Integrated System Vs. Islands of Automation
Spreadsheets are great for analysis. Collect all the relevant data, enter it in the spreadsheet, create formula cells, relate and calculate, provide some explanations to the reader, title some summary numbers and you are done – quick and dirty but effective for a “project.” Another analysis or another project and you build another spreadsheet. Great, wonderful, I love them! I’ve used them for almost 30 years. But this is no way to run a business, an ongoing vegetable farming operation.
Another characteristic that often evolves when using spreadsheets is that a person in one area will develop a spreadsheet to do one function, say schedule crops. Another person in another area will develop a spreadsheet to do another function, say aggregate your sales plan. And yet a third person develops a spreadsheet for task planning, such as field work. What you have now is a lot of redundancy, and worse if the schedule changes all the other plans should change. Or if the sales plan changes, all the other plans should change. But they don’t! Not in integrated, automated way that is for sure. These are Islands of Automation, a condition to be avoided on a well-run market farm.
An integrated system takes advantage of the fact that the same information is used in many places on a farm and that one process feed the next. For example, crop data is stored in a product master where it can be accessed for scheduling, resource management, CSA delivery management, costing and reporting. All this data is entered once and readily available. “Readily available” means the system is designed to access this information without you having to sort, filter, enter reference formulas, copy or paste!
More important than reducing redundant data entry is the reduction of data being out of sync. Another way of saying you are using incorrect data to run your business. The integrated system stores data in one place and makes it available to all who need it. It is always in sync and much easier to update, when necessary.
The biggest advantage of an integrated system is how information developed in one place, say scheduling, can be used in a downstream area, task planning. It makes sense that if you have a different schedule you will have a different task plan! If you develop a different sales plan, you should have a different crop plan. Farm Produce Manager lets you create these plans independently, but also provides a tool to reconcile them – the Available to Promise Report – change whichever makes most sense. It is this leveraging of your data and your work that makes an integrated system so valuable to the modern farmer!