Features

Donald Schlising – Landmark Services Cooperative

Harvesting technology in the Midwest

Imagine you’re a farmer in the Midwest with a significant corn-growing operation. It’s early in the calendar year, time to prep for the upcoming growing season.

So, what do you do? Hint: it’s not fire up the tractor.

If you’re a member of Landmark Services Cooperative, a likely first step is to log into your customized YieldEdge platform. There you have access to a bevy of analytics about your crops and fields: real-time maps and grids, historic soil and seed data, yield patterns, fertilizer and irrigation timetables, weather and climate trends, and forecasts.

Donald Schlising – Landmark Services Cooperative Toggle Magazine

Ideally, as you consider this information, you make informed decisions about your planting and harvesting, according to Donald Schlising, Landmark’s vice president of information technology and marketing.

“In the past, the agriculture and co-op space have lagged behind in technology—but they’re really catching up,” says Schlising. “Especially in agriculture, where margins are thin, it’s all about making the most of your return on investment in everything you do.”

Technological growth

Based in Cottage Grove, Wisconsin, Landmark is a member-owned business co-op providing agronomy, animal nutrition, grain, energy, financing and business, and retail products and services to more than 11,000 members throughout Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa.

Joining as IT head in 2016, Schlising has focused on technological efforts internally and externally, bolstering collaboration and automation, while increasing the use of data analytics and high-tech tools.

Donald Schlising – Landmark Services Cooperative Toggle Magazine

An example of this is YieldEdge, Landmark’s precision ag technology. Incorporating information from drones, grid soil sampling and mapping, geographic informational systems and geospatial imaging, its aim is to help members increase yields, efficiency and sustainability. Schlising credits YieldEdge’s dedicated sales manager and team for its immense success.

For his part, he has overseen a Salesforce implementation; this has involved sunsetting existing apps and consolidating essential customer information, contracts and paperwork to the Salesforce platform. Ultimately, it has improved workflows and reconnected the co-op’s four divisions, which for a long time operated in “siloes.”

Incorporating Salesforce has enabled more and better connection with members, as well as exposure to products and services via more robust marketing tools.

Schlising and his team have also “jumped into” business intelligence initiatives through Tableau Software, allowing them to “marry” their existing ERP system, AgVantage, and other line of business applications and data sources, with analytics software. Through a strategic partnership with AgVantage and BIG Consulting, they were able to cull and consolidate previously underutilized but crucial data.

For example, over 100 reports and visual dashboards were created to identify products that weren’t selling well, analyze grain marketing techniques and trends for members, identify member outliers and year-over-year spends, track sales metrics and even help identify location and divisional performance and profitability.

“There’s a vast amount of critical data that resides on AgVantage,” Schlising says. “Our goal has been to pull it out and present it to leaders and managers to help make quicker and more impactful decisions.”

Similarly, Schlising has focused on improving internal workflows and optimizing standard operating procedures and processes as well as analyzing business apps to make them more user-friendly and available across locations.

The department has also begun to look at ways to support and streamline over 20 manned and unmanned locations, while bolstering security for its largely mobile workforce. Landmark has 310 full-time employees—which can grow to 550 seasonally—who sell products and services and provide data to members and prospective customers through online portals.

Because employees work remotely and on their members’ farms, gaining access to data and applications through internet connected devices they own, Schisling says the co-op is ever-vigilant with cybersecurity. To aid in this, Landmark is implementing many of Cisco’s security solutions with the assistance of Capital Data. But most importantly, he stresses, is his department’s continued efforts to educate employees so they are savvy and cautious.

‘Translatable’ concepts

A native of the Midwest, Schlising studied business and psychology in college, but was captivated by basic programming while still in high school.

“Business management and leadership practices and strategies are extremely interesting to me,” says the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point grad.

Donald Schlising – Landmark Services Cooperative Toggle Magazine

The same goes for psychology, he says: understanding people, the “soft skills” element, seeing how different people perceive things, collaborate, act and think. “The two seemed to mesh together for me.”

Serving as a former leader and consultant in “tech heavy” roles for IT companies including Information Technology Professionals, Berbee Information Networks, CDW, and Chaney Systems, he was drawn to Landmark because, he says, the co-op leadership places an “extreme” amount of value on its customers, employees and technology.

He was also intrigued to make the shift from a corporate environment to a member-owned environment. “The culture, the feel, is of everybody rolling up their sleeves, no matter what position you have, and working together toward a shared purpose,” he says—even if the work is never done.

There’s also strong drive to give back to the local communities that the cop-op serves—for example, providing meals for families in need. “It’s pride in what we do for our members, the community and each other,” he says.

As for technology itself? “What I love about it is actually making a difference for an organization, driving better processes, efficiency,” says Schlising. “That’s what I thrive on. It’s exciting to be part of this industry as it moves forward.”

Published on: June 25, 2019

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