Outstanding in the field podcast

Summary:

Join host Mike Terning and Duey Yliniemi, Research & Development Director of Greenstone Systems, as they walk through both company and industry happenings over the past year.

What you will learn in this episode:

  • A look back at developments and technological advancements made in 2020 as related to customer needs
  • How GS has supported customers during the challenges 2020 presented
  • What’s ahead for Greenstone in 2021

Relevant links:

Listen to the podcast:

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Transcription:

Mike:   Hello, this is Mike Terning. Welcome to another episode of Outstanding in the Field, a podcast by Greenstone Systems. As your host, I’m happy to announce one of my colleagues today is a guest on our show. His name is Duey Yliniemi. Duey, would you mind introducing yourself to our listening audience please?

Duey:   Hello everyone. I’m Duey Yliniemi, director of software development at Greenstone. I’ve been with Greenstone for a little over a year.

Mike:   Well great. Well, thanks Duey. Today we’re going to be chatting a bit about some of the advancements that you’ve seen and help purvey within our Greenstone family and product-based customers, etcetera. Before we do that, let’s go back a little bit. Tell the audience where you’ve—Kind of inform us of where you’ve come from. Where’d you grow up?

Duey:   Yeah. I grew up in a small town in north central Minnesota called Menahga. Small class. I think we had 40 in our graduating class. Went to college in a couple of different locations, but ended up graduating from Valley City State University, which is in North Dakota. Then right out of college got really lucky and joined Great Plains Software right when they were kind of just blossoming into the larger business that was acquired by Microsoft quite a few years later and got to work there for three years. So been around. Not out of state so much. More to the corners of the state. After about three years at Great Plains, I went to go work for a startup business in southern Minnesota. Was based at the time out of Trimont. Ended up working out of Welcome. That was centered in the ag industry. So that was kind of interesting. I would have never thought that I would have a connection back to ag. I think when I left the farm my senior year in high school, I would have never thought that I would have been back into agribusiness. It’s been very rewarding. I think 25 years later I’ve been involved in delivering agribusiness solutions. So for a majority of my professional career, I’ve been back kind of interacting with similar agribusiness things that I grew up.

Mike:   Okay. Well fantastic. So almost a couple of startups. One ended up being part of Microsoft, which certainly wasn’t a start up by the time Great Plains was sold to Microsoft.

Duey:   Yeah, I’m not sure I would call Great Plains a start up at that time. I was about the 500th employee already. So they were a good size. They, I think, got to 2,500 by the time they were bought by Microsoft. So really large expansion, but I was lucky enough to be on the ground floor of their windows based next generation ERP solution called Dynamics. Then I’m lucky enough to be included in the supply chain thing. So I was working on inventory and receiving and purchasing aspects of it. So it was kind of a blessing to be in kind of that supply chain and very early on, and in an organization that had just a really great culture both for employees but also commitment to partners and customers. I think very early on I kind of learned the importance of just making sure and listening to customers and making sure we’re doing right by them. So a lot of good stories that came out of the Great Plains years. Yeah, not quite a startup when I was there. When I went down to work for Easy Systems in southern Minnesota, I think I was the 15th employee there. So much more of a startup feel when I joined there.

Mike:   Okay. Well you came to us a little over a year ago from Cargill. So how’d you get from Easy Systems to Cargill?

Duey:   Yeah. So Easy Systems was focused in auto controls for primarily swine industry. They were trying to actually move to automation controls in manufacturing feed. So the physical weighing of the feed and the turning on and off of the augers. So any automation control for that. They started wanting to get into the commercial feed space, which is why I joined. So we joined a commercial feed package for feed mills. Later on, the business grew. The software side of the business great. The investors liked where that direction was going, acquired a formulation company that did animal feed formulation software out of Atlanta actually—out of Georgia—and brought them in. At the same time, I kind of moved into more of a manager position kind of leading the development teams both across automation controls, our new commercial software, and our formulation software. So grew that business to about 80 people. Got into a little bit of financial trouble and split the business in two. Took on some additional investors that stayed with the software business. The original automation control business ended up going back to the original founder and still resides today as Easy Automation. A little bit different leadership, but that company still functions. So we had some investors that stayed with us for a couple of years. Cargill ended up acquiring us partly in 2008, and then 2010 fully acquired us. So been part of Cargill since the 2010 timeframe.

Mike:   Okay. Well great. Well, it’s been a pleasure working with you over the last year. You’ve introduced some changed into the Greenstone research and development area that I’d kind of like to drill into a little bit today. So as you look back over your first year at Greenstone, what are some of the advancements that you’ve seen as it relates to how we try to meet our customer’s needs?

