Inform Ag brings order to a chaotic data management process with Zoho One.
Agriculture technology company, Inform Ag, replaced multiple siloed systems with Zoho One. The comprehensive implementation has given their team better visibility into business activities, and they now track the progress of each project while managing their time and budget effectively.
Jennie Savill founded Inform Ag in 2012 with the goal to help farmers across Australia and New Zealand embrace technological solutions. Farmers have a lot on their plates, so the vision was to kickstart their digitisation process without handing them the added burden of managing the technology itself. Drawing on seven generations of family history in the Australian agricultural industry, Savill was well aware of the problems farmers faced, and her educational background in tech gave her the necessary skills to bring together two of her passions to form a uniquely efficient business model.
Her husband, Steve Lockyer, also joined as Inform Ag's Director in 2016, bringing decades of experience in electrical engineering and automation. Together, they are dedicated to making business simple, efficient, and intuitive for farmers as the world continues headfirst through this technological age. Inform Ag currently develops tech solutions for irrigation control and monitoring, moisture sensing, automation, and more. It also supplies evaluative resources, such as tree and plant counts, drone imaging, and financial reporting.
As a technology company, Inform Ag knew what it wanted and what to expect from a tech solution. However, it was frustrating that there weren't many integrated tools in the market. "We had a lot of good solutions, but they were too siloed," Savill said, "It's not sustainable if you're trying to grow your business on solutions that don't connect properly." It was an emotion that the rest of the team echoed. "Before Zoho, our process was cumbersome and detached," said Steve Lockyer.
The company was using a range of business software for various activities including Monday.com, Harvest for project management, Pipedrive for CRM, and Expensify for expense management. While they all did their own respective jobs, none of those tools spoke to each other well. "We listed all the apps we were using and tried to make sense of how the data flowed. It was like a spider web tangle that even Spiderman himself couldn't have gotten out of," said Jarrayd Apelt, Operations Manager at Inform Ag.
Juggling customer support, sales, and finance, Apelt was a key part of the team and was aware that he needed a better solution to help him do his jobs effectively. "We had bits of everything, and were using every one at about 10 percent capacity. We decided that we'd rather have one system than multiple systems that didn't speak to each other," he said. With that in mind, Apelt and the Inform Ag team started looking out for a solution that could not only integrate their processes but also support them as they grew as a company.
During evaluation, Inform Ag started was hoping for a comprehensive solution that was still affordable. "We weren't looking at Salesforce because I knew it wasn't in the right price range for us. We looked at Hubspot, but I also realised that with their pricing model, you get in the door for a certain price but everything else costs more from there," Apelt said.
Inform Ag first heard about Zoho through one of their US-based suppliers. They were using Zoho and it seemed to work well for them. Apelt had also used Zoho apps for over five years at a previous job, and he knew exactly how Zoho could help Inform Ag. Assured by the recommendations, Inform Ag decided to give Zoho a chance. "Most of what we needed was possible with Zoho because of the built-in integrations," said Apelt. But the team also needed customised integrations to suit their business requirements, and Apelt knew he could rely on his old colleagues to help set it all up. "I knew we had a lot of options with the APIs. These guys had done some integration work at my previous place of employment as well, so I knew we didn't have to reinvent the wheel and bear that extra cost. We had that advantage as well," Apelt explained, "We did a complete cost-benefit analysis, and decided on Zoho One."
Delighted at Zoho One's breadth of offerings, Inform Ag was determined to get the most out of their subscription. They currently use about a dozen Zoho apps, and specifically, Zoho CRM and Zoho Projects have become critical for the business. Because their US-based supplier also uses Zoho CRM, Apelt noted that they've set up a unique way to share information. "We export a particular report view that contains the fields they need. They can then import the file into their Zoho CRM and update account records." It's a bit like an integration, but not completely because it gives Inform Ag more control over what they share and when. Apelt explained, "We only wanted to give them some of our information, like clients that are specific to their product. They've already got our accounts in their CRM, but with a different account number and order, and we've got mapping set up. So now, we know our Smith Company Inc. is linked with their Smith Company Inc., and any comments or updates to the record gets carried over." This saves both Inform Ag and their suppliers valuable time that they'd otherwise spend on manually updating records and verifying each field before importing reports.
Every project is now laid out from start to finish on Zoho Projects, and they also track each project's progress against its budget, which is linked back to their Zoho Expense account. "We also have an ongoing project in Projects called the internal to-do list. Everyone's got their own daily tasks that aren't necessarily customer interaction, like software testing. We use it like an action-item list rather than having a separate app for that," Apelt said. The system supports both internal and external staff managing project implementations for Inform Ag's clients. "We have external contractors working in Projects as well, and they mark their time for their assigned tasks. Everything seems to work as expected," he added.
Aside from Projects and CRM, Inform Ag also uses other apps to varying degrees. They use Zoho Meeting for weekly catch-ups, Zoho Forms to collect meeting notes, Zoho Campaigns to communicate business updates to customers, Zoho Survey for after-sale client feedback, Zoho Assist to conduct remote support sessions, and Zoho Analytics to analyse and collate business data.
In addition to all that, Apelt and his team also use Zoho Expense. "We use it for tracking trips, expenses, and reports, uploading receipts through the mobile app, and logging them at the end of a trip. We've also got it integrated with Xero, which we use for accounting." In fact, according to Apelt, they were initially managing expenses in Forms, but they've now recognised that Expense offers them more comprehensive options.
"Really happy with the trips feature in Expense. I think it's awesome. It saves us a lot of pain and suffering," Steve Lockyer told Zoho, with Apelt adding, "Zoho's salespeople should lead with that: 'we have this trips feature; it's all you need!'"
Benefits and ROI
Once they'd completed their implementation, they were able to see the benefits of a well-integrated system. The team can now track the progress of each project, from budget allocation to time management. "We can ensure project budgets are adhered to and our personnel track what weekly hours they spent on client projects and why. From a sales perspective, we track the number of calls, calls logged, and notes taken in a given period. Some of that's done in CRM itself, and for other metrics, we're building a dashboard for each sales person," Apelt said, noting that their Zoho One implementation has given them a lot of visibility into their business activities. Knowing what's going on in the business has been crucial in helping them achieve their goals. According to Inform Ag's founder, Jennie Savill, "Tracking projects, tracking costs against projects, and keeping tabs on time has been the key for us."
Even though the Inform Ag team had experienced working remotely even before the pandemic hit, having the right tools made a lot of difference. "It's surprising how much you get out of people working remotely. I hate to imagine having to do this 10 years ago without half of the technology we have today. It's the technology that helps us work together, and the staff get more done. Sure, we still have a lot of bantering, but productivity is up, too. Being better prepared and set up for remote work helped us a lot," Lockyer told Zoho.
Inform Ag has been using Zoho One for a little over 18 months. Commenting on being a Zoho user, Apelt said, "The products are always evolving and there's a lot of potential. The forum's always full of good ideas from people and a lot of that seems to get considered seriously."
Moving forward, they're looking to use Zoho Forms to have clients sign off on NDAs and documents formally before they give access to software trials. "As we grow, we'll probably use that as a staff management and KPI review, as well, so that everything's logged," said Apelt. The team is also looking to expand their marketing automation activities to encompass customer communications. "We used Zoho Campaigns during Christmas to tell our clients we'll be closed for a few days. But we'll use it more in the future, especially for release notes and client updates and services," explained Apelt.
With more than twelve apps running various processes at Inform Ag, the team is clearly getting a lot of value from their Zoho One subscription. As the company grows, so does their potential to incorporate more of the 50+ apps Zoho has to offer.