Opportunities abound in technology and information-based systems - but are we ready?

During this year's conference we brought together a great selection of speakers covering a diverse range of topics from across the primary industry, which made the event a stand out for the Institute. In reflecting on the conference over the last few weeks, I have been thinking about the opportunities for rural professionals in the use of technology and information-based systems.

Over the past few years we have seen an increasing array of technology and information-based systems become available to the farming community to help improve on-farm efficiency and productivity. The speed of change in the development of technology and information-based systems is likely to accelerate in the years to come.

There is an increasing sense that the individual has greater choice and flexibility in the technology platforms they choose to use. Collier Isaacs of FarmIQ reinforced this during his presentation at the conference when he advised that when selecting and deciding upon any technology or information-based system, it is important that farmers and rural professionals drive what they want out of the system, rather than being constrained by the limitations of a system's architecture.

With the increasing use of cloud-based information systems there are greater opportunities for farmers and their advisers to integrate and share information between multiple sources, including accounting packages, farm decision tools, regulatory information, livestock data, risk management information, etc. Combined with new technologies for monitoring and collecting data, we are headed to a future where the cost of inputting, analysing and reporting data will reduce and the parameters that we measure and the granularity with which we measure them will increase. We will have the data to manage farms with the level of monitoring similar to that available to factories and processing plants. The challenge will be how this data is turned into information that can be used to make better strategic and operational decisions.

Expanding upon this further, it is predicted that engineering intelligent software systems will emerge that can process large data sets using unstructured commands and subtle judgments with the ability to learn 'on the fly', which will be a significant step towards 'automation of knowledge work'. In May 2013, the McKinsey Global Institute identified automation of knowledge work as one of 12 disruptive technologies that have the greatest potential to drive substantial economic impact by 2025.

With better use of cloud-based information and the potential development of knowledge-based intelligent software systems in the future, what are the opportunities for the rural profession in servicing an increasingly sophisticated farming clientele?

During the conference Collier noted that 'its wisdom we are after' in maximising value within information systems, while Andrew Gibbs of Deloitte described it as 'wisdom and insights' at the end of a decision-making process as the target to strive for.

In the face of new and potentially disruptive technology, rural professionals may need to consider their service offering beyond the provision of information and knowledge. This could be on how rural professionals use the information available to work with their farming clients, both at a high level in areas such as developing strategies to meet the objectives and aspirations of the farming business, and then evaluating the implementation and ongoing business outcomes against those strategies and business constraints.

I believe that the skills, expertise and insight of the rural professional in effectively using technology and information-based systems, underpinned by the integrity and professionalism of that individual, have the potential to extend their position as an integral and highly-valued part of the farming business in the future.