science or on the farm.

And if, as I suspect, we see a reasonably aggressive scaling back of direct farm support in the UK (assuming we Brexit!), that could open the door to a new generation of tech-driven farmers, unencumbered by the past and able to deliver from the potential of the land and associated technology alone. They will be the new competition.

Can’t see it coming? The iPhone is only a little over 10 years old. Things will look very different a decade from now in agriculture. That’s really not very far away. Are you on the train or is it leaving without you?

New grass establishment

#EvokeAg – Making the agritech ecosystem visible and discoverable

We recently attended and exhibited at EvokeAg, the new agrifood international technology event specifically for the food and farming community hosted by AgriFutures Australia.

EvokeAg brought together more than 1100 attendees from across the Australian and wider agriculture and agritech industries, including 100+ attendees from New Zealand and a substantial contingent from Israel. The event featured over 100 speakers from 20 countries, but importantly there was opportunity for all participants to share and be involved.

What was big?

Presenters, panels, exhibitors, and discussions covered a wide variety of topics. A few themes emerged:

  • The start-up and investment ecosystem – more about this below;
  • Irrigation and monitoring systems such as Lindsay FieldNet and Wildeye irrigation monitoring;
  • Automation and robotics (Robotics Plus, Yamaha, Bosch, and more);
  • Data collection, analysis, and the application of artificial intelligence. Comments like “Data is the new gold” abounded.

I’m not personally sure that data is the new gold. I think data is more like an ore that needs to be mined, processed, and refined to extract the real gold. Or maybe data is more like electricity – its intrinsic value is established from use, rather than collection.

Its all about the Ecosystem

We think that the biggest impact of EvokeAg is its impact on the agricultural innovation ecosystem. The event brought together a diverse, fragmented, and sometimes vaporous ecosystem of people and organisations and made it concrete and discoverable in the moment. Examples of groups brought together included:

  • Start-ups and new agritechnology players;
  • Investors, incubators and accelerators, and trade partners; and
  • Research and development organisations and funders.

Making connections

A particular genius of this event was the way that conversations and interactions were facilitated.

  • Braindates, facilitated by an app for discovery and bookings, brought together participants with shared interests, making it easy for those who did not know each other to connect.
  • Careful layout of the food stations, with plenty of tables, seats and leaners for eating encouraged fortuitous conversations, as did the set of food trucks outside providing lunch and evening food around a grassy courtyard.
  • A good blend of exhibitors, lounges, and a “start-up alley” encouraged attendees to look around and interact. Brad and I nearly lost count of the number of people who stopped by the Rezare Systems stand, took a seat and had a relaxed discussion.

The challenge for AgriFutures (the organisers of EvokeAg) and the wider industry is how to capitalise on the positive ecosystem effects to drive growth and innovation. The #growAg initiative announced at the conference, along with AusTrade’s Agriculture 4.0 focus should make a big difference. We’ll play our own part as well – continuing the conversations with those who met with us, and offering an Ag Innovations Bootcamp in early June, an in-depth workshop on design and customer engagement in agriculture, suitable for both start-ups and established Australian agribusinesses looking to innovate.

 

Embracing The Unknown: Reflecting on the First Ag Innovations Bootcamp

Jeremy Suisted, 25 February 2019

Confession time. It was with more-than-a-little nervousness that I arrived to Rezare Systems’ Ag Innovations Bootcamp at Mystery Creek in December. I wasn’t nervous about the content – as a facilitator I had guided and coached many teams through design thinking and innovation experiences. I wasn’t nervous about the size of the group – Rezare had done a masterful job of curating an experience to 20 people, allowing for much more tailored learning and personal interactions with everyone in the room.

I was nervous because I had never worked in this way with agricultural innovators, farm specialists and primary sector entrepreneurs before – and I wondered how they would engage with new processes and learnings designed to help them create new solutions that solve real problems.

I shouldn’t have been afraid. Within moments of my arrival, I recognised that Rezare had created an experience that encouraged all participants to embrace this new process, to voice any questions and concerns they had, and to lean into the uncertainty they may be feeling.

The Ag Innovations Bootcamp was created by Rezare as they recognised the need for upskilling and supporting agricultural innovators and businesses who were developing new and improved products and services for the market. These businesses were highly capable in their technological skills and knowledge of the market – but many did not know how to deeply understand the customer problem to be solved, or ways to rapidly co-create with their customer, generating new insights and better-fit final products.

Motivated by this need, Rezare decided to practise what they preached. Billed as a prototype event, the Ag Innovations Bootcamp provided a bespoke learning experience, with participants being guided through LEAN business model canvases and how to apply these to new concepts, approaches in ideation and brainstorming, powerful empathy techniques, and hands-on experience in rapid prototyping. The two-day event was jam-packed with practical learning, but also invited feedback and iteration from the participants – so they could see how even the Bootcamp was a design-driven event.

Each aspect of Bootcamp was planned for the needs of the participants, who Rezare had identified as ranging from entrepreneurs seeking to develop their agricultural product, through to business managers from rural agencies and large-scale agribusinesses. All participants shared a common drive – a willingness to be creating new solutions that will benefit farmers, orchardists and primary industry producers around the world.

As a design thinking facilitator, I’m increasingly aware of the critical need for innovators and managers to upskill in this area. McKinsey reports that businesses that embrace human-centred design and co-creation provide 32% higher revenue growth than non-design led businesses, and 56% higher return to shareholders. At the same time – over 40% of companies don’t talk to their customers at all during product and service design – a trend which is likely higher in New Zealand. In our world of rapid change, developing trends and lower development costs, it is imperative that innovators learn to co-create with their customers and solve their real problems. This is the heart-beat behind Ag Innovation Bootcamp – and a growing need in many businesses.

Over the two days, our Ag Innovations Bootcamp participants learned the theory of design thinking and engaged with case-studies of design thinking challenges – but the true growth came from the design experience curated for them. Small start-up teams were formed amongst the participants, who were tasked with a design challenge – and then coached throughout a design sprint. It was immensely encouraging to see all of the participants crafting discussion guides, running empathy interviews with real customers, capturing key insights, clustering new concepts and discoveries, generating 100s of potential solutions, and prototyping an idea for testing – all within a fast-paced, supportive environment.

There was plenty of laughter, questions and debate throughout the two days, which was encouraged by Rezare and all the facilitators. Additionally – participants were provided with breaks from doing, to learn from experienced innovators from Gallagher, Amazon, New Zealand Trade & Enterprise and more.

At the end of Ag Innovations Bootcamp, I was not driving away with nerves, but with excitement. I was deeply encouraged by how much the participants had embraced the learning, and created concrete lessons that they were looking forward to applying in their business. I enjoyed seeing moments of discovery for all of us, and a recognition from participants that they could do this – that they could begin talking to customers, generating insights and designing quality solutions to real problems. I was motivated that it was through the unique combination of listening and doing, that Rezare had crafted an event that really did maximise the learning for all who attended.

And I was encouraged to learn that this would not be the last – but that Rezare Systems would continue to iterate the Ag Innovations Bootcamp, to keep supporting and guiding innovators towards both business and product success.

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