Duey:   Yeah. I think I guess what I’d started is maybe what I didn’t have to do. Super pleased about this. Didn’t expect anything less. I didn’t have to adjust anything related to the passion and the group of people that we had working. So what I found is strong commitment to our customers, strong commitment to our products, very passionate about the ag industry and our product that we deliver. So that was nice. I mean coming in there was no adjustment. There was no trying to drive passion or vision across it. That was exciting. I guess where I started out was really trying to tweak our process. We had some inconsistencies across the different teams and just trying to get into more of a unified pattern. Part of that was just the flexibility for each team to operate on their own, but a level of standardization so we could actually see where things were working well and where things weren’t working well. So I think that was kind of the—I think that was our first piece.

The second piece, I think, was kind of leaning into a new area that we were working on at the time. The systems of engagement, which really kind of presented a different development model than everything that we had done in the past. So previously Greenstone and AGRIS and CINCH and oneWeigh primarily delivered as on-prem software. So the development process and what you have to do from an operations standpoint looks different than what you do for cloud or hosted in SAS and mobile applications. So I think just kind of making sure that we are raising the bar and what we needed to do ran and hit a level of reliability to be higher. So some of that means adjusting kind of what we needed to do from a development standpoint. Logging and monitoring became more important, speed of troubleshooting because important, making sure that things were up and running, our response to those things when they became down was fast. I think we’re still a little bit on a journey there, but I think that was a key place, a key focus.

I guess a little other area I’d go into would be kind of more on the technical relevancy of our products, keeping them technically relevant. I think we’ve always probably had a conversation around technical debt. At our customer conference, I did a little bit of a session around how do we do that and how do we approach technical debt? It really became taking it out of the shadows and making it a forefront conversation with product managers and making sure we’re making conscious decisions. It’s not doing technical debt for technical debt sake. There’s got to the value, but it’s got to be nice of brought up and raised as a topic. We can make good conscious decisions of what not to do or choosing not to, but not doing it or ignoring it is not the right answer. Then at the same time I think we’ve just looked at how we were making decisions on technology. It kind of felt a little bit that we were changing our technologies like we were changing our socks. It just became too frequent and making choices as opposed to really making sure the choices that we had, there was a clear in. There was a clear lived with, and there was a clear way to get out. Had an old leader that led me that kind of taught me that very early on, and I’ve applied that to a lot of areas of my life. How do I get in? How do I live with? And how do I get out? Making sure that we have a clear plan there, especially as it relates to our technology decisions. I guess in addition we made security a little bit more of a focus, for us. So making sure especially the products that we are hosting went through good security reviews, good security practices. I think that also is a journey. I don’t think there ever is going to be an end. I think that we’re on that journey today, and I think made that a little bit more of a focus. Yeah. I mean there’s a lot of little things. Those are the things that kind of come to mind and the big areas and goals and focus that we kind of charted out for this year.

Mike:   Yeah. I remember early in the year I was visiting some family up there in Minnesota. We met on the southwest side of the Twin Cities. I think we sat down first thing in the morning, and we broke for lunch, and we kept going until late in the afternoon talking about some technology plans for 2020. That was pre-COVID. We didn’t really know that this pandemic was going to be facing us and having such a big impact on things. As you think about 2020, how do you think we’ve supported our customers with the challenges that 2020 has present from your chair?

Duey:   You know, I think extremely well considering. Right? I mean think what I heard and what I saw was not getting in front of customers was really tough, right? Not only from our ability to support and service them, but also to get new ideas and make sure we’re driving innovation. So I think we did really well considering the inability to travel and get in front of them face to face and continue. I think where we helped them the most is the investment that we did make in the systems of engagement space. I mean I could probably recite some of the metrics I know related to the portals that either receive payment or have number of farmers or growers associated to those portals. That’s technology we’ve provided. That’s enablement, if you will, that allowed our customers to give good connections to tier users or to their customers along the way. So I think that’s one part of it. I think the other part of it Is the video that, “Hey, you don’t have to be tethered to your desktop to be able to do things like accept a quote or a sales order or review sales orders and do other things. So I think that aspect of being able to put that access to the information, access to proven review things in people’s hands that didn’t have to be sitting there maybe in the office. I think this was a huge enabler for our customers.

