Making the Business of Life Easier

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How small firms pilot national services
Fast growth required computer system with good reporting
systems for management, scaleability and expansion
through the addition of specialized programs

Monday, March 19, 2001

This is a story about the technology of businesses that are built on schedules. It's about two firms in two very different industries that share a common information-processing paradigm.

One produces breeding pigs. It can be thought of as a porcine matchmaking service. The other, a firm that assists sports organizations to stage events and run their operations, is a scheduling and management service for athletes and their teams. Both companies apply high technology to fairly traditional problems, both work on the common problem of real-time scheduling, and both deal with the economic fundamental of the money cost of time.

Scheduling -- getting the pigs to reproduce on schedule and with the right sorts of mates, and getting athletes to the right place to compete against designated competitors -- is the common ground. What is interesting and even remarkable is how real-time programming makes each happen and how that programming saves money:

NavisionDamgaard: Denmark, one may think, is the home of blonds and butter, fine beer and bacon. All that is true, but it also is the base of NavisionDamgaard, a firm whose enterprise-level software enables small to medium-sized firms to operate with customized programs that tie general ledger-to-asset management, cash-flow accounting, sales, receivables and purchasing. The Toronto-based Canadian subsidiary, Navision Software Canada Inc., even helps pigs go to market. "Navision's contribution is helping manage the marketing and tracking the location and pedigrees of the swine inventory," says company president Dawson Lane. "Our programs predict when pigs will be ready to breed, when they will be ready for shipping and even where replacements have to be shipped for pigs that are not up to their standards."

Recently, Keystone Pig Advancement (KPA) installed Navision software on servers to help develop its continent-wide business of breeding and shipping breeding stock and hog semen. Based in Oakville, Man., a hamlet located 40 kilometres west of Winnipeg, KPA is a sort of swine impresario. Taking orders for certain kinds of porkers, it uses a consulting geneticist and contracts with farmers in the area to raise piglets that are then sold to so-called "multiplier barns" where they can be bred with other purebred pigs. KPA repurchases the swine and sells them to various farms.

It's a substantial though private business, one that involves shipping $17-million worth of pigs a year -- about 50,000 of the critters. It's also a fast-growing business that, KPA president Pat O'Meara says, required fast installation of a new computer system that would have good reporting systems for management, scaleability and expansion through the addition of specialized programs to handle new tasks, and would be user friendly. In a field in which some enterprise-level management systems are so difficult to use that they are sometimes thought of as the equivalent of corporate root canal, the Navision systems were very attractive, O'Meara says.

"We did not have to change our routines, and Navision did things our way," he explains. In its core business of running what amounts to a dating service for swine, the essential problem was always one of tracking which pig is where and who has to pay what.

KPA had to make the switch to a newer, more powerful management system, O'Meara says. "Our old system ran on DOS and it could not handle a lot of the work we were doing. The NavisionDamgaard system running on Windows 2000 supports five workstations in general ledger, sales and receivables, and inventory control. It is very good at handling currency conversions, a problem in our business since we do a lot of cross-border business."

Getting software adapted to the business of pig genetics was a challenge, says Grant Barkman, vice-president and general manager of RDI Global, a systems developer in Winnipeg. With Navision, he worked to build a database and management system that tracks the scheduling and delivery of pigs to clients, keeping tabs on pedigree and vendor along the way. Other parts of the program monitor pigs in the barns of contracting farmers, and even follow pigs that are not suited to breeding. Those pigs are sold to commercial farms.

Replacement pigs had become a loss issue for KPA, O'Meara says. "We had used an honour system for replacement pigs."

Sometimes there was abuse. But with NavisionDamgaard software, the replacement pigs can be tracked by how often they are ordered. Applying high technology to the business of bringing up pigs has been a way to sow more profits for KPA. Enterprise-level management systems also help, a privately held national firm, to assist sports groups to plan, manage and deliver programs. According to president Karen Taraska, the firm, with 21 employees and offices in Ottawa and across Canada, is both a scheduling service for matches in many sports and a management tool for organizers.

"We control costs in many ways," Taraska says. "We use Internet technologies to reduce the cost of information delivery. That can be as small a savings as using e-mail rather than postage or couriers. This is a distance-bridging function."

AllCanadianSport delivers much of its service through the Web and through associated organizations. Management tools, such as ways to organize baseball tournaments, publish sports rules and regulations, and save on administrative costs are Web-centric, she says.

"What would take as much as 10 hours of organizing with a pencil takes a few minutes on-line with our scheduling systems," Taraska says.

AllCanadiansport, established in September, 1999, has received seed capital from Canwest Global Communications Corp., Taraska says. The broadcaster and publisher receives information that can augment its own services and is a way of providing increased value to advertisers, Taraska says.

In their own way, the two services are solving the common problem of bringing entities with their own agendas or imperatives to a common ground of time allocation. Mathematically, it's like finding congruencies of genetic match or time in lattices of relationships. Those things can be done by hit-or-miss pencil work and by a good deal of shepherding in the case of pigs or scheduling in the case of athletes.

With time-sensitive programming and using Web-accessible databases to bring together chronology and opportunity, NavisionDamgaard and allCanadian- Sport are making two rather old industries far more efficient -- and reducing waste and the sheer wait for things to happen.

It is an old saw that time is money. With pigs as much as with athletes, real-time solutions integrated into enterprise software is a profitable match.

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