4 Minute Read
Luz Carime Gomez
Talking about IT in the 21st century is to talk about innovation. It means speaking about digitalization, and it is inevitable when thinking about the fourth industrial revolution, as many people call it, not to find an endless number of technologies that could be implemented. It’s hard to decide what to focus on between artificial intelligence, big data, digital transformation, blockchain, the internet of things, etc. For this reason, it is not uncommon for businesses to arrive at a crossroads: what technology should they focus on? How can we be at the cutting edge of technology and be profitable? This is a very valid question, given that implementing the best systems or spending millions of dollars does not guarantee success nor the return on your investment, as evidenced by many big companies like Philips, Michelin, or Lego, just to name a few.
With these concerns in mind, we decided to reinvent our systems focusing on satisfying the needs of each one of the actors in our value chain: coffee producers, clients, employees and everyone in between. If the goal is to always strive for this, then no matter how we are innovating, we are at least innovating in the right direction. We are conscious that in the agricultural world, innovation, the IoT and blockchain take time, and although the agricultural sector has already started the process of incorporating these developments, progress can be slow. The commitment to change and disruption is minimal, and still it is common to hear the phase “but we have always done it like that, and it works”.
Caravela has been an early implementer of technology. For our first SCA Expo back in 2002, we chose not to print out brochures to distribute on the show floor; instead, we made CD-ROMs with Flash animations to tell the stories of our company and the coffees we represented. In 2008 we started using spreadsheets in Google Docs to keep track of our coffee purchases in each of our warehouses. Before that, every day our QC Analysts would share this data by emailing an Excel file. As the number of warehouses and volumes of coffee purchased grew, in 2012 we developed a cloud-based purchasing and traceability system which integrated directly with our accounting software. This system allowed us to seamlessly consolidate data from over 20 warehouses in Colombia (and later, from all our warehouses all over Latin America). It also allows us to maintain full traceability of every lot we purchase, including quality and pricing data, from the moment a lot is brought to us at one of our purchasing points until the coffee is delivered to a roaster anywhere in the world. This system not only made our processes more efficient but also gave us access to better data for making more informed decisions and managing risk more effectively.
This system also has a supplier portal, where coffee growers, associations and cooperatives can log in to see all the information we collect about the coffee we receive in our warehouses, including volumes, prices and quality data. Sadly, most producers don’t have Internet access at their farms to take advantage of this information. Therefore, in 2013 we started an SMS (text messaging) notification system to inform farmers about the approval or rejection of coffee they deliver to us, as well as payment confirmations. These text messages have proved to be an important tool, offering enhanced transparency in the supply chain as farmers receive the price paid by us to the association or co-operative they belong to. Additionally, by offering a communication system that doesn’t rely on the Internet, we have been able to connect with thousands of coffee producers who often live in very remote areas where Internet connections are not available.
In 2017, with the idea of promoting the use of technology among coffee producers as well as to reach as many producers as possible, we started a virtual classroom program. The two classrooms that we set up in La Plata, Huila (Colombia) allow producers and their families to learn at their leisure about a variety of topics, including best farming practices, quality, and sustainability, amongst other things. They also learn to browse the Internet and can access their emails to communicate with people all over the world. Currently this program has benefited more than 2,000 producers and their families, which indicates that access to this type of technology is in demand and growing.
If we look at how our clients are embracing technology, the scene is much more developed. We find ourselves in a market that is searching for innovation, generating impact from their own operations and management. Cropster, the cupping and roasting platform, has allowed many of our clients to streamline their processes and collect data that has helped them improve business practices. And although this platform was primarily developed for coffee roasters, we are currently working on software that will allow us to integrate our clients’ cupping results from Cropster directly into our existing systems. For roasters already using this platform, this will help streamline the buying process between origin and destination, simplifying the approval or rejection of samples, as well as generating more transparency along the supply chain.
To match the increasing demand for a traceable product we are making access to our traceability reports even easier. Under our current system we can provide a full traceability report with a few clicks. This report shows which producers contributed parchment coffee to each exported lot, as well as what price was paid for each lot delivered. We are now developing a new software where clients will be able to see the traceability of their contracted coffees online and will be able to make their delivery requests in real time, essentially making the access to this already available information much more efficient.
At Caravela we work on improving efficiencies by identifying what technology can offer us, what problems it can fix, and how it can be adapted to satisfy the requirements of our business partners. Ultimately the technologies we use allow us to achieve our goals, to generate an impact, and create an improved user experience through simplified processes. And this is the key, concentrating on the needs of each person, but doing it as a company. Clients and producers cannot be islands, especially when technology is constantly creating commonalities, new modes of communication, and bringing origin ever closer to the destination.
You might have already entered this fantastic world of technology and innovation, but if not, we invite you to start. And what better way than to begin by finding the answers to these questions:
Do you put the needs of your clients and suppliers at the centre of your management and operations?
Are you aware that to be efficient and innovative, more than talent and money is needed?
Is your company prepared to successfully face the expansive waves of a global market that is constantly changing and growing?