We shared a best practice with our customers. We kind of sat back and said, “Hey wait a second. What could we share that we’re doing?” Because we were facing the remoteness like every one of our customers were, right? I mean I’m based in Minnesota. My intent was to move down to Georgia. Didn’t feel it was a good idea to move down to Georgia in a pandemic. So I delayed that plan. So, for me, it was continuing to work remote. For every one of our other employees, it was working from home. So we ended up having to pick up the tools that we were using for chat and collaboration and all those kinds of things. So I really feel good about the fact that we kind of pulled that together and information that we shared back into our customer base. Had a really good webinar with some customers that joined that to kind of share that.

So, you know, I think it was kind of twofold. One, our technology absolutely played a part in the ability for our customers to continue to use their system and use aspects of their system when they weren’t sitting in the office. Right down to the products that we provide that our customers can use for their customers to dial in and get access to the websites to what we ended up using to continue to collaborate at a good level and communicate well. So Teams and Slack and the different tools, and for the different purposes that we have.

Mike:   Yeah. Great point. As an example, this podcast right now. We’re recording it through Teams. Most of our—sorry for the pun here—most of our team members are using Teams almost exclusively where they used to use Slack and WebEx. So most of our stuff now is done in Teams.

Duey:   Well, Mike, I wanted to fly down to Atlanta for this podcast, but we have a no travel still. So I wasn’t able to get that worked out.

Mike:  Yeah, that’s right. Yeah. Well, we did have the privilege of meeting with a couple of customers in early March. Literally I think a week before everything shut down, we went out and visited some customers in the Twin Cities as well as west central Minnesota. What sort of high-level takeaway did you have from those brief customer visits?

Duey:   Yeah. You know, I reference it often. Right? I mean we’re in a…You know our customer base is very diverse, right? We have everybody. To the customer we visited in western Minnesota up to multilocation very large organization that has been acquiring and bigger. So in this small to medium sized customer base that we support, there’s a wide range of them. So it’s interesting in kind of looking at what was important to that customer that day. You know their agronomy specialist was sitting there and asking them questions, and actually showing them things that had probably been in the software for two/three years that he just had a question on. You know it’s a challenge there even right down to how much they spend on infrastructure and servers and maintenance and everything else compared to the other things. So I think there’s a greater opportunity to continue educate our customer base both in what we know would be a better practice or a best practice related to managing their infrastructures— maybe even managing their infrastructures for them in a hosted type solution—all the way to how can we continue to make sure that they’re using the great innovations and enhancements that we have. If I would have counted 12 times, I would probably be undercutting it about by half the number of times I heard you say, “Well, let me show you how to do that.” So it was pretty interesting. I think that might have been my first month or two on board. So I was still learning how to spell AGRIS at that time. It was certainly fun kind of getting out there.

I guess of everything for what I’m looking forward to next year is trying to get back to some normalcy is getting in front of customers. I think phone calls—I do have some recuring phone calls with a few customers. That’s great, but being able to see them in action, have a whiteboard conversation, just be able to kind of talk about where they’re going and what they’re working on and what keeps them up at night. I know it’s a cliché kind of question, but those types of things that are bothering them. I can’t wait to get into more of a personal setting with more customers in that type of engagement.

Mike:   Well I’m looking forward to resuming those sorts of activities as well. Hopefully, that can be done sooner in 2021 than later.

Duey:   Absolutely. Absolutely.

Mike:   Time will tell here. Well as we talk about moving forward in 2021, what sort of ties into technology do you see us playing a role in or other technology companies as it relates to the future of agribusiness?

Duey:   Yeah. I guess I’d break it into kind of three parts. You know the first part, I think, is continuing that systems of engagement. More apps, more people involved. There’s no question about it whether we’re talking about AGRIS, our oneWeigh platform, or our CINCH platform. We have a ton of data, right? There is a ton of good business process in there, and it functions and runs your business. How we can get that information and insight out to other people in the organization whether that’s through BI type tools or whether it’s through focused applications to accomplish something in the app. I think that very much has to continue to be a focus for us because I think we’re going to help our customers by kind of taking what we have today and distributing it across our organization. Couldn’t agree more. Actually, that’s grounded very well with technical trends that people are seeing out there. More apps, smaller apps, quicker apps. That kind of thing. Things that build off of what you have. So I think that’s one.

