Sharing sheds: Creating a nation of connected farmers 

 |   Microsoft New Zealand News Centre

Co-ordinating 114 farms across New Zealand requires a lot of nous. Throw in a global pandemic and nationwide lockdowns and keeping connections strong and communication open is even tougher – but more important – than ever. When Pāmu found itself in this position in 2020 it called on Vodafone to help remove the barriers of time and distance using the innovative Vodafone Teams Connect solution based in the cloud. Along with introducing IP Devices to farms, that kept the whole organisation working and farming together – even through a head office move. 

For 130 years, Pāmu farmers have nurtured New Zealand’s countryside on behalf of the nation. Formerly known as Landcorp, farmers for the state-owned enterprise have taken on some of the toughest agricultural land in the country, and every day they turn it into butter, milk, beef or venison for tables around the world.  

Taken literally, Pāmu means ‘to farm’ but the name also reflects the Māori concept of kaitiakitanga (guardianship). Pāmu farmers are deeply grounded in their connections to the land and their animals, and the organisation’s leaders value their hardy network of people across rural New Zealand just as highly. Staying connected across such a diverse landscape can be a challenge at the best of times, but when the pandemic struck in 2020, the communication challenge was magnified a hundredfold. Spread over 1,000,000 acres and 114 farms across a nation that was in lockdown, Pāmu needed a way to ensure vital meat and dairy products could still reach our fridges, while supporting the wellbeing of all its people and animals. 

Introducing Vodafone Teams Connect 

The first major challenge to overcome was the multitude of calling tools being used across Pāmu’s network, which made it difficult to co-ordinate calendars and collaborate on projects. One of the main videoconferencing solutions, Skype for Business, was no longer supported with updates, making it both unstable and insecure. Nor did it give Pāmu’s teams the ability to share and collaborate on all kinds of documents, files and projects remotely, like its modern workplace equivalent, Microsoft Teams. 

To add an extra dimension to the lockdown, Pāmu was also undergoing a reconfiguration of its head office. It wanted to create a space, physical and virtual, that was inclusive of all employees, wherever they were working from. At the time they were using legacy Zoom meeting room set-ups that weren’t standardised throughout the company, which they were also unable to monitor and maintain themselves. As is the case for many businesses across New Zealand, their lack of capital budget was preventing them from being able to purchase all the hardware needed to solve the issue.  

Whatever solution was chosen to serve the Pāmu team during the short-term over lockdown also had to be the right choice for the longer term. 

“We required a solution using Microsoft Teams, as that seems to be where most government agencies are heading. We also have a Microsoft strategy, so the logical choice was Teams Connect with Vodafone,” says Dean Briars, Head of Technology at Pāmu  

Leaders recognise leaders, so Pāmu turned to communications specialist, Vodafone. Rather than a physical, on-premise solution, going cloud-based had to be the answer.  

The Vodafone solution replaced PTSN phones on farm with IP Devices.  Vodafone knew it was the perfect solution to give Pāmu farmers the ability to contact head office staff wherever they were – either by phone or by computer, in the office, at home or in the field – without having to invest in new infrastructure. Meanwhile, the Vodafone Teams Connect Solution was the perfect answer to the Wellington office move. It cleverly uses Teams Direct Routing to enable high quality phone calls straight from the Teams interface, via Microsoft 365. Shifting to Vodafone Teams Connect also meant Pāmu could consolidate its phone and cloud calling into one payment.  

Thanks to Vodafone’s ‘Proof of Value’ trial initiative for Aotearoa businesses, Pāmu employees spent 28 days getting to know this new solution in the comfort of their own home offices. Naturally, implementing a brand-new system was a daunting concept for employees, especially as they had experienced some difficulties with the user experience of Skype for Business and network issues in the past, but through the 28-day trial they were able to ease into the transition and alleviate their fears. Before the trial, Pāmu was looking at Zoom phone systems and meetings, but after experiencing how seamlessly the Microsoft Teams Calling solution worked there was no going back. In response to Pāmu’s biggest need, Vodafone worked closely with Pāmu’s IT team to migrate from Skype and Zoom calling to the singular Teams calling platform. In less than a day Pāmu was able to switch from its previous telecommunications provider to Vodafone, and the Vodafone solution was rolled out across the whole organisation.  

