Farm Costing Solutions Simplifies Management of Farm Expenses with New Products and Features
Farm Costing Solutions (FCS), a leader in hardware and software solutions for managing farm expenses, recently introduced various upgrades to its platform. The new FCS system eliminates the need for manual paperwork by electronically recording all labour-related farm activities, including time and attendance, piecework, and job costing. It’s simple: farm workers are issued with a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tag that is swiped against a reader device when they arrive in the mornings and leave in the evenings. In this way, the number of hours worked is accurately monitored.
When it comes to piecework, FCS is also ideal: the workers swipe their tags against a portable reader, once they have completed a specific task.
The system then automatically calculates each worker’s wages based on the work they have completed, e.g. the quantity of crates of fruit they have harvested. In addition, FCS’s software includes a payroll solution and a complete farm management suite that simplifies managing a variety of other costs, including spraying, fertilization and fuel.
Because of its innovative products and superior customer service, FCS has attracted some of SA’s top agricultural enterprises as clients. The company has also expanded its footprint to Australia, Namibia and Zimbabwe. Labour costs typically account for about 60% of farm expenses. By helping farmers manage their labour more productively, the FCS system pays for itself within the first two seasons of use, often sooner. After extensive consultation with its clients, FCS has introduced several upgrades to its platform. These upgrades have been led by our technical manager, Lourens van der Merwe, a qualified electronic engineer and former leading repair technician at Nokia. He has put together a technical team comprising software and hardware programmers, technicians as well as an in-house electronics designer.
The upgrades to FCS’s hardware and software are summarised below:
FCS Online application
This is one of the most exciting new features. It automatically sends data via the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM), from the readers to the FCS web server where it is imported into the client’s FCS Online application. This gives clients immediate access to live data. For instance, it enables managers to instantly see how many employees haven’t arrived for work in the morning and to make the necessary changes. Productivity in the orchards can also be monitored in real time.
With the data being downloaded throughout the day, it is no longer essential for clients to have physical download stations.
Following a thorough investigation into the feasibility of running the FCS system on existing Android or iOS smart devices, FCS has opted for its own dedicated reader device. Lourens also confirms: “This gives us control of the entire ecosystem, from clocking and data capturing all the way through to processing and paying employees. Smart devices are reliant on their operating systems, such as Android, which can easily make changes and break an application.
Viruses are also a threat with third-party devices “From experience, we know the readers are put through heavy usage in the field; smart devices won’t be able to withstand that. Further downsides of smart devices are that they typically have a lifespan of just two years and repairs are expensive.”
FCS’s new V5 portable reader is a smarter and more user-friendly device than its predecessor, packed with innovative features. The sleek, smaller design means the device can be slipped into a pocket, while remaining sturdy enough to withstand conditions that typically occur on a farm. A lithium-polymer battery allows for two days of usage without the need to recharge. Other new, built-in features include a backlit LCD and GPS tracking. The device is programmed in the C-programming language.
This, and other programming functions allow FCS to remotely roll out new features and stability changes to clients. When it comes to storage, the new readers have capacity for 60 million transactions, compared to around 20,000 on the old devices. All data is written to an SD card, which protects against external forces such as hard knocks, magnetic fields and lightning. The SD card can also be removed and downloaded directly onto a PC, in case of reader failure.
Three prominent colour-coded buttons make it easy to switch between the time and attendance; piecework; and job costing modules. Information on individual workers is accessed directly from the devices, and supervisors simply check on an individual’s or the team’s performance. Workers’ names and progress are displayed on the screen when they swipe their tags. To combat cheating, each reader also has a re-swipe timer, which prevents workers from swiping more than once within a certain period. While the old system allowed for a single re-swipe time across the board, it can now be set separately for each reader and cost- centre. An alarm goes off when a worker tries to swipe more than once.
The new reader also features a questionnaire option, which poses COVID-related health questions to workers. This information, together with the worker’s temperature reading (using third-party devices), instantly reveal any health issues.
To help farmers further improve piecework productivity, the FCS reader now integrates with both platform and hanging scales. Rather than remunerating workers for the amount of bags or crates they filled, farmers can opt to pay according to the weight of the fruit they harvested. This also enables farmers to compare the weight of the fruit that left the orchard with that which arrives at the packhouse, and to pick up on any discrepancies. Shift to SQL The FCS engineering team has rewritten all of the software in SQL databases that hold numerous advantages in terms of database management. SQL allows for seamless integration between FCS and payroll. In addition, clients can now write their own reports and are able to manipulate data in any way they wish.
This direct integration between FCS and payroll also makes it easy to spot illegitimate payments to manually imported employees. Other benefits of the new software include improved speed, greater stability, increased database size, enhanced security, faster software upgrades and easy portability between devices.
FCS can migrate all legacy TMS systems to the new platform while preserving historic data.
“Although the previous version of our software was very good and had been used in the field for more than 15 years, it had to be rewritten as technology has moved on. The latest software is more user-friendly with the latest search and browse technology. It is also parameter-driven, making it easy to accommodate all the variables on a farm,” says Lourens.
Future developments FCS continues to use clients’ license fees to improve its offering. New products and features on the horizon include:
- Access management for turnstiles and maglock doors: Development has started on a new system by which readers are placed on both sides of a turnstile or maglock door, to control access and monitor time spent in certain areas such as pack-houses, ablution facilities and canteens.
- Time and attendance-only reader: To cater for smaller farms with fewer employees, FCS is developing a time-and-attendance-only reader (fixed or portable), which will be cheaper than the standard device.
- Cost-centre management on readers: FCS will soon introduce the ability to restrict the selection of cost- centres. The first value chosen (e.g. farm) determines the values available for the next selection (e.g. orchard), and so forth. This causes a cascading effect and reduces the risk of workers’ mistakes when using the readers.
- Remote access to data: FCS is working on giving its clients remote access to a synopsis of their farm data (overviews of productivity and costing information). This means they will be able to stay up to date with what is happening on the farm from anywhere in the world, simply by logging onto a tablet or laptop via a browser.
Lourens concludes: “We are in continued discussions with our clients about how to help them manage their farm expenses more efficiently. The recent upgrades to the FCS system and our future developments are a result of these conversations. At FCS, we continue to innovate to ensure our clients can run their businesses efficiently and cost-effectively.”
For more information about how your business can benefit from FCS, contact:
Tel: +27 (0)21 556 2561,
Mobile: +27 (0)82 518 2300
Tel: +27 (0)21 903 0612,
Mobile: +27 (0)72 896 6801
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