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Hort Innovation plants powerful digital seeds, takes Hive live

Take a look around your kitchen; the apples and oranges in the bowl on the benchtop, the almonds in the jar, the vegetables you’re chopping for tonight’s stir fry, the garden vista out your window. All grown by businesses that make up the Australian horticulture sector.

It’s an enormously diverse segment of the economy, employing tens of thousands of people – and is the third largest contributor to Australian agriculture after meat and grain with $11 billion farm gate output each year.

Hort Innovation is the grower-owned, not-for-profit research and development corporation for Australian horticulture. Funded by grower levies and Government investment, Horticulture Innovation Australia (Hort Innovation) invests millions of dollars each year into critical R&D, extension programs, marketing, and international trade initiatives to support the nation’s 37 separate horticultural industries – representing growers of everything from avocados to turf.

Joana Chopamba, Business Solutions Manager and Program Lead, Hort Innovation

One of 15 Rural Research and Development Corporations, Hort Innovation invests horticulture grower levies and Government funds to help the industry be as productive and profitable as possible. Its goal is to find ways to boost the sector to become a $20 billion concern by 2030.

Data is the lifeblood of its work – understanding the different horticultural industries, conducting research and development to support them, developing innovative campaigns and strategies for each segment to accelerate growth.

What the organisation required was a single source of truth that could be easily accessed by the entire organisation – almost 100 employees. Employees required enhanced visibility of the projects underway at Hort Innovation, the progress that is being made with those initiatives, and ways to identify any bottlenecks.

To find information in the past, employees needed to navigate disparate core systems, and burrow into siloed collections of data that were held by specific groups or individuals who were focussed on one area. It was limiting and inefficient.

As Joana Chopamba, Hort Innovation’s Business Solutions Manager and Program Lead for the digital transformation initiative explains; “Providing consistent, true data and reporting proved a challenge, and often took quite a very long time.

“We had excessive manual processes and work arounds on the incumbent systems. We had unclear responsibilities for activities and deliverables, we had complicated process and workflows, and we couldn’t visualise the entire process from start to end.”

Earlier attempts to remedy the situation had not succeeded, leading to a sense of IT-fatigue among stakeholders who had lost faith in the technology.

It was time for a change. The current Hort Innovation strategy identified the need to invest in the simplification of Hort Innovation’s internal processes and the improvement of systems to support communication, knowledge management and efficient investment in and management of projects.

Digital transformation

Previously known as Horticulture Australia, the organisation was reborn as Hort Innovation six years ago. As part of that it underwent a systems transformation to support the new business model.

The organisation today uses Microsoft Office 365, Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement and a Technology One ERP. What it needed says Chopamba was a way to surface information from those different platforms and get a clear view of the end-to-end operation.

Working with Microsoft partner MicroChannel, which has experience in the horticulture sector and understands the nuances of working with an array of growers with quite different needs, Hort Innovation started to design a solution that it dubbed Hive.

Chopamba explains that Hive has been designed as a platform to underpin and support Hort Innovation’s core operational model and process. “We’re a research and development corporation, but essentially what we do is manage or fund investments for the horticulture industry using grower levies; levies coming from growers matched with government levies.

“We use those funds to then do our research, look at investments that are worthwhile, that will benefit the horticulture sector. In order to do that, we do follow a certain business process.

“So we’ll look out for when an initiative is formulated, we’d socialise that with key industry representatives for endorsement, develop that into more comprehensive investment briefs, we have our own internal reviews and gates where we have to get the approvals, we go out to market, we look for an investment or a delivery partner who would be able to provide those services or deliver as per the initiatives. And then we manage those investments that are being delivered by our delivery partners.

Hive is the system or the platform that enables us to manage that particular process from its start, right up to the end

Working with MicroChannel, it became clear that Microsoft’s PowerApps platform could play an important role and be used to create ad hoc data capture forms – these capture information about a range of activities such as individual programs of work, fund alignment, procurement, approvals and workflow. It’s this collection of data which is stored centrally on the Dynamics 365 and SharePoint online platforms that creates the end-to-end transparency.

The low to no code nature of PowerApps assures flexibility, and allows Hort Innovation to stay agile and respond to shifting requirements. It’s not hard to develop PowerApps to collect pretty much any data that might be needed in the future.

PowerApps contributes to a larger transformation journey that Hort Innovation has been implementing using a phased approach. Once the system requirements had been scoped out specifically for HIVE, it took just six months for the first Power Apps to be developed and deployed. Hive was live.

PowerApps provided the foundation that HIA needed in order to adapt to its evolving process requirements throughout the project. PowerApps is a low to no code platform, with no compromise on functionality, that supports complex workflow management and allows information to be collected and shared across HIA. All the information is served up to business users in a manner that is relevant and actionable for their role. – Ross Smith, CRM & Marketing Automation Practice Manager at MicroChannel

Smith continues, “The Hive solution is a gamechanger in terms of rebuilding trust in IT at Hort, and injects clarity for everyone about how different programs of work are proceeding and where there might be issues that need to be addressed to speed things along. Furthermore, because it’s a very configurable solution, HIA has the peace of mind that Hive can keep pace with the horticultural sector’s needs over time. ”

Phenomenal Visiblity

According to Chopamba everyone across Hort Innovation uses Hive to some degree as it underpins all the organisation’s core business processes. The visibility that people now have across the entire organisation is, she says, “phenomenal.”

“We have moved from an old system, which was based on workflow management. The only thing our users or our staff used to see was the page where they needed to act or do something, and once they had completed a task that would disappear into the ether, and then come up again once they were required to do something.

“They had very limited visibility on where anything was at, where a particular investment stood, which state it was at and if it was held up. Now with the Hive platform, everything is open for display, and they just cannot believe how much visibility they have.”

It’s already saving time – and importantly helping to identify any bottlenecks that can then be tackled swiftly.

Hort Innovation is also working with MicroChannel on Dynamics portals for both customers and delivery partners.

Chopamba says; “We need to manage the milestones and the outputs that are being submitted by our delivery partners. We didn’t have a technology platform that managed that part of our business. We used to manage that through emails and spreadsheets.”

The delivery portal will provide a single point for delivery partners to connect with Hort Innovation and upload all their information which will then be stored in a central SharePoint repository.

With the foundational systems in place Chopamba says Hort Innovation continues to unearth opportunities for additional innovation and is exploring the range of additional features and functions within the Microsoft ecosystem.

She says further integration between the different systems currently in use at Hort Innovation is on the cards, and growers to try to see how they can leverage the knowledge that we will continue to build as part of the knowledge base that we have.”

Because at Hort Innovation– it’s all about growing stuff.