Is a technology roadmap for digital transformation a priority for your company? For a lot of us, we often get caught up in our day-to-day activities and run the risk of losing sight of the longer term goals. (That never happens to me though.)

In today’s hyper-competitive fresh food market, knowing where you are and where you’re going is critical to your survival. Technology can be a key factor in enabling competitiveness in times of increasing regulations, food safety requirements, labor challenges and margin pressures. When it comes to evaluating new technologies that can help your business, it’s important – and often difficult – to sift through what’s real and what’s hyped.

Take blockchain for example. At the beginning of 2018, it appeared to be the salvation of supply chains, a technology nirvana! By the end of last year it had fizzled into what Gartner terms the “trough of disillusionment”. To date, I’ve not seen anything that documents a successful implementation. Yet, as Dr. John Ryan points out in a recent article in Food Safety Magazine, “Given the increasing complexity of today’s logistical needs, food safety requirements, and laws, a new approach to food safety is rapidly gaining foothold. Based on blockchain’s shared ledger capabilities and ability of a blockchain system to support smart contract inputs, industry’s ability to establish an integrated food safety system is on the move.”

Dr. Ryan’s observation seems valid but, as his article points out, it requires a clear understanding of the objectives and who and what are involved in developing a solution. This is good advice for any business evaluating technology that can help them build and grow their business.

What are some good tips for how to do this and build out your technology roadmap? The Produce Marketing Association (PMA) offers some helpful advice.

The Produce Marketing Association on Technology Roadmaps

The PMA recently published an excellent article 8 Steps to Consider When Developing a Technology Roadmap. It provides an excellent overview of things to consider as you chart your path and consider how technology can help to improve – rather than distract – from your business goals and objectives. I’ve summarized their points below but encourage you to read the article in its entirety. (About a five minute read.)

  1. Look for your pain points and be willing to change: Your pain points may not be the same as another companies’ pain points. So, don’t feel like you have to adopt a solution just because someone else has. Identify your key issues, your environment and your customers’ requirements. Also, be flexible and open to change.
  2. Develop awareness of technologies, develop connections and engage with entrepreneurs and vendors: Stay educated and informed. The PMA does a great job of this with conferences like the Fresh Summit and TechKnowledge. (Zest Labs will be at both events by the way.) Additionally, the Western Growers Center for Innovation and Technology is a great resource for growers to interact with startup and established technology companies alike.
  3. Evaluate your current systems and map where you want to go: Spend some time putting a fresh set of eyes on your processes. Are they efficient? Are you accomplishing what you want to accomplish? Is your current system digital? Can you collect the information you need? From there you can better figure out what your technology roadmap should look like.
  4. Check upstream and downstream: View the entire chain of processes. If you don’t, you may simply move a bottleneck from one process to another and no improvement in efficiencies are gained. We see this a lot in working with some of our growers. There is a classic business novel, The Goal, by Eliyahu M. Goldratt, that explains how to address this in more detail. (Apparently Jeff Bezos requires his management team to read this book!)
  5. Adopting a new technology has costs: Beyond the cost of the solution, there’s potentially some costs associated with short-term disruption while you implement it as well as training and other costs. There’s also the possibility that, by investing in one thing, you may not be able to invest in another. But these costs should be measured against the potential value to the business in terms of growing revenues, customer base, etc. Will the solution help you provide better product? Reduce costs? Increase operational efficiency? You probably shouldn’t shy away from a project simply because of its cost but weigh the costs against the benefits. Some solutions can actually save you money and pay for themselves through waste reduction and by improving operational efficiencies. (Yeah, I’m thinking of Zest Fresh as I write that.)
  6. Selecting your supplier or vendor is always important: It’s important that you’re comfortable and forward looking in your vendor relationships. People-to-people relationships are important in any business transaction but, to me, they’re even more critical in the agriculture and food industries because it is truly a “people industry.” PMA says to check references and make sure the vendor can support your service and training needs.
  7. Implementation: When it comes to planning your technology roadmap, PMA says that Implementation might be one of the hardest things to do. It often means operational disruption and it is hard to turn back. It can sometimes mean running in parallel streams.” So, be sure that your planning doesn’t stop at buying the solution or service but extends through the entire rollout and adoption and factors in potential impact on other parts of your operations.
  8. Assess and Fine-tune: As with most things in business, defining and implementing a technology roadmap for your business is an ongoing process. You should measure the results of your project against your goals and adjust and tweak as needed.

Technology Roadmaps Don’t Need to Scare You

The idea of defining and implementing a technology roadmap and evaluating and sourcing appropriate solutions is not meant to be daunting. Rather, it should help simplify how you run your business by creating process and direction. It also helps you evaluate your current approaches and identify ways to improve. That’s critical in today’s fresh food supply chain where perhaps the worst approach is to bury your head in the sand and ignore the potential value that technology can bring to your business.

Because if your competitors are leveraging new technologies to be more cost effective and efficient, that can hit your bottom line even harder and faster.