From our customer conference, mostly virtual. So we’re able to sit in a lot of different sessions, but it feels like there’s a strong commitment to what we can do for them to support our customers. I don’t know whether or not that’s an additional capability to kind of bypass that face to face that they can’t have today. So how do you message to them? How do you get them the information they want on demand? How do you serve them better through a digital footprint then what they have today? So continuing whether it’s the CINCH portal or MyGrower but making sure that our customers have tools to support their customers better. Even heard some really great answers built on top of facility operations or our oneWeigh platform in how to support growers better that some of our customers have built themselves. So I think that kind of getting down to the grower and farmer and being able to continue to build solutions for our customers to deploy to them or for them to use would be huge.

I think the last one is in the area of data. I said it earlier in a little bit of getting data out and maybe talking about BI, but I really think about data in the aspect of being able to drive some intelligence from it. So you should be able to look at in and maybe run your business or see the dashboard and see where you’re off and be able to see those things. But also how you can do some analytics on there and understand where you have risk, where you have errors happening in your system, maybe where there’s theft happening within your system, right, where you might be able to look and find abnormalities that you can call out or that the system calls out. So that will include some technologies that we don’t have a great deal of experience today but are getting easier to use everyday around AI and machine learning. So I think that end road into data will be a key part. What’s interesting about all three of these is that none of them are like ideas that we’d look at and say that’s Greenstone. All three of those are supported by industry trends. Building solutions for our customers to support their customers better. Building small point solutions so you can gauge more of your team and company into the data that you have inside of systems. No data silos. Then making sure that you’re driving insights from the data that you have to make better business decisions. Those are trends that have been out there for many years. I think for us in our business, they’re just sitting right in front of us to execute in 2021.

Mike:   Yeah. A little over a month ago we had our virtual customer conference that you mentioned, and we gave some of those participants a little bit of sneak peek of some of the things we’re working on and concepts we’re planning on rolling out in 2021. So kind of excited about that. Well, what other thoughts or inspirations would you like to leave for our listening audience here as we get ready to put 2020 in the rearview mirror?

Duey:   Yeah. You know, it’s kind of funny. You talked about that day that you and I got to spend together in southwest metro in Minneapolis. I think for me I think you could probably sense right away my passion for technology and my passion for solutions and building solutions for customers. I found, like I mentioned, kind of coming back to the farm if you will, coming back to agribusiness a renewed interest in passion in agribusiness. So I think for me what I like to do with my team, what I would like to kind of move forward is just making sure that we kind of keep that passion going for what we’re delivering for solutions and technology. Getting kind of more focused, I guess, on how we can kind of become more innovative. Whether that’s both in the process of how we choose to build software—the old way of doing wasn’t always the best. There’s maybe a new way of doing it. Also in just new technologies and applying them.

Again in that customer conference session I made a statement that it should never be technology for technology sake. I learned that very early on in my career as well. If you give developers a chance to work on whatever is fun—You know the easiest, funnest, and the coolest. I think you want to balance that with a practical application of that technology to solve a customer’s problem. I think there’s a lot of those to do. I think Azure and the inroads that we made in Microsoft Azure and building some solutions on top of that are going to pay off in 2021 as relates to kind of our data hub and as we start talking about data warehousing and other areas.

Yeah. I’m excited about 2021. I think there’s a lot of opportunity. I’m a hard driver. So even at a recent town hall we had it. When I try to think about the success, I think about all the places where we still have a lot of work to do. So even preparing for this call I was kind of thinking in my head what do I want for 2021? I want to be better. I want to do more for less. I want to make sure we’re committed to continuous improvement, you know. I want to make sure we mature in the areas that we need to as a business. We’re going to be a hosting company. We’re going to have SAS based solutions. It’s definitely going to be part of our portfolio. So leaning into that. So kind of turning the corner into 2021, it really is kind of revamping and setting that target a little bit higher for ourselves as far as where we want to be and then executing. I’ve had an extremely fun first year and few months. I’ve learned a ton. I find that what’s reassuring to me is that our customer base feels like the customer base that I was part of. I was part of supporting the animal nutrition customer base and the feed industry. A lot of those were maybe some of the same customers we had back then. I find that honesty, the integrity in that piece feels very much like home. I appreciate that. So it feels like we’ve got a really great thing going. I’m excited about what we can do in 2021.

Mike:   Well Duey, thanks for your thoughts today. I really appreciate them and appreciate the contributions that you’re making for our customers at Greenstone Systems as well as for our teams. I wish you the merriest of Christmases and look forward to getting back and start swinging the ax hard in 2021 with you.

Duey:   Sounds good.

Mike:   Thanks for joining us on this episode of Outstanding in the Field.

Duey:   All right. Appreciate it Mike. Thank you.

Mike:   Thank you. That’s it. All right.