Farmers Business Network’s First CIO Looks to Refine Data Insights

Table of Contents Kumud Kokal, chief information officer of Farmers Business Network.Newsletter Sign-up WSJ | CIO Journal The new chief information officer of Farmers Business Network Inc.—a company that runs an Amazon.com -like platform for farmers to buy supplies from seed to pesticides—plans to use data to sharpen the insights […]

The new chief information officer of Farmers Business Network Inc.—a company that runs an

Amazon.com

-like platform for farmers to buy supplies from seed to pesticides—plans to use data to sharpen the insights it offers farmers, as well as bring more of them to the site and keep them coming back.

Kumud Kokal,

a former vice president of e-commerce firm

Stitch Fix Inc.,

joined the seven-year-old San Carlos, Calif.-based network and platform in October in the newly created role.

“We want to make sure that the data that you get back, the insights that you’re generating are very much applicable to you,” Mr. Kokal said, “so that means localization, giving you information that is very relevant in your ZIP Code, on your farm.”

FBN says it has 33,500 members across the U.S., Canada and Australia and operates more than 25 warehouses. Its members agree to share data on seed performance, pricing, weather and other facets of the business. In return, they gain access to a repository of industry and product pricing information. The company’s cloud-based data software also tracks spatial data from farm machinery, as well as other metrics provided by farmers to help them score the carbon footprint of crops.

Kumud Kokal, chief information officer of Farmers Business Network.



Photo:

Farmers Business Network Inc.

Mr. Kokal, however, also plans to modernize the company’s IT systems, improve its supply-chain tech and grow FBN Finance, the company’s credit and insurance arm.

Also on his agenda is a new approach to training and onboarding, ensuring employees “have access to our internal data, to our technology,” so they can build products for customers. FBN will invest in technology that supports human resources, finance, legal and marketing and upgrade enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management systems as well, he added. The company has some 850 employees.

FBN co-founder and CEO Amol Deshpande said he sees the CIO as a front-and-center leader, acting as a bridge between engineering and commercial teams.

“It’s about very important topics in the company, like security, customer experience, things that are essential drivers of the business,” he said.

Valued at $3.9 billion, FBN has thus far raised $878 million, including a $300 million Series G round in November led by FMR LLC, parent of Fidelity Investments. FBN plans to hire more than 300 employees in the coming months, Mr. Kokal said.

Since its inception, the platform has been looking to undercut traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers in farm supplies on price and delivery, getting supplies directly to farmers. In response, many of those retailers have refused to sell their brand-name seeds and crop sprays to FBN, also leery of its data-pooling efforts.

In 2018, after FBN acquired the Canadian agricultural supplier Yorkton Distributors, antitrust authorities there began investigating FBN’s complaints that large suppliers were shutting it out. The probe is ongoing.

In the company’s most recent funding round, the venture-capital arm of farm products giant

Archer Daniels Midland Co.

made an equity investment and entered a partnership that gave ADM access to FBN’s carbon-footprint-tracking technology.

John-David Lovelock, chief forecaster at IT research firm

Gartner Inc.,

said the new CIO has his work cut out for him.

“The opportunity for him is to turn this into a large, scalable IT operation that relies on best-of-breed processes,” Mr. Lovelock said, “and that can mean cleaning up and getting rid of some of the processes and technology decisions that they’ve made in the past.”

One risk, he added, could be that of getting bogged down in fixing the technology instead of building relationships and understanding how an organization copes with change, he noted.

Prior to his three years at Stitch Fix, Mr. Kokal was head of business systems at

Airbnb Inc.

He has also held senior roles at Informatica Inc. and

Intuit Inc.

Mr. Kokal acknowledged that FBN—like all digital commerce platforms—has faced obstacles, but says they haven’t stood in the way of its plans.

“Many times along the way, some of the major players have sought to stop FBN, but we persevered and powered through,” he said.

Write to Suman Bhattacharyya at [email protected]

Copyright ©2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

https://www.wsj.com/articles/farmers-business-networks-first-cio-looks-to-refine-data-insights-11640003401

Dong Anker

Next Post

Japan tightens scrutiny of foreign researchers in science and technology

Thu Dec 23 , 2021
Japanese universities have been asked to provide the details of foreign nationals working in sensitive areas of science and technology as part of a tighter screening of students and researchers pledged by the newly created minister for economic security. The enhanced scrutiny, according to people involved, is one of several […]