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For food producer Simplot, technology is at the root of success.

by Aaron Lazenby

August 2015

In 1923, an entrepreneurial 14-year-old named J.R. “Jack” Simplot quit school to become a farmer. Six years later, he started the J.R. Simplot Company and by World War II he had built a successful business that supplied dehydrated foods to the US military.

Snapshot

    J.R. Simplot Company

    Headquarters: Boise, Idaho

    Industry: Consumer goods

    Employees: 10,000

    Revenue: US$6 billion in 2014

    Oracle products: JD Edwards EnterpriseOne, Oracle Value Chain Planning, Oracle Crystal Ball Enterprise Performance Management

Roger Parks

    CIO and Vice President of Information Technology

    Length of tenure: 15 years

    Education: Associate degree in accounting, San Jacinto College, Deer Park, Texas; associate degree in computer science, Academy of Computer Technology, Houston, Texas; BS in computer science, University of Houston, Houston, Texas

    Personal quote/mantra: “I believe technology and the digitization of business will continue to drive and accelerate global business transformation and innovation.”

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But it was the frozen french fry that sealed Simplot’s legacy.

In the 1960s, Simplot was riding horses with his good friend Ray Kroc, the head of McDonald’s Corporation. Kroc mentioned he was trying to improve the quality and consistency of the french fries served in his restaurants. Simplot, being the innovative individual that he was, took this comment and developed the frozen french fry. Switching to frozen fries allowed McDonald’s to ship a consistent product to restaurants all over the world.

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“The Simplot Company developed the frozen french fry and launched a value chain that stretched from the field to the table, which we continue to have today,” says Roger Parks, CIO and vice president of information technology at the J.R. Simplot Company. “The french fries were really the genesis of most of that value chain.”

Today, Simplot is a primary producer of french fries for quick-serve restaurants such as McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, and others. The company is also one of the country’s largest guacamole producers as well as a major supplier to the food service industry. “The portfolio of food products the company produces in North America, Australia, and other countries is quite diverse across a number of different segments,” says Parks.

Here, Parks talks to Profit about the Simplot story and how Oracle’s JD Edwards EnterpriseOne solutions for enterprise resource planning (ERP) help the company’s diverse lines of business work together. Parks also reveals the emerging technology he can’t wait to explore next.

Profit: Simplot produces a lot of food around the globe. How does the company operate?

Parks: We have several lines of business, also called business groups: the agribusiness group sells crop inputs and crop protectants, and provides consulting services to farmers and growers. Our mission statement is Bringing Earth’s Resources to Life, and that begins on the farm with our Simplot Grower Solutions. We have more than 250 crop advisors and more than 90 retail locations to help our customers get the maximum, sustainable investment from their land every growing season.

The food group takes crops to our food manufacturing plants around the US, Australia, and other countries to produce the finished product. And our livestock organization maintains some of the largest cattle feedlots in the US and manages about 3.2 million acres.

Profit: How does technology help you get your products to market?

Parks: Technology is part of everything we do, beginning at the front end of our supply chain, where the seed goes into the ground. As technology has advanced, the amount of agricultural data that is generated and available has grown from amounts easily managed by the “boots on the ground” to one in need of a big data solution. We are currently working on solutions to better capture this data, model it historically, and apply analytics to extract further value for our operations and our customers.

For example, we have the latest technology on our tractors and other implements that help us capture data about the soil, moisture content, and the quality of the product we’re growing. These types of insights help us generate not only better yields, but also a better raw product that we can provide to our food manufacturing plants.

We have one of the more technologically advanced food manufacturing plants in the country today that is really run by laser-guided vehicles and robotics along with literally thousands of inline sensors collecting data on the production lines. Applying real-time analytics to this vast amount of data will allow us to operate more efficiently and improve product consistency and availability for our customers. We can also tie data from our manufacturing processes to the data collected earlier in our supply chain, giving us a “field to fork” view across the value chain.

Profit: What role do Oracle’s JD Edwards solutions play in all this technology?

Parks: Earlier on, each line of business was allowed to run somewhat independently, with its own goals and objectives. It became apparent a few years ago—as we’ve grown as a corporation—that there were huge synergies between each of those divisions across the entire value chain within the company. We also recognized that if we really wanted to create consistent standards and processes across those lines of business in terms of finance, HR, procurement, and so forth, we needed an ERP system such as Oracle’s JD Edwards.

Technology is part of everything we do, beginning at the front end of our supply chain, where the seed goes into the
ground.”

We chose JD Edwards EnterpriseOne solutions primarily because of the architecture of the applications and the scalability they provided to us. The solutions allowed us to have a single instance of the ERP system supporting multiple lines of business, enabling us to bring those lines of business together within a common transaction system.

Our business model is built on several vertically coordinated lines of business. Our single-instance JD Edwards EnterpriseOne solutions support common data entry across all of our lines of business, increasing efficiency and cutting operations costs through this standardization. As a result we have experienced a number of business benefits, including reducing the days to close our financial statements. We’ve increased the profitability and innovation across all lines of business.

JD Edwards solutions are the core of our very robust IT ecosystem, which is the platform for our applications stack. Our JD Edwards–based ecosystem facilitates interoperability across all applications within our back-office management systems, including the warehouse distribution and logistics system. We have about 26 different third-party applications that either interface with our JD Edwards system or are integrated with it. The system is the single point of information for a lot of transactional reporting. For example, we have computerized production controllers in the plants that monitor every aspect of the manufacturing process, and some of that data is fed back into the JD Edwards system for reporting.

Profit: How does Simplot cultivate a culture of innovation?

Parks: The demands for food products are increasing every year, while the amount of farmable acres around the world is shrinking substantially, mainly because of population growth. Technology is going to be one of the keys to feeding the world in generations to come—both information technologies and biotech technologies—through increasing the yields and the quality of food products that are being produced today.

We have developed a culture that encourages innovation and sustainability by tying these efforts to our annual employee compensation. This encourages us to partner together and look at innovative ways to run our business, and new ways we might create game changers within the agribusiness or food industry.

There is a constant opportunity for IT to be more involved in creating an innovative culture and bringing forward ideas about how we could do things more effectively and efficiently, or how we can leverage emerging technologies that could really produce a huge value for the industry and for our company.

Profit: Looking forward, what IT trends are you most excited about?

Parks: I believe that technology will continue for the foreseeable future to drive business innovation and transformation. I’m excited about big data and business analytics. I think we are just on the tip of the iceberg of the capabilities that are going to be realized from these technologies and capabilities. We’ve already identified a number of really significant projects that have huge value, both for our company and our industry.

For example, our Advanced Analytics and Business Intelligence team is working on an animal treatment analytics product that allows staff to evaluate macrotrends in Simplot cattle production data and helps them evaluate animal performance, then decide the best management strategies to employ. The ability to ask dynamic questions of the data in ways that were not possible before has given us new insight into previously disjointed pieces of data, improving the speed and accuracy of our treatment decisions.

Also, I’m excited about the transformation of the data center. As we think about taking traditional on-premises data centers to the cloud, be it public or private cloud, there are huge opportunities to drive cost out of delivering computer services to the company, and increasing the capability, the expandability, and the utility of computing platforms.

As we start thinking about the emergence of the new technologies—robotics, machine learning, and other emerging technologies—we can see that there is going to be a huge transformation, not only in IT, but in how businesses are run and the type of talent that executives are going to be looking for in the future to run their companies.

A lot of the traditional thinking is going to go by the wayside. Individuals who understand these emerging technologies and how to leverage them are really going to drive business value and be the next-generation business leaders, replacing the traditional executives that came from operations or finance.

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