IN thinking about this column and the fact that today is Labor Day, I wondered whether anyone really knows the true history of this holiday.
For those of us who equate Labor Day with barbeques, beaches and baseball, well, that's only a small part of the story. In fact, Labor Day was first celebrated in 1882 as a "workingman's holiday" closely aligned with labor organizations. As those organizations grew, so did the adoption of the holiday in many U.S. industrial centers.
This got me thinking about the Industrial Age and then the Agricultural Age and how agriculture in the 1800s was transformed by the mechanization of the Industrial Age.
The rudimentary inventions for 19th-century farming were revolutionary for their time. They eliminated the backbreaking work involved in crop production and opened the door to new jobs that had once been the province only of strong, able-bodied workers. New skills and smarts were required to operate those early inventions, but the result was greater efficiencies, higher production and more profitable farms. Sound familiar to all you feed producers?
Fast-forward to the Information Age. Today, information technology is at the center of a massive sea change in the global feed industry. The very fact that we can even use "global" as a descriptor of the feed industry shows just how much we have evolved from the local elevators and rural co-ops that dominated the feed industry just a decade ago.
Today, the adoption of what I'll call "smart information solutions" has enabled the creation and operation of far-flung feed enterprises and global supply chains. This is the feed industry of the future — one designed to reward size, scale and smarts. By that, I mean those enterprises that can operate seamlessly across time zones and geographies to optimize their business performance.
Today's state-of-the-art information technologies no longer live in isolation; instead, they are part of and integrate easily into a global information network comprised of customers, suppliers, employees, industry experts and information databases. When combined, this is the essential dashboard of a forward-thinking feed enterprise.
Smart information solutions enable a feed enterprise to take full advantage of opportunities, make informed decisions more quickly and avoid the pitfalls that come with information overload, poor access to critical data and limited communication capabilities among employees, customers and suppliers. These leading-edge solutions save time, reduce errors and, in short, make the whole enterprise more agile and productive.
Soon — very soon, indeed — the isolated "point solutions" that run feed operations, formulation, financials and other critical functions will seem as arcane as the cotton gin.
Instead, they are being quickly replaced by the smart solutions of the future — those that are easy and familiar to operate and deliver not just the basic operational functions of the business but the interoperability that is the price of entry for feed operations of the future. These leading-edge solutions are built to last and are fast becoming foundational elements of the integrated feed information systems of the 21st century.
Also, "data" are being quickly displaced by "information" that is intelligent and, most importantly, "actionable." That means simply that software solutions are evolving to the point that a feed manufacturer soon will have the ability to receive and deliver the exact information that is needed to make fast, well-informed decisions that have a dramatic effect on performance and profits.
Imagine a world in which "information at your fingertips" is not just a buzz phrase but a real descriptor of how you work. As the adage goes, "Information is power," and that's exactly what the best information management technologies deliver to the savvy feed producer.
Consider the impact to your business if your software solutions were more than one-dimensional tools and could deliver a real-time, integrated picture of all your critical business functions wherever you are, whenever you need it.
Granted, this ability to run your feed mill entirely from your smartphone is still somewhat in the future, but rest assured, that is the direction the feed industry is heading, and it is precisely this ability to operate a global feed enterprise efficiently, effectively and profitably from anywhere on the planet, in any time zone, that will define the success stories of the 21st century.
The funny thing about sea changes in business is that nobody sees them coming, but once they occur, people can't imagine how the world operated before that point.
We're not quite in the Virtual Age yet, but who knows? Someday in the near future, we may see the first virtual feed mill. For those still debating whether to invest in new technologies, well, if you wait much longer, that feed mill of yours might just resemble the first glider the Wright Brothers built more than a century ago.
Happy Labor Day!
*Brad Guyer is global operations portfolio manager for Feed Management Systems. He focuses on the development and direction of new products, solutions, services and continuous improvement consulting for feed industry manufacturing and operations. Guyer can be reached at [email protected].