Here's exactly how Olam is using technology to transform its role in the agriculture market. Source: Shutterstock

Here’s exactly how Olam is using technology to transform its role in the agriculture market. Source: Shutterstock

How Olam is leveraging technology to transform agriculture

USING technology to grow your business or create a competitive advantage is one thing, leveraging it to disrupt the industry is quite another.

Food and agri-business company Olam Group is leveraging technology. In an industry that prefers to stay as far away from technology as possible, the company is re-inventing its DNA to be digital first.

In a recent annual report, Olam provided a few glimpses into how it sees technology and its vision to transform itself into a more competitive agri-business in the digital age.

“The scale of opportunity brought by advances in digital and big data means that we can respond to variables more accurately and more swiftly by adopting precision agriculture practices that improve yields, make the best use of resources, and reduce impacts,” said Olam’s President and Global Head of Plantations Supramaniam Ramasamy.

In the pursuit to become a better version of itself, the company feels that leading the sector’s digital disruption should be one of its core priorities in the coming years.

What’s interesting is that the company is taking concrete steps to achieve its goals quickly. In fact, the company claims that it made progress at an accelerated pace across 3 areas last year — Olam Direct, Olam Inside, and Olam Forward.

What is Olam Direct and how does it help farmers?

Olam Direct comprised of projects such as digital procurement, digital warehousing, traceability, digital origination and a proprietary app it calls the Olam Farmer Information System (OFIS).

Once these projects are stable and successful, the company intends to integrate them to digitize its entire supply chain.

Data that the company has collected shows that nearly 40,000 farmers and micro-collectors benefited from the Olam Direct program last year. In the coming months, it sees that number growing exponentially.

As per the company’s vision, Olam Direct is a disruptive digital initiative of Olam that challenges the status quo and disintermediates complex agriculture supply chains by directly reaching smallholder farmers.

Essentially, what the company intends to do is enable small-scale farmers to bypass intermediaries and therefore retain more of the value of their crop — benefiting from transparent pricing and other ancillary services.

While the Olam Direct might make a big impact on the market late, one of its projects, OFIS, is already impacting farmers with technology.

Olam highlighted that OFIS captures rich data from farmers and their community on a hand-held device – including farm size, location, age of (tree) stock, economic, social, and health infrastructure and eco-support systems.

This data helps them design better agri-programmes and allows them to provide customized advice to farmers to help improve yield.

By the end of 2018, around 248,850 farmers were registered and more than 187,230 farms mapped on OFIS globally across products namely Cocoa, Coffee, Cashew, Cotton etc., with 60,820 individual farm management plans generated for cocoa smallholders.

How technology helps Olam boost sustainability

In the past year, the company worked on two Olam Inside projects —  AtSource and Customer Digital Engagement Portals.

While the latter has a direct impact on business because it’s an e-commerce initiative Olam launched in four of its business units — edible nuts, spices, cocoa, and coffee, allowing the company to access a new set of small and medium scale customers, the bigger project was AtSource.

AtSource is essentially a system that provides the business and its clients with the ability to track the environmental and social impact of a product at each stage of its journey – from the farm through logistics and processing, and up to the customer’s factory door.

In many ways, AtSource is a technology platform that pushes the Olam into the realm of software developers — a capability many leading businesses are trying to harness in today’s digital-first marketplace.

“I have spent more than 16 years in sustainable sourcing in FMCG and retail but joining AtSource has helped me to really understand the challenges facing agri-suppliers when asked for traceability, assurance and impact measurement,” said Olam AtSource Platform Manager Fiona Wheatley.

“With AtSource, we have channelled and commercialised Olam’s extensive sustainability expertise into a unique and strong proposition for customers that can catalyze transformational change for farmers, communities, and the planet.”

AtSource has won many accolades in the industry and is much appreciated by customers too.

Putting Olam’s best foot forward with Olam Forward

Through Olam Forward the company focuses on initiatives such as building smart factories, developing smart farms, and crafting the smart supply chains.

The company uses proprietary data management tools AgriPal and Agri dashboards to study performance data and make data-driven decision making for upstream farming and plantation operations.

For this, the company collects data using drones, evaluates plantings, fertilizer usage, weather, and climate, and factors in production and harvesting information to take better quality farm management decisions.

The company’s use of the internet of things (IoT) also helps it explore preventive and predictive maintenance in its smart factories. The company says these initiatives are going well and are resulting in considerable cost and efficiency advantages.

While it doesn’t appear that Olam is beating industry trends with its Olam Forward initiatives, the reality is that it takes time for such projects to make a big overall impact. In the next year’s annual report perhaps there will be more to report.

If the food and agri-business company’s digital transformation efforts are as effective as they look on paper, the company is definitely gearing up to disrupt the market and pioneer a new-era of technology-powered innovations in the industry.