The IT megatrends shaking up $13bn agribusiness Land O’Lakes
Land O'Lakes: IT in the field
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The IT megatrends shaking up $13bn agribusiness Land O’Lakes

Jessica Twentyman – October 2012

US agribusiness Land O’Lakes is undergoing an IT revolution, with cloud, social and mobile rewriting the CIO’s charter.

If, when he joined Land O’Lakes three years ago, Barry Libenson, CIO of the $13 billion agricultural cooperative, had been asked what his job would look like in 2012, his prediction, by his own admission, would have been “way off.”

Take, for example, the company’s use of mobile devices. “I would have probably told you that we would continue to roll out smartphones for checking email and running a few basic apps,” he says. “I would never have anticipated an explosion of tablets and sophisticated apps running as part of our corporate environment.”

Today, however, demand in the business for new mobile apps means that Libenson is looking to recruit more developers with specialized mobile skills to join a team that focuses solely on this area. That team’s achievements to date in developing ‘precision agriculture’ applications include a mobile app that enables salespeople to demonstrate to farmers the exact chlorophyll output of a field of corn over the previous 24 hours — a combination of satellite imagery and big data analysis. This helps the farmer to establish which areas of that cornfield are most productive and which are affected by drainage issues. Another app is used by agronomists working for Land O’Lakes to detect, identify and record crop diseases.

These apps — and others — run on company-owned iPads, but the business also supports employee-owned BlackBerry, Apple and Android devices under its bring-your-own-device policy.

“I’ve got what every CIO wants — the freedom to make a real difference.”

Another example of rapid change at the company — and in its CIO’s role — is in the use of social media, where Land O’Lakes shifted its strategy (as countless other companies have) from concern about social media in the workplace to ‘complete adoption,’ Libenson outlines. “Three years ago, employees were locked out of social media sites unless they had special permission to use these in work time. Today, that’s no longer the case and all of our major brands have a strong online presence. We’re on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and our communities there are visible and active, with content constantly being refreshed — all the things that foster a creative, collaborative environment.” Land O’Lakes, he says, is now a leader in its use of social media in the consumer packaged goods and agriculture industries.

Big changes are underway in the data center, too: 30% of the company’s application portfolio now operates in the cloud, “with a definite movement towards more applications being cloud-based.” For customer relationship management, Land O’Lakes uses Oracle CRM On Demand. For talent management and succession planning, it uses SAP’s SuccessFactors cloud applications. NetSuite cloud business management software is in use in its international subsidiaries and to support joint ventures in developing markets. And it will almost certainly be down as one of the first beta customers to go live on Oracle Fusion Procurement.

“We evaluate every new app in terms of whether it’s suitable for cloud deployment, and if we don’t see any value-add in having it on-premise, it’s likely to get shifted,” says Libenson. “We like the flexibility the cloud provides, in terms of not having to make large capital investments or carry assets on our books — and so does our board of directors.”

As he goes through his 2013 budget, he says one thought is foremost in his mind: “The pace of change over the past three years has been pretty insane, and the insanity is set to continue.”

However, he insists that’s not a problem. “I’ve got what every CIO wants — the freedom to make a real difference, to be a true partner to the business and to be recognized as someone who’s truly adding value.”

First published October 2012
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