Ultra-precision MIS: Management Information Systems in the agricultural sector
Ultra-precision MIS is the next wave in the evolution of MIS processes and technologies, starting with the appropriate information technology architectural design, informed by and aligned to the enterprise business strategy.
Sustainability of food supply is rapidly becoming a key focus of governments globally. Africa has the ability to position itself as the “breadbasket” of the world, but to achieve this the agriculture industry as a whole not only needs to respond effectively and quickly to the rapidly changing environment, it also has to take on new ways of thinking about work in this world that is constantly in flux.
Africa is a continent with significant and complex challenges. Any organisation (system) that wants to be sustainable in such a complex environment will need to evolve deliberately, purposefully and constantly. Organisations as complex systems need to continuously adapt (survive) to their environment and continuously learn from this environment to evolve (grow). A healthy growing organisation will have a more significant influence in its ecosystem.
This can only be achieved by continuous innovation and reinvention. We call this process re-novation (see the renovation in figure 2). To re-novate, a system needs to excel in gathering quality information, both in the environment and internally. This information must then be translated into quality decisions. In this context, Management Information Systems (MIS) is a very important dimension of such a system, if not the most important. As a system, MIS also needs to continually adapt and evolve through re-novation. The latest innovation in MIS is the enablement of ultra-precision farming.
The current best practice MIS in agriculture is precision agriculture, satellite farming or site-specific crop management. This is a smart farming management concept based on observing, measuring and responding to inter- and intra-field variability in crops. The goal of precision agriculture research is to define a decision support system (DSS) for whole-farm management with the goal of optimising returns on inputs while preserving resources.
Ultra-Precision in Food Production: Quality of Decision-making
The migration to a higher level of value unlocking and driving better and faster quality management decisions can only occur through integrated ultra-precision management information, inclusive of:
- A deep understanding of the compound impact across the upstream and downstream processes (positive or negative) in a specific value chain of a specific farming industry;
- The enabling power of integrated data, information, knowledge and intelligence sets across the value chain; and
- The conversion of data, information, knowledge and intelligence in visualised format.
- Transforming knowledge into Business Intelligence is the pinnacle of ultra-precision (see figure 1).
Ultra-precision is not about technology only
It is very easy for business leaders to be swept up in the excitement and opportunities created by some quite incredible advances in technologies. Through our own work with client systems, it has however become quite evident that for technology to deliver on its promise, a much wider systemic perspective needs to be taken on enterprise evolution. To this end, the thinking framework adopted is the Business Value ModelÔ as shown in the following diagram.
The essential aspects of this framework are that any and all forms of technology should not be viewed from an Organisation Capacity perspective only, but that:
- There should be clear thinking on how technology should be framed by our strategic intent;
- Such technology adoption should be enabled and supported by our organisation culture and people (talent) profile; and
- That the key business benefit to be realised specifically should include how we will increase customer/stakeholder value.
The agricultural value chain in crop production – from a sequential perspective
Data-gathering technologies across the agricultural value chain are sequential. By the very nature of the design principles of business process value chains, any efficiencies or inefficiencies are compounded across the entire value chain. It is close to impossible to fix an upstream error in a downstream process, and, if possible, only at a high cost and with time delays. The application of this principle is shown in the example shown in Figure 3 – Agriculture value chain.
The implication for any MIS solution, and therefore management decision, is clearly to understand the sequential interrelationships between processes as well as the systemic relationship (Figure 4) to influence and direct appropriate proactive decision-making.
Systemic understanding of value chains is imperative as a “must-have” parallel perspective beyond the sequential perspective, as it enlightens the value chain dimensions from a systemic relationship perspective, and serves as a prerequisite to creating optimised ultra-precision MIS solutions.
Given the embedded truth of upstream and downstream compounded implications in the value chain of large scale food producers, the impact is directly linked to scale. The range of margin for error in large scale operations in any application of the value chain is very limited and the importance of ultra-precision MIS solutions a critical variable.
Leadership mindsets can enable or disable the inherent value of ultra-precision.
Dr Margaret Wheatley stated that “information does not only inform us, but it is forming us” particularly in the way we process data and information. This is pivotal to the mindset leaders think from and essential for the process of evolving and growing.
The best of the breed are well-advanced in their journey to put ultra-precision MIS solutions centre to their strategy, planning, implementation, harvesting, yield and sales practices.
Those who do not might be a dying breed in a shorter time than expected. In the words of Prof. Nick Binnedel, “if the pace of change outside the organisation is outstripping the inherent capability of organisations to change, organisational death is a reliable prediction.”
The sustainable survival of food producers will have a direct bearing on mass food processors and retailers in food. Ultra-precision MIS solutions might be equally applicable to large-scale food processors and retailers.
The future of food production in a sustainable manner will be the enabler of having food security, which in turn will be inherently dependent on the capability of food producers (farmers) to embrace technology as an enabler to migrate from a world of precision MIS to one of ultra-precision MSI. It will be the single most effective/important differentiator and driver of success or failure.
Organisations adopting ultra-precision now will most probably be the only organisations that will be around to benefit from future next wave MIS solutions.
Ultra-precision is beneficial for all producers, food processors and retailers, but especially for large commercial farmers, large scale food producers and retailers.
Small and medium producers can benefit from the above through the large scale players, Co-ops and public-private partnerships. Inclusive growth is a necessity for the future.
If you are interested in ultra-precision farming MIS and the change management involved in its implementation and adoption at all levels, please contact Dr Henk Greeff (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Dr Anton Verwey (email@example.com).
For more information, please click on the company logos above to visit our respective websites
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Binedell, N. GIBBS
Carr, G. June 2016. The Economist, “The future of agriculture”, Factory Fresh.
Gartner IT Glossary
GIBS Business School
Greeff, H. Ultra-precision – the next wave in Management Information Systems in the agricultural sector
Maritz, Verwey and Du Plessis, Africa Insights
McBratney, A., Whelan, B., Ancev, T., 2005. Future Directions of Precision Agriculture. Precision Agriculture, 6, 7-23
Karin McGill, Benefits of data visualisation
Presentation. Vantage SSA
Whatls.com, Soil Service Society of America, Wikipedia
Wheatley, M. , 2006. Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World
Wheatley, M. Vantage SSA
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