Planning for a More Competitive Future

by | Dec 5, 2023 | Business Process

IT planning and budgeting can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Understanding full system capabilities, building wish lists, determining costs, and landing on a solution somewhere in the middle that improves functionality, keeps cybercriminals at bay, and gives companies a competitive advantage is what we all strive for. With year-end quickly approaching, we sat down with Tim Bussey, ZAG CFO, to discuss planning and budgeting for IT.

“Gone are the days of an IT department consisting of a couple of workers focusing their time on upgrading software, antivirus protection, and firewalls,” Tim shared. “Those roles still exist, of course, but IT solutions today encompass technology upgrades, new IoT integrations, cybersecurity and disaster recovery planning, new data systems for business intelligence, and more.” Operational planning is necessary to build and maintain a system that strengthens protections, improves bottom lines, and maintains the integrity of the food supply chain.

With Tech Advances Comes Increased Risk

While many outside the industry may think of agriculture as a simple industry, it is anything but. Look at any farm operation, and you’ll find smart technology for feeding and watering, AI for pathogen detection in plants and animal illness, and autonomous vehicles working the fields.

Each of these functions creates a vulnerability and opportunity for cybercriminals. Tim remarked, “I transitioned from Silicon Valley tech to agribusiness just over six years ago and was equally shocked by how technologically sophisticated agriculture is, but also by how little planning and budget allocation played into protecting those systems.”

To help those needing more support with their IT planning and budgeting for 2024, we provide direction that companies can follow to help organize their IT thoughts and plan for a more productive future.

“I know everyone wants a set figure or percentage to spend on IT, but in today’s rapidly advancing technological world, it isn’t that simple,” Tim shared. “Technology and cybercriminals develop too quickly for a one-size-fits-all solution.”

How to Budget for IT in Ag

To start,conduct a complete system audit. It is crucial this step happens first and is undertaken by an SME. Missed vulnerabilities or opportunities here will affect the budget and each subsequent stage.

Next, go back to basics andmake priority lists, including urgent needs, non-urgent needs, and a wish list. The top of the critical list is developing a security and recovery plan that gets your business back online and fully functional in less than 24 hours should a breach occur.

“Don’t think you’re safe because you’re a small farm or company,” Tim proclaimed. “Cybercriminals’ jobs are to get a payout, regardless of size. They rarely seek out specific companies – they use software to scan systems for vulnerabilities.”

After making your list and checking it twice,outline expected budgetsfor each need and wish. A “zero-based budget” approach will help you prioritize your list further. When budgeting for cybersecurity, it is important to consider how much time your company can afford to be offline in the event of a breach.

Cybersecurity and software upgrades are no longer IT’s whole function. Maintaining a staff of experts in cybersecurity, smart technology, AI and ML, operations, and data collection is a tall order for which agriculture doesn’t have the margins. Turn the script on your competition andbring an MSP in to assist.

“We’ve assisted many clients that do not have the budget for a team of IT experts to handle the wide scope of needs in today’s sophisticated farming and ag operations,” Tim added. “Where IT needs have been a struggle for many, MSPs can carry the weight and help guide IT strategy development, maintenance, and execution.”

Lastly, don’t rest on your laurels. Tech is constantly changing and advancing, as are cybercriminals’ methods.Regular and comprehensive auditsshould be run on your systems throughout the year, helping identify new vulnerabilities and opportunities to keep your systems safer.

Increased Risk During Harvest

Agriculture has a lot to overcome without cybercriminals. Rain, winds, drought, and labor shortages are just a few of those challenges, and cybercriminals know this, which is why some have timed their attacks to be most destructive – coinciding with harvest. Keep cyberattacks from your already long list of challenges. Contact ZAG to discuss your 2024 IT needs.

Listen to the full interview for more insights about budgeting IT investments in 2024 and beyond.

We launched an informative 12-episode podcast series talking all things ag tech, from new tech applied to organic fruit to ZAG’s security, AI, robotics, and everything in between. We will be joined each episode by a respected thought leader in the industry to share their knowledge and learnings with all of us. Join us as we uncover how technology reshapes the agricultural landscape and drives farming practices.

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