How An Agri-Startup Transformed Its Supply Chain Using Microsoft Excel And Open Office

Read the story of how an agri-startup proves how Microsoft Excel and open office tools are still relevant in the age of Python and Hadoop.

Most startups have to survive and thrive in an environment full of contradictions. They need to use technology smartly to gain a competitive edge while overcoming budget constraints. 

In this setting, the most important question that startups need to ask is ‘What is really relevant?’ and ‘How do I get what’s relevant at minimum costs?’

Unfortunately, sometimes, startups get taken in by fancy, new age data analytics tools and lose sight of the ultimate goal: to transform data into valuable insight. Surprising results can be achieved using minimal tools if you stay focused on this objective. Here is one such story of a Pune based agri-startup that used simple tools for breakthrough supply chain transformations. They conquered their data requirements with a combination of old workhorses: Microsoft Excel and Open Office tools. 

Gone Haywire: A startup that delivers curated agricultural products and services had to face many obstacles in reaching out to farmers.

A Pune based agri-startup with a workforce of 60 people provides curated agricultural products, advisory and financial services to farmers in India. 

The team handles enquiries and subsequently, takes in orders either through mobile or web. The confirmed orders are then dispatched to multiple places including the remotest villages in India.

Operational efficiency is of utmost importance through the supply chain. 

The typical challenges that the delivery team faces are wrong addresses, returns, need for re-dispatching, packaging costs etc. 

The startup team wanted an offline end to end solution to improve operational efficiencies right from reducing order confirmation time for the sales team to eliminating duplicate processes during sales conversion and reducing re-dispatch and packaging costs at the warehouse.      

Taking the bull by the horns: A viable technology solution had to consider the startup’s shoestring budget

Keeping pace with ever changing technology is a big challenge for all startups especially since most are on a shoestring budget. Some of the constraints that needed to be dealt with were –

  • The license cost for new technology adoption 

Open source software was used as an inexpensive alternative to Microsoft Excel, thus, avoiding compatibility issues  

  • Low Internet penetration at the warehouse

A combination of Openoffice and Microsoft Excel was used instead of custom client server software tools or platforms

  • Ease of use needed as the workforce involved were non-English speaking undergraduates.

Screens were designed for sales agent’s comfort to ensure that information does not overwhelm an agent but is sufficient to engage with the customer

  • Containing training costs due to high attrition

User friendly screens were developed, keeping the design simple and self intuitive.

Making hay while the sun shines: A cost-effective but powerful solution was built using a combination of Microsoft Excel (Visual Basic) and OpenOffice Calc.

The solution addressed the key constraints by building a graphical user interface with a combination of Microsoft Excel (Visual Basic) and OpenOffice Calc. 

Daily automatic assignment of sales calling between agents was built in for the team lead based on team attendance saving 3 hours per day of the team lead’s effort.

User Forms were presented with various drill down search options for the sales team to identify serviceable areas during sales calls. Sales agents were also presented with a choice of best possible courier company out of the multiple courier companies for faster delivery with an option of overriding courier company as per customer convenience. 

Packet labels were finally auto printed for confirmed orders for dispatch at the warehouse reducing incorrect packaging errors.

Reap what you sow: The solution boosted revenues by reducing inefficiencies in the supply chain.

The following outcomes were achieved by implementing the solution

  • Order confirmation reduced from 2 days to 1 day, per transaction verification was brought down from 2 mins to 30 secs
  • Repeat calls were eliminated resulting in sales call per agent going up by 10%
  • 3% reduction in re dispatch cost due to incorrect product labelling 

Cream of the Crop: Valuable lessons were learned as a data analyst during the implementation 

Some points to keep in mind for any data analyst while designing solution for a startup

  • Bridge the data gaps – Integrate your solution with existing processes without introducing new platforms or tools, whenever possible.
  • Simple is Good

1. Design intuitive, easy-to-use interfaces with a minimal learning curve.

2. Design a solution that involves minimum training costs and can be self-learned, thus, minimizing attrition risks.

  • Ease of data maintenance

           It’s a tough and time-consuming task to update data so keep the data design structured and make it searchable and accessible for updates.

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