The logistical challenges of recording the movements of staff and contractors working across Synlait’s Canterbury farms was the catalyst for the development of an app now used by farmers and growers across New Zealand; in parts of the United Kingdom in Australia.

“We had 13 farms, 13000 cows, 100 staff and a large number of contractors coming and going every day. It was difficult to know who was on the property and where they were,” says Ryan Higgs, chief executive and co-founder of Onside, the company behind the digital check-in app of the same name.

Ryan, former operations manager for Synlait Farms says checking in using paper records just didn’t work.

“There are lots of entrances to the properties and paper records get dirty, wet, lost or just not filled in. It was important to come up with a check-in system that worked through mobile phones and not based around a PC system.”

Engineers to help build the app were initially outsourced but five years on, Onside has an in-house team of 10 full-time engineers based in Christchurch, more than $1million in revenue and nearly 800,000 user check-ins.

“Our app is the only system of its kind which focuses solely on rural users.” It’s a digital check-in tool which records who is entering a property, when and for how long as well as having functionality to manage operations, communications, health and safety and biosecurity.

App users now not only know who is on their farm, orchard or vineyard, they can also communicate with them. Health and safety is covered with a full suite of information from the identification of risks to incident reporting and emergency planning.

“Providing critical information in real time is another plus. There was a case in a Marlborough vineyard where power lines came down. The owners were able to use the app to advise people not to visit the site and to do that instantly, so everyone was aware of what had happened.”

The tool can also be used to manage and assign tasks on the property. Contractors and property owners have a dashboard function which informs them of where team members are. There’s a lone-worker function through which a worker records how long they expect to be on site. “If that person is overdue a cascade of events is triggered to check on the worker and ensure they are ok.”

Biosecurity is a new area of development which has come as a direct result of customer requests.

“This has the capability to provide information about who is arriving on site, the biosecurity protocols to be followed and also to ask relevant questions. For instance, in the poultry sector, it is necessary to know when people last visited another poultry farm.

“The horticulture sector is also upping its game around biosecurity, such as the movement of plant material.”

Further developments are planned including automatic check-in when someone arrives on site and more functionality around biosecurity.

Ryan says adding functions to the app which have enabled it to become an easy to use, essential part of everyday business operations is key to its success as a check-in system.

“The app has got to have more value than just health and safety. The operational value is really important, and we are seeing people treat it as part of running their business and that way we get good engagement.

“Customers in the dairy sector are using Onside to help achieve their Lead with Pride (Synlait) and Cooperative Difference (Fonterra) accreditation to get a premium per kg of milksolids.”

Onside offers a free version of its app to users, with the full version operated through a paid subscription. The app is continually evolving to meet customers’ needs because, says Ryan; “if you don’t meet customers’ needs, you don’t have a product and without a product you are not in business”.

Onside has received funding from investors including Icehouse Ventures, the government’s NZ Growth Capital Partners (NZGCP), K1W1 Ltd (an investment company owned by Sir Stephen Tindall) and other private investors.

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Identifying onfarm hazards

An app enabling staff to instantly identify onfarm hazards as well as record the time contractors spend on site has found favour with Waitonui Milltrust Agricultural Holdings Farm Management Limited Partnership.

The company has 40 staff and a number of contractors working across 14 farms comprising three dairy farms in Taupo and four in Oamaru, with the balance being run support blocks.

“For the last 12 months or so we have been using the Onside app which we find very useful in the day to day running of the business,” says office assistant Katrina Hudson who is based in Te Awamutu.

“I work 24 hours a week for Waitonui but because it’s easy and quick to use, check in with the app each day, or send staff messages to ensure all is okay.”

Farm managers use the app to monitor staff who have left the farm to work on support blocks and staff regularly use it to record hazards.

“For instance, if someone finds a new sink hole which has opened up, they will fence and flag it, take a photo and add it with a notification to the app so everyone working on or coming on to the farm is aware of the hazard.”

The check-in and check-out times recorded by contractors, including fencers, are used to prepare time sheets and costings for work carried out.

“If we receive an invoice we weren’t expecting I can go to the app and check the date the work was said to be done. If there is no record I go back to ask why they didn’t check in – there are big signs at every gate – and ask for proof the work was done.

“Onside is definitely an app we will continue to use. I speak to Guy Davidson and Jimmy Mason of Onside quite often with suggestions about how the app could work better for us, and changes have been made.”