A 'Right-Sized' Tech Approach

October 31, 2012 02:44 PM
A 'Right-Sized' Tech Approach

Laptops, smartphones and tablets all have a fit on the farm

They’ve saturated the market, but tablets are still the new kid on the block, with the iPad debuting just two years ago. At the same time, the speed of data transmission dramatically  increased, allowing farmers and agribusinesses to access market moves and weather while they are happening. As a result, farmers often own three "mobile" devices—laptops, smartphones
and tablets—and must figure out when to use which device where.

"People around the globe are looking for this type of ease," says George Olney, chief operating officer of iRely, a global commodities software solutions provider based in Fort Wayne, Ind. Not only are tablets easy to use, they are also less expensive than PCs and easier to work with than smartphones, he says. Even so, smartphones, laptops and desktops all have a place on the farm.

The integration of the cloud, where you can store software and data offsite, is also making it easier and more cost-effective for farms and agribusinesses to access and share software, Olney says.

With the introduction of tablets, laptops can seem too heavy to lug around, but smartphones can be difficult to work, due to their size. Some people, such as Illinois farmer Dave O’Brien, are avid users of all three.

"The laptop is great. It has my card slot for yield monitor data," he says. "The iPad is great because it has a larger screen than the smartphone and is still portable, but I use my smartphone for darn near everything. I’m addicted to it."


Computing Horsepower. Cloud computing and tablet devices work hand-in-hand to deliver more computing horsepower. The technologies allow easier device-to-device file sharing without hogging hard-drive space. Now, farmers don’t have to sacrifice performance for mobility.

Town & Country Co-op in Ashland, Ohio, uses three cloudbased systems: Google Spreadsheet, AgWorks agronomy and iRely’s cloud-based eCommerce tool for patronage orders, balances and
customer inquiries.

Jean Bratton, chief operating officer of Town & Country’s agronomy, energy and feed divisions, notes that Google Spreadsheet helps each of her agronomy locations share realtime data, such as prepaid purchases, sales and inventories. Cloud-sharing software can also help producers manage multiple operations.

Whether to own software or use a cloud-based system is really about space, Bratton says. "If you have excess capacity on your server or computer, you’ll likely buy or license software," she  explains. But if running new software requires more space than you have, it makes sense to use the cloud, she adds.

There’s no "best practices" list of when to use a laptop, a smartphone or a tablet. Olney urges a heavy dose of common sense. The iPad 3, for example, has a width of fourtenths of an inch. One drop, and it’s broken; a sturdy case can be as valuable as the device itself.

Currently, laptops, smartphones and tablets all have unique software or apps, but eventually the technologies will merge. "Some companies are looking at apps that can run on any platform," says Olney, whose company is working to produce cloud—and tablet—based solutions for patronage, target orders, taxes and reporting.

For more information on the latest technology, visit www.agweb.com/TechOnTheMove.

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