How to tackle digital transformation
Australia’s largest grain exporter CBH deals in one of the oldest trades in the world and has a turnover of more than $3 billion. But that doesn’t mean the 80-year-old farmers’ cooperative with more than 4200 members in WA is living in the dark ages. It is in fact striving to stay at the top of its game in the rapidly changing agriculture industry.
Jason Craig, CBH’s General Manager Marketing and Trading says the company’s digital transformation addresses organisation design and the need to establish a workforce of the future, while meeting its members’ needs.
Globally, the market is shifting towards algorithmic trading, there is tight competition and data insights are available to farmers on everything from weather to plant sensors.
“You have to remember the grain trade is one of the oldest trades in the world, it has been there for centuries and our automation is increasing quite rapidly,” Craig told a CEDA future of work luncheon.
“Because we are a growers’ cooperative we are focused on our farmers and they are also going through the digital revolution. In fact, in some cases they are leading the world in this.
“We are seeing them being more digitised and using their information to ensure they are more productive because West Australian farmers are competing against the international market with 95 per cent of their production going to more than 30 countries.
“So how does CBH help them? We have started to produce tools to support our WA growers and this is from planting in the paddock all the way through to improving their delivery efficiency, and it even to marketing their grain and increasing the transparency in the marketplace.”
One of the tools CBH has made available to growers is the DailyGrain website, which gives farmers instant access to prices, delivery information and sales strategies, with options to upgrade to premium features including an app.
The organisation has brought in new skillsets such as data analysts, diversified its workforce and changed the way existing staff work with automation.
Speaking specifically about the trading and operations department, Craig dispelled the perception that the CBH’s workforce were mostly males over 45 years.
“In fact, 70 per cent of employees are below the age of 45 and about 30 per cent are below the age of 35,” he says.
“We have been heavily investing in younger people and changing the generation that is at CBH. It is not easy to attract people to a farmer’s cooperative in what is probably a very unsexy industry.”
Gender participation is also important, with 30 per cent of the department female. The company also has employees from 12 nationalities.
“We do this unashamedly for one thing – financial returns. Over the last six to seven years our financial returns have been better than anyone in the industry,” he says.
He says robotic process automation was one of the first initiatives the company looked at to change the way people were working.
“It is probably one of the most simplistic things you can do. This is about easing the simple repetitive parts of people’s roles by automating that even further and improving where we are going.
As embracing data analytics is much more complex, Craig says the company is using the services of an advanced analytics firm.
“Moving to more decision support models, this has been important. Price predictive models, optimisation, this has taken a lot more development as we move forward,” he says.
“We have been using Quantum Black, a McKinsey company, to assist us in this area because starting a data science area is not easy. There are a lot of tricks to this and there are a few trip ups you have along the way.
“It’s pretty easy to work out an operating model, we sorted that quite easily – the platform and the technology. You can bring all the tech in and develop people but who do you bring in? What is your talent hiring? How do you convince everyone 45 and above ‘what is this about data science’? And this has been an important part as we move to the next step at CBH.”
Craig says one of the fundamental changes the company has learnt is that finding the broader skill base when it comes to date analytics is more important than knowing the industry.
“That is the area that is the key, because there is one thing that CBH can teach them and that is agriculture and that is the big difference we have learnt.”