As producers’ association Australian Pork Limited (APL) expanded, employees found it increasingly difficult to access each other’s contacts, communications and industry knowledge. In 2013, it overcame the problem with a customer relationship management (CRM) system, based on Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011. The web-based repository makes it easy to track farmers’ emails and pig movements, which ultimately helps create direct relationships between farmers and customers. It also helps Australian Pork maintain quality standards programs and devise effective policy.
|Now the pork industry is much easier to comprehend … Everything I need to know about stakeholders or members is only a few clicks away, and it’s easier for me to represent our farmers’ interests.|
| James Battams|
Australian Pork Limited (APL) is an industry association, founded in 2000 to further the interests of Australia’s 2000 pig farmers. Based in Canberra, the organisation conducts research on behalf of its members, markets Australian pork to consumers, and informs policy and decision-making by representing pig-producer interests to state and federal governments.
Like many small organisations, APL started life without any single method for storing information or tracking communications. Staff members kept records and data on spreadsheets or on paper files, or installed their own third-party applications to suit specific needs. As the organisation grew to 35 employees, however, knowledge-sharing became increasingly reliant on personal, one-to-one contacts.
“We had invaluable industry and organisational knowledge, but it was all inside people’s heads,” says James Battams, Policy Analyst at APL. “We spent too much time asking each other questions and when colleagues left, they took their knowledge with them. As our research, marketing, and assessment tasks expanded, we had to find a systematic way to record data so that everyone could easily access and analyse it.”
As its activities grew, the organisation also wanted to manage processes and communication better. For example, APL managed a country-wide quality assurance (QA) program for pig farms, but the inspection program involved lots of manual form-filling and farmers’ QA emails were logged separately from others. As a result, farmers sometimes felt they were dealing with several organisations.
APL also wanted to promote industry transparency. Government bodies want the ability to track where livestock comes from for safety reasons, and consumers increasingly want to make informed choices when they purchase pork. If possible, APL ultimately wanted to start building the ability to track the movements and origins of every farmed pig in Australia.
In early 2013, APL issued a request for proposal for a customer relationship management (CRM) system. One of the respondents was Sydney-based Microsoft Gold Certified Partner, Hands-on Systems, which proposed a combined CRM and web portal built using Microsoft Dynamics CRM.
“We liked the Dynamics CRM proposal because it had great out-of-the-box functionality, and the customisations would be straightforward,” says Battams. “Also the integrations between Dynamics and other Microsoft desktop applications, such as Outlook email, would make the platform easy to work with. The Dynamics solution proposed by Hands-on Systems, would give us the best capabilities our budget could afford.”
From March to May 2013, Dimitri Nearhos, Lead Technical Consultant, Hands-on Systems, worked on-site in Canberra to build the CRM. He devised workflows to automate existing processes, and engaged a web design agency to create an easy-to-use web portal so farmers had secure, remote access to Australian Pork research material. He also used Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 to create new capabilities.
“We devised a system to track all livestock movements from farm to abattoir,” says Nearhos. “Farmers and distributors assign serial numbers to each consignment of pigs and enter origin and transportation data in the portal with the help of workflows. Also, we used new application programming interfaces (APIs) in Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 to create gateways to external systems, include the eWAY secure online payments service.”
Additional customisations allow staff to send email, execute mail merges and use email templates from within the CRM, so member addresses don’t have to be manually copied into Microsoft Outlook. Hands-on Systems used their offshore solution centre to help build the platform, and the new CRM system went live on schedule in June 2013.
With a single repository for all communications and industry information, APL provides a faster and more comprehensive service to its members. It is also helping to forge new industry standards where consumers are more closely connected to farmers.
More detailed access to industry knowledge
With the Microsoft Dynamics portal and database, APL employees have immediate access to all the industry information collected by colleagues. “Now the pork industry is much easier to comprehend,” says Battams. “Almost everything I need to know about stakeholders or members is only a few clicks away, and I don’t have to bother colleagues. We all know a lot more about our industry, and I can represent our farmers’ interests with greater authority.”
According to Battams, one reason for the success of Microsoft Dynamics CRM is that his colleagues instinctively like the interface, and find it very easy to use. “Our members only need one log in to access the member-only areas of the web portal, and they find it easy to contribute or retrieve information,” he says. “Also, the dashboard feature enables me to quickly generate any statistic I want. This helps me research or substantiate policy ideas more quickly.”
Workflow automation has reduced the amount of time employees spend on routine jobs. “The CRM has rejuvenated our QA program,” says Battams. “All the information from outside audits is entered straight into the CRM portal, and then workflows auto-generate the certificates and send them out. We don’t have to manually create mail merges—it’s just terrific.”
Improving the Australian pork industry
By enabling stakeholders to easily track the origins of each farmed pig, Microsoft Dynamics CRM is helping to create a more transparent industry. “In the future, it’s possible that consumers will select their pork on the basis of where and how the pigs are reared,” says Battams. “This system doesn’t quite get us there, but it makes a direct customer-farmer relationship possible—and that’s a big part of the future of farming.”
This case study is for informational purposes only. MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN THIS SUMMARY.