The TELUS Tech Stack
Telus recently acquired Agrian, a large farm management platform based in California. It has been the most recent in an onslaught of acquisitions by the Canadian telecom company over the last couple of years. It is the company I get questions about the most from readers as they have made big moves in rapid succession for what would be deemed an outside of ag company.
What do each of their acquisitions do?
Muddyboots - Farm Management and Traceability Software
Muddy Boots gives food businesses the power to measure and monitor quality and compliance throughout their supply network. Through collaborative online software, customers get immediate visibility of the performance of their sites, suppliers and products. Equipped with this insight, they can make more informed decisions to improve quality, drive efficiency and mitigate risks more effectively. All of this contributes to a more sustainable future for food and farming. Greenlight Grower Management is our cloud-based crop recording software that enables farmers and agronomists to access, update and share field and crop data plans and records in real time. We understand the reliance that modern farms and agri-businesses have on instant access to data anywhere, anytime.
TKXS - Data Management Software
TKXS has numerous competencies, but from an ag space perspective they enable real time data management and insights on crop input sales enabling the ability to understand market share or marketing needs as well as have workflow management capabilities. On top of this they have capabilities that allow them to manage trial data and even build out UX for online e-commerce.
Decisive Farming - Precision and Farm Management Services
We will empower you with enriched information for decision making by providing you with new technologies that create improved ways to collaborate and link systems together. The solutions we create together today will fuel efficiency and growth within the farm ecosystem tomorrow. We are dedicated to working with you through a collaborative approach to deliver tailored solutions. Our core value of amazing customer service enables you to get time back for what matters most.
FarmAtHand - Farm Management Platform
Our approach to farm management software is always focused on making life simpler and more profitable for farmers. To us, this means easy-to-use software that makes it easier to collaborate and share information with your trusted advisors. We respect the privacy of our users and do not sell or share user data with anyone. Our platform to keeps track of everything and a premium suite of products that help you to dig deeper into planning, collaborating and reporting.
AgIntegrated - API Integration Organization
With an international footing, we are a trusted partner solving the complex data mobility and integration issues that affect our industry. Clients rely on us for customized solutions and for Onsite, a powerful suite of APIs. We believe integration matters, and making it the "gold-standard" is our priority.
Agrian - Farm Management Platform
Hummingbird Technologies - Data Analytics
Hummingbird Technologies is an Artificial Intelligence business that provides advanced crop analytics to its customers by using proprietary Machine Learning algorithms applied to remote sensing captured imagery.
The scope of the acquisitions and investments is broad:
precision agronomy, data analytics for both the farm as well as crop input market understanding, farm management, e-commerce tools, traceability, sustainability and compliance. There is definitely some overlap on the farm management side of things, but if you look at each of those acquisitions deeper each of those companies brings with it some unique competence like compliance, or precision, or expertise, a large book of business and less competition. The way they pull everything together will be interesting to watch.
TELUS and the ag retail tech stack
This brings me to the concept of the retail tech stack. It’s a concept I’ve talk about before, most recently on the AgVend podcast(s) here, but something that deserves some attention. This could also be layered as the independent agronomist/ other agribusinesses tech stack as well, but today I’ll focus on retail.
Ag retails have traditionally focused on logistics, service/relationships/expertise and products. The new reality for ag retail, and agriculture as a whole, has layered in new complexity, but also allows them to cater to the new realities and demands of farmers. This has caused a lot of questions about “how” in the retail landscape.
Before touching on it, it’s worth noting that Telus has made a play in an unfamiliar space before: Canadian healthcare.
From my understanding it’s been a successful initiative, starting first with digital infrastructure including patient information management platforms, pharmacy management software, billing services and finally acquiring 30 bricks and mortar clinics that
“Telus digital products – which it calls wellness solutions – are used by the 800 health professionals working in the clinics. Telus has spent a few billion dollars developing electronic health records software, systems for virtual health visits with doctors, apps for patients, and more.”
So this is a strategy that they’ve deployed before in an adjacent space. To me, it seems to leverage their core competency; connectivity. Defined as:
“capacity for the interconnection of platforms, systems, and applications.”
Telus is a telecommunications company that connects people, businesses, hardware and now software.
One of the hardest things about agtech is connectivity - across platforms, across systems and across farms. So if that logic is correct, Telus is well positioned to take that core competency and apply it in the agricultural space supporting both retailers, agribusinesses and ultimately, farms.
What are they missing?
My assumption is Telus isn’t done acquiring. If they are focusing on being an ag retail tech stack, or better stated as integrated solution, once they sift through the entirety of their parts they will make more acquisitions.
One emphasis that Muddyboots and Agrian have are towards sustainability initiatives and compliance. Even a company like Decisive Farming has has a focus towards traceability, and traceability enables sustainability verification. In order to be best positioned with not only traceability, but proper agronomics is a need for understanding what’s happening in the field with equipment. This means telematics may be something worth looking at, such as a company like Intelliculture.
They have an investment in Hummingbird Technologies which has AI and ML capabilities, but this is another space they may look for some incremental expertise.
When it comes to supporting some of the Muddyboots infrastructure for sustainability and traceability there will be a need to have integrations with bin systems and even grain quality systems to manage grain from field to grain sourcer/processor.
One that is interesting is a company like AGvisorPRO* (*Full disclosure: I am an advisor to this organization) or AgraLinks. Telus has launched a similar tool in healthcare:
Babylon by TELUS Health, a free healthcare mobile app that provides Canadians with access to doctors and healthcare information where and when they need it
This next comment is a stretch, but if you look at their healthcare strategy it eventually involved physical infrastructure in clinics. That would mean physical ag retails would be the next purchase. However, if you look at the average gross margins in healthcare clinics being 20% on the low end and up to 60% on the high end (based on what I could find) and ag retail being somewhere between 10 and 20% depending on geography and organization, the reality of that happening seems low. On top of this, there are more significant capital expenditure needs in ag retail and if they do successfully build out the systems for agribusinesses to not only manage their data and program initiatives, their digital agronomy offerings, sustainability verification platform and be their transaction infrastructure they would likely be looking at much higher gross margins and be looked at competitively by other retails, limiting their ability to sell that stack/solution. While this could have legs, this approach is unlikely.
Based on these acquisitions one has to ask the question of: Where? They have acquired American, Canadian and UK based organizations. An easy assumption is a North American focus, but will that extend into other agricultural hot spots like Brazil?
One thing that I have emphasized here is retails. I do want to make mention that there is definitely an emphasis towards the farmers too. They ultimately will use most pieces of technology that Telus has acquired, and Telus from a western Canadian perspective at least, has some further incentive to increase the rural bandwidth so to speak. The challenge though is acquiring farm customers one by one is expensive and time consuming; supporting the infrastructure needs of a retail and obtaining access to farmers that way is not easier, but can bear fruit faster.
These moves reinforce there is interest in consolidating various pieces of the agtech puzzle and working to create a unique offering in the market place. A similar approach has been initiated by Ag Growth International that I’ve covered before (here). And while I believe we will continue to see integration in the space, the question Telus leaves us with is this: How will they effectively integrate these technologies and systems together?