Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent

Drip Irrigation 2010California fruit grower Sun World International isn’t among the giants of agribusiness, but it punches above its weight class  in global markets thanks in part to its use of business intelligence software. In fact, the Bakersfield, California-based company is one of the most pervasive users of data analytics that we’re aware of–in everything from farm operations and finance to sales and marketing. It’s also got an executive dashboard for tracking key performance metrics. “The notion of pervasive performance management is held up as an ideal, but there are few companies that actually do it. This is one of them,” says Tony Levy, a product marketing director in IBM’s Cognos business unit. Sun World International’s main suppliers of business intelligence software are IBM and Applied Analytix.

The company’s heavy reliance on data began five years ago after it was purchased by a private equity firm that brought in new management and insisted on improved performance. “These days, we ask questions, understand the numbers, and, most importantly, do something,” says Gordon Robertson, vice-president of sales and marketing.

From its 12,000 acres of land in California, Sun World International sells table grapes, stone fruit, peppers, and water melons worldwide. It also breeds its own varieties of plants and licenses its genetic intellectual property to other growers. Its brands including Superior Seedless grapes, Black Diamond plums, and Honeycot apricots. It employs about 7,000 people in the fields.

Here are some highlights of how it uses business intelligence:

–The sales team analyzes the profitability of each customer and concentrates on developing the most profitable segments. As a result, sales to those segments grew 20% last year, yielding an additional $3 million in revenues.

–The company evaluates the effect of different irrigation systems on crop yields. Its increased use of drip irrigation systems has decreased  water usage by 8.5% since 2006.

–It uses data analysis to adjust the size of the vehicles and other equipment for harvesting and other farming tasks, which has reduced its consumption of fuel by 20% over the past five years.

–Its analysis of crop growing and harvesting equipment and techniques has reduced labor requirements by 10% to 15%. In one example, it changed the design of grape trellises so farm laborers could harvest grapes without having to bend over–which relieved their pain and increased productivity.

The software also allows Sun World International’s executives to move quickly when trouble strikes, as it did seven weeks ago when Australia restricted the import of California table grapes because of concerns about the spread of a breed of fruit flies. Using business intelligence software,  the company’s sales executives quickly sized up potential customers in Hong Kong, Indonesia, Taiwan, and elsewhere in Asia to take up the slack. “We could react quickly,” says Robertson.

By being smart and fast, Sun World International proves that you don’t have to be a giant to compete successfully against them.

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