What’s The Deal With Dashboards? — A Seinfeldian Look At Farm Management Information Systems

First off, if you read that title in the voice of Jerry Seinfeld, I have your attention, and you also share my sense of humor. If you’ve asked yourself that question before I can only assume you’ve spent a great deal of time working with, being a part of, reviewing, selling, or being sold Farm Management Information Systems (FMIS) software. And you might feel that recently, the sure number of choices out there has ballooned to an amount that seems a little crazy.

whats the dealSo let’s talk about the raw amount of FMIS software out there and the magical dashboards they all seem to have. There is something for everyone it seems, and I’m not going to lie — I’m getting a little overwhelmed. It is hard to keep track of all the groups these days, and I can’t imagine how it feels for the service providers reading this. I bet you feel like George Costanza, who hides under his desk every day just to get away.

You see, I actually work for one of these FMIS groups, and we have our own niche just the like the rest. Now there are a few systems that seem to do the exact same thing, but for the most part everyone has their different take on things or are specified for a different region or segment of the ag industry. This is great, but it’s going to have to be more elaborate than another dashboard with the same tools and features. So how does someone get to the next step and decide which group(s) to choose then?

I don’t know if I have the answer but I’d imagine if it was up to Kramer he’d bust through your door and yell “It’s gotta have a map!” A map may sound obvious but there is a difference in the way a map is presented. I can tell you from experience it can be very hard to build an interactive and great map interface for a software. Search for the group that really does a great job of that. This can mean many things depending on what you want, but looking at a field is the basis for this industry, so they better be able to show it and interact with it.

What’s next? Probably web-based or cloud something or other. Today, it’s pretty common for that to be there, but simply saying it’s true doesn’t make it true. You’ll hear a few say “We connect to the cloud….yada….yada….yada….and you’ll have everything at your finger tips.” Now, maybe that’s ok for someone like Elaine Benes, but don’t only look at the amount of connections. Focus instead on the quality of the connections and what those connections actually mean.

For some, it’s just grabbing data from a source. Sounds great, but many don’t do it well. For others, its integrating someone else’s interface or tools into the other. The latter is much more complicated, but it does showcase commitment and that both groups believe they’ll be around for a while. These connections may not be a necessity to achieve your goals, but it does show that the FMIS is building towards the future.

Of course, that segueways perfectly into my next recommendation. Make sure this FMIS is going to be around for a while and/or has proven its worth over time, otherwise it might be NO SOUP FOR YOU! In other words, do the research. With the different start-ups in ag currently, it can be hard to determine who is who, but ask around, do some digging, talk to the owners/founders, and ask why they are around. Find out their passion and their goals and where they see this industry going. If they can’t tell you these things or show that they will be around for the long haul, then I think that answers the question.

Finally, make sure the system delivers. Don’t work with the Newmans of the world. I’ve seen so many companies promise this and promise that and not actually provide what they say they can. This isn’t a new thing by any means, but it is so critical since it will affect the end user — aka “the farmer” — the most. Getting burned has happened to everyone, but if you do your research you’ll be fine. Just make sure that the BS meter is working properly and really think about the reality of their claims.

There are a plethora of other items that could be addressed, but I think these are the main basics you have to look at concerning Farm Management Information Systems. Don’t get allured by “dashboard talk” which can be smoke and mirrors. Do your research and build a relationship with the FMIS groups that want to build a relationship with you, because in the end they will go the extra mile in return as well. I cannot stress that last sentence enough.

It seems tough times in ag will be “a thing” for a while, and with this eventually precision ag will go through its Renaissance. This industry will separate the wheat from the chaff, just like the rest of the ag industry. To me this showcases opportunity for service providers, because the ones who remain will be the FMIS groups that really show value and work hard to help you and the grower. Make sure you look for that, regardless of their footprint, size, or money they’ve raised (or not raised). Start with these points above and you’ll most likely have great luck going forward. Happy Festivus!

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