Defra is taking the lead to harness field service management technology with an aim to improve the job of the farm inspector while simultaneously making life easier for farmers and delivering efficiencies that ultimately benefit the taxpayer.
The Farm Inspection and Regulation Review interim report, published in July 2018, highlighted how British farmers experience regulation, most directly through single purpose inspections. Farmers generally find these a burden, with what can appear to be sporadic inspections from local authorities, government agencies and other inspections for farm assurance schemes.
What’s more, in 2012, the National Audit Office estimated that during 2011-12, nine separate government bodies made at least 114,000 inspections to English farms! Over half of these were to carry out disease surveillance and testing (at a cost of £28 million) and 30% were to check for farmers’ compliance (at a cost of £19 million). The total cost in 2011-12 was £47 million.
So, how can digital technology help make these inspections more efficient and less of a burden for farmers?
Defra’s innovative Field Activity Programme has been established to transform how inspectors work in the field. Its objectives are clear: to improve customer service, reduce the burden on compliant customers, improve the planning of visits, share core datasets, and create a resilient, unified and flexible workforce.
One focus of the Programme has been to increase adoption of field service management technology to improve the coordination of different visits, inspections and assessments. Kirona’s field service management solutions can be seamlessly implemented and shared securely between local authorities, government agencies and farm assurance scheme organisations. This creates a holistic view, with a flow of accurate, reliable data into one secure source that is accessible by both departmental managers and field-based inspectors, connecting the back-office with field workers in real-time. In a world that is becoming more and more connected, especially away from the work place, it is key to capitalise on programmes like these. As government departments pursue ways to increase productivity whilst operating within their means, organisations like Kirona are able to make a real positive impact to the end users – in this case farm inspectors, farmers and ultimately all of us as the end consumers.
On their smartphones, Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) inspectors can access data about particular visits and share when they’re travelling, when they arrive, and when they start or finish each inspection, giving the back-office team real-time visibility of what’s happening. They can also record and report all inspection data, ensuring consistency and accuracy without touching a piece of paper. The inspection appointments are planned and scheduled using dynamic resource scheduling, automating the process and therefore optimising it to meet key performance indicators such as reducing travel time between visits. At the end of the inspection, the software automatically formats the data and sends it to a team at the Defra office – ultimately supporting Defra to become a data-driven department.
By the end of the business year (March 2019), it is anticipated that 23% of APHA’s field activity will be delivered using field service management technology. Yet more can be done. Extending these capabilities by combining them with a work management system and a mobile workforce application would enable organisations and agencies to fully harness even more benefits, not only for farmers but for inspection staff and ultimately taxpayers too.
This article first appeared in Atos Digital Vision Future Farming by Kirona.