A Different Kind of "Services Oriented" Agriculture – Part 1

Services Oriented Architecture or SOA has been a buzz term in IT for years.  According to IBM, SOA is “a business-centric IT architectural approach that supports integrating your business as linked, repeatable business tasks, or services.”  Let me simplify further.  You move to a new home, you make some calls, and power, water, telephone, internet, television, garbage, mail, lawn service etc. just “happen.”  A bill comes, you pay it, and the services continue.  You like one provider over another, you change services and life goes on.  These are “linked, repeatable business tasks, or services” (both physical and virtual) which can be “called” via phone or internet.    They leverage economics through economies of scale and scope as well as mitigating the opportunity cost of your time so you can farm, play golf, or spend time with family.  SOA in IT is no different; you need market information, weather, time, or a map?  Make a call to a service over the web. How many pieces of hardware and software are sitting in your office that do one thing well and then exhausts their usefulness because it doesn’t do anything else well and requires your staff to export information and import it into something else that offers the next thing you need?  We have come a long way in information technologies for agriculture, but we have barely scraped the surface of the opportunity.  At GeoSilos, we say that “data is the modern agricultural commodity” and sadly most of this modern commodity sits and spoils in the bins on our hard drives rather than in the bins near our driveways.

Let me slip back into IT philosophy speak a bit and talk about the services in the “cloud.”  Forget the fancy commercials, over simplification, and over marketing of the “cloud” for a minute.  The cloud, or more simply a bunch of computers in a building somewhere rather than in your office, offers a key advantage for this discussion: cheap and rapid deployment and scalability.  The traditional model is to “build to peak” rather than “building to base” which is a lot like building a 10,000 square foot house because family comes over for Thanksgiving weekend.  That’s 360 days of sunk cost when you have a family of four so it makes a lot more sense to block rooms at the local hotel rather than break the bank.   In the cloud you build 2000 square feet and add or remove space as needed, in near real time.

Ultimately the cloud offers one very important thing…you can scale to meet your needs as they change and you can fail quickly which means you fail cheaply.  This means that IT providers in agriculture can build lots of apps and services at relatively low cost, find out what works and what doesn’t, leave what doesn’t work for dead and quickly improve apps and services which provide value. In a world of “an app for this, and app for that,” if you are going to fail, failing quickly and cheaply is far less painful.   Think about what you do in the cloud now (email, photos, music, computer backup, etc.) and replace that list with yield data, imagery, soils, weather, maps, grain storage, telematics, and other farm services.

I used to be quite vocal that firms were building better mousetraps and not addressing the holistic nature of agriculture by creating more robust systems.  We were simply catching our own tails by putting additional burden on producers rather than enabling them.   What I was after was a brute force way to make systems work together, and SOA changes that.  We don’t need bigger systems, we need systems to call services that do certain things really well.

So what does this mean for Interconnectivity?  See Part 2 for more.