When you browse through the fruit section of a grocery store, what may often resonate with you would be the colors, shapes and sizes of the fruits we see. Rarely do we consider the data story behind each fruit…

Very often, the journey from vine to store is far more complex than we might expect.

For instance, Zespri’s kiwifruits are grown under specific conditions: fertile, moist and slightly acidic soil, a sunny climate and not too much wind. Not to mention the fact that they have multiple fruit varieties, each with unique characteristics.

Imagine the amount of data this warrants. It is safe to say Zespri works with a manually insurmountable amount of data to keep track of and analyze on spreadsheets as the company grows. But with the help of enterprise data company Syniti, Zespri’s spreadsheet days are long gone.

In line with its aspiration to become a digital-first business, Zespri’s first phase of digital transformation has recently gone live – and its partnership with Syniti has borne fruit (pun fully intended) by way of reduced manual effort, and better visibility, quality and trust in its data.

To get the full story, DigiconAsia interviewed Brett Hartman, Head of Data, Analytics & Enablement, Zespri International Limited and Gary Chua, Managing Director, Asia Pacific & Japan, Syniti.

Brett Hartman, Head of Data, Analytics & Enablement, Zespri International Limited
Gary Chua, Managing Director, Asia Pacific & Japan, Syniti

In the production of kiwifruit, how complex is the process, from the vine to the store?

Brett (Zespri): An important part of the journey is the growing season, which takes nearly 240 days of the year. Zespri kiwifruit need ideal conditions: fertile, moist and slightly acidic soil, a sunny climate, and not too much wind. The orchards where they grow, therefore, need to be selected carefully and the young vines are then planted in rows between 16 and 20 feet apart. The result is not immediate though, as it takes about five years’ worth of intensive care before the plants produce enough fruit to be harvested for sale.

We have also established the Zespri System, a comprehensive set of quality standards that ensure that the best procedures are used in growing our kiwifruit. From cutting-edge orchard management techniques to supply chain management that guarantees our kiwifruit are delivered in optimal condition.

We don’t just grow kiwifruit in New Zealand either. As well as working with 2,800 growers in New Zealand, we work with 1,500 growers offshore, selling Zespri kiwifruit into more than 50 countries and managing 30 percent of global volume. Therefore, you can only imagine how complex and how much data the entire journey from vine to store requires.

What additional challenges did Zespri face as a producer for the global market?

Brett: There have been a number of challenges that have become more prevalent as the business has grown.

    • Firstly, we relied heavily on excel spreadsheets and manual inputting or processing of our data. This became more challenging and time-consuming as we are faced with large amounts of data, given our global operations.
    • Secondly, the above naturally impacted our internal teams’ trust in our data. We would often have to manually re-run our numbers and compare results to validate our data. As a result, there were often levels of uncertainty associated with the data we retrieved or processed in our previous data management system. This ultimately strained decision-making within the business.
    • Finally, our finance and supply chain processes also became more inefficient as we grew due to the reliance on outdated legacy systems and manual methods. Our teams often had to validate supplier data and set up or onboard new suppliers manually. It was difficult to ensure that our partners have the right amount of inventory, for instance. Hence, trusted records, ranging from purchase orders to sales, became challenging to navigate.

We saw a strong need to transform our operations and the way we manage our data globally. Effectively, we needed to move away from legacy systems and establish a platform that would deliver trusted information for us to make well-informed and well-timed business decisions. This prompted us to embark on a digital transformation journey, known as the Horizon Programme, which gave us an opportunity to reset our data management capability.

How does data management and analytics help Zespri’s business operations?

Gary (Syniti): One of Zespri’s goals is to become a digital-first, future-led business. First and foremost, this warranted a change in the way they manage and approach data – not only to address the challenges they were facing, but also ultimately help them drive better business outcomes with their data.

To that end, together with Zespri, we identified three key changes that they needed to make:

    1. Upgrade legacy systems to a trusted, user-friendly data management platform
    2. Establish a solid core of accurate data
    3. Protect the core of the new data management system with strong governance processes

Ultimately, these three steps would help reduce manual effort in data management to improve data quality in delivering trusted information for decision making, and increase efficiencies by enhancing and automating data workflows.

Brett: For the first phase of the Horizon Programme, we focused on two key Master Data Areas:

    • Material Master: This is the building block of our entire value chain and includes data such as our fruit varieties, size, market, characteristics, packaging, and more. This impacts every aspect of our operations, from shipping to sales and beyond.
    • Business Partner Supplier: This is the data that we need to look after our vendors and suppliers. It helps to underpin our entire Procure-to-Pay process.

These were the two areas we relied on most, and we felt that focusing on these two as the foundation would have the greatest immediate impact on operations across our value chain.

Why did Zespri choose to partner with Syniti in its digital transformation journey?

Brett: To help achieve the objectives of the Horizon Programme, we needed a specialist software that would offer data visibility, quality, and governance at the core – and Syniti was the right fit given the breadth of their solutions and expertise. The company has a vast data expertise, and in particular, expertise in how to turn data into knowledge to drive business outcomes. This was crucial, as we wanted to improve the maturity of our data and processes in order to subsequently improve decision-making within the business.

Most importantly, Syniti’s solutions have strong integrations with SAP S/4 HANA. This was key, as we wanted to migrate from our legacy systems to the SAP S/4 HANA ERP system.

What are some key benefits from Zespri’s partnership with Syniti?

Brett: Since the implementation of Syniti’s solutions, we’ve seen benefits across a number of areas:

    • Master Data Management: Syniti’s solutions provided us with a platform to manage our Master Data in real time, which Zespri previously didn’t have.
    • Data governance and quality: Syniti provided us with a framework to improve the maturity of our data governance. In particular, the implementation of the Syniti Knowledge Platform made the data verification experience much easier owing to its in-built validation capabilities. We are now starting to have better visibility of our data quality and how it is working for us.
    • Partner and supplier processes: Syniti automated workflows for our finance and supply chain operations. This has allowed for easy communication between our vendors and suppliers globally. In addition, all our validations are now done upfront, reducing manual effort and inaccuracies.

The first phase of our digital transformation recently went live and in general the deployment of Syniti’s software went well. We were able to work through any technical challenges quickly with the Syniti team, which we have a built a good rapport and relationship with.

We have also started to see better conversations around data governance that have enabled us to build additional validation processes into our data, that we previously didn’t have or there was additional manual effort involved.

In the quest to be an intelligent digital-first organization, what other initiatives and transformations can be expected?

Brett: Our digital transformation journey is really just beginning, and there’s much more to do.

Together with Syniti, we hope that we can continue to grow our data management partnership, make better decisions based on our trusted data, and in doing so, achieve our strategic goals.