Network based systems

Farmers Business Network’s First CIO Seeks to Refine Data Insights

The new CIO of Farmers Business Network Inc., a company that runs an Amazon.com-like platform for farmers to buy supplies from seeds to pesticides, plans to use the data to refine information it offers to farmers, as well as to bring more of them to the site and keep them coming back.

Kumud Kokal, former vice president of e-commerce company Stitch Fix Inc.,

joined the seven-year San Carlos, Calif., network and platform in October in the newly created role.

“We want to make sure that the data that you collect, the information that you generate is fully applicable to you,” Mr. Kokal said, “so that means location, giving you very relevant information in your ZIP. Code, in your farm.

FBN says it has 33,500 members in the United States, Canada and Australia and operates more than 25 warehouses. Its members agree to share data on seed performance, prices, weather and other facets of the business. In return, they have access to a repository of industry and product pricing information. The company’s cloud-based data software also tracks spatial data from agricultural machinery, as well as other metrics provided by farmers to help them assess the carbon footprint of crops.

Kumud Kokal, Chief Information Officer of Farmers Business Network.


Photo:

Farmer Business Network Inc.

However, Kokal also plans to modernize the company’s IT systems, improve its supply chain technology, and expand FBN Finance, the company’s credit and insurance arm.

Also on his agenda is a new approach to training and onboarding, ensuring that employees “have access to our internal data, to our technology”, so that they can create products for customers. FBN will invest in technology that supports human resources, finance, legal and marketing and will also upgrade the company’s resource planning and customer relationship management systems, he added. . The company has around 850 employees.

FBN co-founder and CEO Amol Deshpande said he sees the CIO as a top leader, acting as a bridge between the engineering and sales teams.

“These are very important topics in the business, like security, customer experience, things that are essential drivers of the business,” he said.

Valued at $ 3.9 billion, FBN has so far raised $ 878 million, including a $ 300 million funding round in November led by FMR LLC, parent company of Fidelity Investments. FBN plans to hire more than 300 employees in the coming months, Kokal said.

Since its inception, the platform has sought to reduce the prices and delivery of traditional brick and mortar retailers in farm supplies, directly supplying farmers. In response, many of these retailers refused to sell their branded seeds and crop spray products to FBN, also wary of its data-sharing efforts.

In 2018, after FBN acquired Canadian agricultural supplier Yorkton Distributors, antitrust authorities began investigating complaints by FBN that major suppliers were excluding it. The investigation is ongoing.

In the company’s final round table, the venture capital arm of agricultural products giant Archer Daniels Midland Co.

made a capital investment and entered into a partnership that gave ADM access to FBN’s carbon footprint tracking technology.

John-David Lovelock, chief forecaster at computer research firm Gartner Inc.,

said the new CIO has its work cut out for it.

“The opportunity for him is to turn that into a large, scalable IT operation that relies on the best processes,” said Lovelock, “and that can mean cleaning up and eliminating some of the technology processes and decisions. that they have done in the past.

One of the risks, he added, could be getting bogged down in fixing the technology instead of building relationships and understanding how an organization deals with change, he noted.

Prior to his three years at Stitch Fix, Mr. Kokal was Head of Enterprise Systems at Airbnb Inc.

He has also held executive positions at Informatica Inc. and Intuit Inc.

Mr Kokal acknowledged that FBN, like all digital commerce platforms, had encountered obstacles, but said they had not hindered his plans.

“Several times along the way, some of the main players sought to stop FBN, but we persevered and succeeded,” he said.

Write to Suman Bhattacharyya at [email protected]

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