Agricultural disruption—we discuss technological innovation in agribusiness with Henry Steyn

Henry Steyn started as Acting IT Manager at Overberg Agri in 2014 and was promoted to Overberg Agri’s Executive Head of Innovation in 2019. Henry’s role requires a significant level of strategic thinking. He is responsible for finding solutions to some of the more pressing operational challenges in Overberg Agri, as well as identifying technologies and the accompanying organisational capabilities that will effectively support the long-term strategic direction of the business.

His extensive experience is supported by an array of impressive academic qualifications, including a B Com Legal degree and an Advanced Diploma in Business Management (cum laude) from the University of Johannesburg, a B Com Quantitative Management degree from the University of South Africa, a BSc Honours in Operations Research (cum laude) from the University of South Africa and an M Com in Quantitative Management (cum laude) from the University of Stellenbosch. In the spirit of continuous learning, he’s also completed a FinTech short course through the University of Cape Town.

We took a moment to chat to him about technological advancements in Overberg Agri, as well as the agricultural landscape in general.

In your opinion – how is technology impacting the agricultural sector in South Africa?

“Information technology and automation are making a direct contribution to increased yields and lower costs, thus making farming enterprises more profitable and sustainable,” says Henry. “That being said, mother nature has the final say. Examples of the impact of technology use include:

-The impact that precision farming has on the reduction of production input volumes
-Monitoring solutions that, in combination with predictive analytics, act as early warning systems for potential problems
-State of the art soil fertility management algorithms
-Disease prediction algorithms, and
-The all-important water management systems,” says Henry.

In 2022, brands need to continually evolve their businesses as technology and customer needs change. With this in mind, please explain how Overberg Agri is utilising technological innovation to assist clients/staff, and advance the business?

“Firstly, we are working hard on establishing a digital channel for our customers with the main focus of reducing transactional friction,” continues Henry. “What this means is that we want to make it as easy as possible for our customers to interact and transact with the company. Our financing process, for example, is 100% digitised. From cash flow planning to assessment to contractingall digital. This also goes for the grain storage contracts and seed sales. Secondly, each customer facing digital service is deeply integrated with internal company processes. The Overberg Agri digital platform is a true extension of the company and becomes a powerful customer service tool in the hands of our staff across multiple divisions,” says Henry.

Some tech researchers say that instead of chasing technology, companies need to focus on what they want to be for their customers. In this context, what does Overberg want to be for their customers? And how is technology assisting this process?

“The Overberg business model is in constant flux and is moving away from a product centric business model to a customer centric business model,” continues Henry. “What this means is that the company is aligning itself with the internal value chain of our customers. But this alignment requires an expansion of our product and service offering to include or strengthen products and services for each stage in the internal customer value chain. Many of these services can be delivered with increased reach and impact through the effective use of technology. Overberg truly aspires to be the ‘agricultural business partner of choice’ for its customers. This means an unwavering commitment to improving its customer’s yield potential while actively finding ways to reduce input costs. This is not a pricing game, it is an efficiency game, and the effective application of the right technology (like Artificial Intelligence) can realise this aspiration,” concludes Henry.

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