What is AgRecord?
We have a cloud-based software solution called Cloud Farmer, which allows for all of a farm's operational information to be kept online in one central place so all farm staff, management and other invited parties can access it.
We bought the company in August 2013 and before that the business was owned by Ginny Neal - an IT teacher whose husband, Stu, managed Castlepoint Station in Wairarapa. After getting tired of chasing shepherds for talleys and having to print off farm maps, Ginny created the system to enable all that kind of information to be kept in one place. When we bought the business we invested a lot of money in creating our own purpose-built software, and called the new program Cloud Farmer.
From our farm office there's just me working full time, and one part timer, but we also have a team of techies in Wellington and Auckland who work for us on contract, plus we employ admin and support staff on a casual or part-time basis as we need them.
Can you tell me about the rural location where you live and work?
We live near Porangahau, which is 30 minutes from Waipukurau, where we have a 1000 hectare sheep and beef property. I do the majority of my work by phone or computer, so I can work out of our farm office.
I feel really lucky to work in an office with such a beautiful view, and being here also gives me the flexibility to juggle all my other commitments around work - from helping on the farm to making the kids lunches.
I also work one or two days a week from The Chook House in Waipukurau. It's an office-sharing space, so that allows me to have meetings in town and to work in an environment where I'm surrounded by like-minded people.
You're in the IT industry and there's a lot of talk about the challenges of connectivity, particularly with the internet, in rural environments. What's been your experience of this?
We recently had rural broadband installed in our area, including mobile phone coverage, and it's been an absolute game changer. It's allowed me to run my business from home in a much more efficient and professional way; having mobile phone coverage now means calls can be diverted from my landline number to my mobile phone, so clients can ring me 'in the office' even while I'm out on the farm.
From the perspective of the farm business, being able to contact staff by mobile has had a huge impact on health and safety as well as just improving day-to-day communication.
I find it extremely frustrating and archaic that we're running a business and a large farm that's contributing directly to the nation's GDP, yet for the telecommunications companies the priority seems to be increasing broadband speed for residential clients in the city so they can play games and stream movies. I really do feel we're treated like the 'country cousins'.
The two standard conversations I have with clients are about the weather and the challenges around internet access. I have clients spending thousands of dollars trying to find their own solutions to increase connectivity to their businesses. I can't emphasise enough just how debilitating a lack of access to decent broadband is.
What are some of the other challenges you've faced running your business in a rural environment?
For me the biggest challenge is working in isolation. I work best in an energetic environment and I get motivated by people around me, so working from The Chook House has given me those networking opportunities. Until recently I'd have regular Skype meetings from there, but our new broadband is fast enough for me to now Skype from home.
The other challenge I've had with running a business from a rural environment is perception. I think being in Porangahau isn't perceived as professional as working from Waipukurau. Until now we've got around this by having a post office box address, but I think we're going to do away with it and embrace our rural base. I think it actually allows our clients to identify with us better.
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