Rob Ford

One of New Zealand’s biggest primary industries was brought to the forefront by this inspiring speaker, Rob Ford. The Livestock Improvement Company (LIC) is one of the sleeper companies in New Zealand that flies under the radar but develops some great technology that drives the dairy sector. They invested an estimated $21million annually in product development and R&D which equates to 21% of revenue.

As GM of Information and Automation at LIC, Rob is seeing the use of technology exploding in the dairy sector. LIC’s technology is now in thousands of farms across New Zealand, bringing mobile application and automation into the dairy shed. A lecture which showed someone dialling to NASA over the internet blew him way and started him down his current path in technology.

LIC’s business is heavily involved in increasing the genetic merit of the New Zealand herd, analysing and shipping semen around the country for insemination. This space is becoming increasingly more automated, with LIC’s herd records application “MINDA” being in use on over 11,200 farms.

To innovate in this space, Rob attributes his team’s agile and lateral thinking approach, thinking ahead to meet the needs of farmers. Breaking down the traditional segregation between business and development teams and getting them in front of the customer helps the team define the product vision at the start. Understanding things like how time poor the farmer is with many jobs to be done helps their development activity become more focussed.

Realising how important the wife is in the decision making process is just one thing LIC learned very quickly in their development process. Coupling the customer insights and data into a quick rapid prototype out into a pilot farm helped Rob’s team get their products verified by farmers in action.

Rob also noted how poor big companies are at sharing or collaboration. To keep a culture of innovation alive he stressed it was important for big companies to connect and tether with small tech companies to allow the sharing of data help innovation reach the market. Creating a culture of innovation in the region, through collaboration, partnerships and tertiary programmes, should be the way forward. Enhanced industry leadership through companies like LIC should help create an innovation region.

Takeaway Points

  • Innovate quickly, get prototypes out into the farm.
  • Silos reign, big companies need to immerse themselves in the community and tether with small business.
  • A culture of innovation need to be led by industry, with promotion of graduate programmes.
  • Always think of monetisation at the start.
  • Innovate to differentiate.

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