Next on the agenda was the redesign of Pāmu‘s Wellington office to further support modern working. Even before the pandemic, creating the best possible environment for employees was number one on both Pāmu and Vodafone’s priority list. The Vodafone team had already made several visits to the head office in Wellington prior to the first nationwide lockdown to develop a deep understanding of what Pāmu needed. So, when the demand for a set-up that supported hybrid working intensified overnight, Vodafone quickly pivoted to online consultation on Microsoft Teams Meeting Rooms and implemented the 28-day trial right away. Then, Vodafone and Baycom carried out a “train the trainer” session remotely to ensure Pāmu’s leaders were able to guide their teams confidently on using the new platform, setting the whole transition up for success. 

“If only all technology worked as well as the Meeting Rooms roll-out!” says Dean Briars, Head of Technology at Pāmu. 

Technology that just works 

As for the new Teams calling solution, Dean is equally overjoyed.  

“The migration to Vodafone Teams Connect was seamless, and our people really enjoy using Microsoft Teams for their calling as it allows them the flexibility of working anywhere. 

Pāmu staff were quickly able to adjust to the new environment and started seeing benefits almost immediately.”  

Meetings now start on time, every time for Pāmu employees, removing the stress of technical issues in an already difficult time. They are delighted that the technology just works. Managers have also noticed people are no longer zoning out in meetings as the dramatic improvement in video and voice quality keeps them engaged, meaning meetings are much more effective.  

This was the perfect partnership for Pāmu, as not only did it minimise capital investment, but it gave the organisation peace of mind to know Vodafone was managing the solution.   

The Vodafone Teams Connect solution means that now Pāmu staff can work in the ultimate ‘free range environment’, just like the animals on their farms.  

“When you work in an office, you take all the latest modern workplace tools for granted. But in a digital world, every worker, regardless of location, needs to have equal access to technology for greater collaboration, productivity and innovation. Vodafone is leading the charge around infrastructure and solutions that are helping New Zealand digitise and compete on a global level, while connecting customers like Pāmu, and their staff on farms across the motu, with the world,” says Matt Bostwick, Partner Director at Microsoft New Zealand. 

From connecting people to connecting farms 

With cloud calling and collaboration across Pāmu’s people now well established, the next step is harnessing the power of cloud to connect all of Pāmu’s farms and farm equipment. Teams from Vodafone, Microsoft and Pāmu are now working together to home all Pāmu’s on-farm IoT data in Azure so it can continue to lead the way in farm management with the help of Microsoft tools.  

“It’s been a pleasure helping Pāmu on their Microsoft journey to date. We’re working on enabling the Azure IoT platform and looking forward to working with Pāmu to deliver all of its on-farm IoT data straight to Azure. Partnering with Microsoft gives us a range of leading products and services that my customers are excited to introduce, and which continue to strengthen their core business,” says John Sloan, Vodafone Account Manager for Pāmu. 

One area they are exploring is stock management, equipping cattle with RFID tags to track progress and location. To help farmers maximise tax incentives, they’re also planning to use IoT sensors for fuel management, demonstrating where farm vehicles are not travelling on roads. Another implementation they are eager to make is monitoring for water levels in troughs, tanks and discharge ponds to ensure there is sufficient water and no leaks. This will save busy farmers up to two trips a day, removing the need to check. 

However, all of the work the three partners are doing is aimed at just one thing – sustainability. Whether that’s boosting the sustainability of Pāmu’s business for another 130 years, strengthening its connections with its people, or ensuring the health of its animals and the land they rely on, their digital innovations are sustaining a strong future for all of New Zealand. Together.