IT Science Case Study: Upgrading Tech on a Working Farm

eWEEK IT SCIENCE: A profitable and well-run 65-acre working farm badly needed a complete IT makeover, and Ricoh was the provider that stepped up and did it.

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Here is the latest article in an eWEEK feature series called IT Science, in which we look at what actually happens at the intersection of new-gen IT and legacy systems.

Unless it’s brand new and right off various assembly lines, servers, storage and networking inside every IT system can be considered “legacy.” This is because the iteration of both hardware and software products is speeding up all the time. It’s not unusual for an app-maker, for example, to update and/or patch for security purposes an application a few times a month, or even a week. Some apps are updated daily! Hardware moves a little slower, but manufacturing cycles are also speeding up.

These articles describe new-gen industry solutions. The idea is to look at real-world examples of how new-gen IT products and services are making a difference in production each day. Most of them are success stories, but there will also be others about projects that blew up. We’ll have IT integrators, system consultants, analysts and other experts helping us with these as needed.

Today’s Topic: Upgrading IT Without Mortgaging the Farm Itself

Name the problem to be solved: Battlefield Farms, Inc., a 65-acre diverse plant production farm, needed an innovative IT infrastructure technology overhaul to eliminate its legacy system headaches and open up time for business transformation. The solution put in place needed to rectify the fact that the farm had:

  • no backup and disaster recovery;
  • insufficient network switches and old servers;
  • outdated email, internet and phone infrastructure with not nearly enough gigabytes of space;
  • slow and spotty Wi-Fi connections that hampered scanning and billing practices; and
  • an IT services partner that was slow to respond to questions and service requests.

This indeed was a legacy system that badly needed a jump start with new technology.

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That's not all: The farm also needed a system that could help admins to know and breakdown the costs for growing every single crop on its farm, while keeping all the farm’s computer systems running smoothly.

Describe the strategy that went into finding the solution: Bob Haynes, Battlefield Farms software technology manager, used his background in software technology to accomplish a two-fold mission:

  • first, to find a company that could help him realize his dream of implementing an enterprise–wide ERP system that would reveal every cost that goes into growing every plant;
  • second, to rebuild the IT infrastructure to ensure everything from backup systems to data storage servers to Wi-Fi and phone systems were all up to date and ensuring maximum efficiencies.

List the key components in the solution: Ricoh IT made a plan and installed:

  1. new servers in a virtual environment: Due to the company’s remote location, there wasn't enough bandwidth to support a cloud solution, so Ricoh IT found a workaround that could achieve the needed performance;
  2. new, faster network switches;
  3. new phone and Internet systems, utilizing network and partner relationships to create a workaround to the remote location bandwidth issue that was a fraction of the original fiber loop installation estimate cost of $700,000; and
  4. used a heat map to determine the most efficient access points for Wi-Fi placement, cutting the estimated number installed in half, from 6 to 3.

In addition, Ricoh IT provided 24/7 monitoring services to keep all stations up and running along with once-a-month virtual CIO services for addressing problems and potential upgrades.

Describe how the deployment went, how long it took, and if it came off as planned: Battlefield Farms only has two weeks of downtime every year, so Ricoh IT tackled each problem one at a time, once a year. In total, to ensure the least amount of down time to Battlefield Farms business, it took four years to implement the noted changes. The team is now talking about ways to move the backup solution that Haynes installed shortly after joining Battlefield Farms offsite and are also looking to migrate to Microsoft Office 365 to use the Ricoh hosted platform and take advantage of existing licenses to reduce costs.

Describe the result, new efficiencies gained, and what was learned from the project: By conducting a network analysis of Battlefield Farm's Wi-Fi environment, the company reduced its expected wireless upgrade costs from $20,000 to $10,000—a 50 percent cost savings. Now, the shipping area has reliable coverage with just three wireless access points. Bills of lading from cart scans are now accurate on the first attempt, saving time and labor costs and eliminating chargebacks from retailers.

Phone and internet service has been drastically improved without costing Battlefield Farms a proposed $700,000 to install a fiber loop to the main office because of its remote location. Overall, the company has significantly improved its IT infrastructure, has a partner for navigating IT issues that occasionally arise and is able to plan for future improvements.

Most significant to Haynes, the relationship with Ricoh IT has allowed him to focus on his main mission: implementing an ERP system to track everything from planning to shipping to invoicing. With the ERP system nearly finished, the company will soon be able to input all of its data into one system and know precisely what it costs to produce each plant.

"Since Ricoh took our IT headaches away, we've been able to focus on implementing a much-needed ERP solution to track everything we do—from planning to shipping to invoicing—all in the same system," Haynes said.

Describe ROI, carbon footprint savings and staff time savings: By making Ricoh a trusted partner, Battlefield Farms realized a reduction of estimated Wi-Fi upgrade costs by 50% and were saved from spending an estimated $700,000 on a fiber loop install to improve phone and Internet services. By having cost-effective, more efficient Wi-Fi, phone and internet, processes and employee labor are all running smoother, showing a general bottom-line savings. This sets up a better environment for the forthcoming ERP system to create even more companywide savings.

If you have a suggestion for an eWEEK IT Science article, email cpreimesberger@eweek.com.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 15 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...