Neil Hampshire – Parallel
The U.S. continues to expand access to cannabis in many states and in November 2020, five more states voted by overwhelming majorities to legalize cannabis.
Despite this, in more than two dozen states, a person can be arrested and thrown in jail for possessing or trying to sell marijuana. In the other 15 states where the sale and possession of cannabis is legal, it’s not risk free, either.
Banks still won’t work with the cannabis industry and, despite the industry maturing, business remains complicated by public perception and a patchwork of regulations between states. So it helps, says Neil Hampshire, to have the tech figured out. That’s his job as CIO for Parallel, an Atlanta-based company providing a range of cannabis products, including vapes, cannabis flowers, balms, oils, lozenges and gummies.
“This is an exciting opportunity to support our long-term growth, help create blockbuster brands and implement the best tech architecture and digital platforms that establish Parallel as the gold standard in the cannabis industry,” he says.
From seed to sale
Right now, Hampshire and his team are building a cloud-based, digital platform that enables the business to operate in this very complex landscape and pivot quickly to any dramatic changes in regulations.
This includes seed-to-sales systems to track the complete genealogy of the products, and advanced data analytics. In addition, the team at Parallel is building a microservices-based integration layer that will allow them to quickly integrate acquisitions, platforms and apps.
“The granular traceability which is tracked on our seed-to-sale platform is essential. As in most states, integration of all cannabis movements to a state tracking system is required,” Hampshire says.
The states will audit companies against this, and every seed, plant or gram of cannabis needs to be accounted for.
Soon after Hampshire joined Parallel in 2019—he has a degree in electrical engineering and electronics from Brunel University in London—Parallel CEO Beau Wrigley challenged him to solve problems with modern solutions. Hampshire has approached building Parallel’s IT architecture through that lens, especially in how the company manages its application landscape and cloud infrastructure.
“Making sure we are using contemporary solutions and building in the latest thinking is important to ensuring our technology platform is as future-proofed as possible,” he adds.
Using Terraform to manage its cloud infrastructure through software—often referred to as infrastructure as code—Hampshire and Parallel now have flexibility to accelerate other project development, including extensions of the analytical platform and providing new, digital capabilities for their patients and consumers. The change also provides enhanced disaster recovery and business continuity options.
He says the transition is a significant step for the company and will be completed in the next few months.
Being a technology leader
Hampshire notes that the company is investing in an extensive digital, omni-channel platform that he believes will help the business by providing a superior online and in-store shopping experience.
“The current online experience most patients get across the industry is lacking,” he says. “As we attract more new customers, they’ll have much higher expectations than most cannabis companies are providing today.”
Additionally, Parallel is piloting the use of use of machine learning and artificial intelligence in several areas of its business, including cultivation operations. By tracking agricultural input like temperature, humidity, lighting and soil nutrients, Hampshire hopes to boost yields and consistency—and reduce costs.
As he explains, while cannabis can command healthy profit margins, growing it isn’t cheap and requires a large amount of capital. First, there’s buying the land, constructing expensive greenhouses and staffing them—borrowing cash to fund projects isn’t easy in the cannabis industry.
Regulation, compliance and security
As the federal position on cannabis continues to evolve, companies like Parallel need to prepare for a wave of changes, Hampshire says—everything from better access to capital and consumer acceptance, to interstate commerce and competition from beverage and tobacco industries.
For his part, he feels prepared.
After college, Hampshire worked in several positions at Gillette for nearly 10 years. He then spent six years at Wrigley in Hong Kong, Sydney and Chicago in various technology roles before holding CIO-level positions with Avon Products, Reckitt Benckiser and ModusLink for almost a decade before joining Parallel almost two years ago.
“Working and living in many cultures and geographies has made me appreciate the benefits of diversity and building highly engaged teams that focus on business outcomes and how IT can accelerate and amplify these results,” he says.
Hampshire hopes that cannabis will ultimately be legalized in all 50 states and on the federal level. As more states vote individually to legalize the cultivation, sale and possession of marijuana, companies in the industry will rely even more on their technology infrastructure. And that suits him just fine.
Hampshire adds that operating in the U.S. cannabis industry is like working across many countries with different rules, cultures and requirements.
“Having a flexible and scalable IT platform will be a major factor in deciding which companies thrive across this complex and ever-changing landscape. It will also help them win with the customer and patient,” he says. “This is what we focus on every day.”
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