Contractor tackles logistics with workforce management tech

For many busy agricultural contractors, his or her phone is glued to an ear all day dealing with customers and delegating jobs to staff, and record-keeping is still carried out with the faithful pen and paper.

However, for Aberdeenshire-based Magnus Sinclair, this sometimes stressful and inefficient way of running day-to-day operations is a thing of the past after adopting a digital workforce-management system.

Based a stone’s throw from the A90, just west of Ellon, Sinclair Contracting offer a wide range of services to a customer base that stretches from Inverness 100 miles north-west, right down to Fife 100 miles south.

With a 27-strong full-time workforce operating a fleet of 12 tractors and eight trucks across such a large area, busy periods can be an organisational and logistical nightmare.

See also: Simple guide to combine telematics and performance monitoring

To overcome these issues, Mr Sinclair is now using John Deere’s MyJobConnect, which is a suite of apps to help contractors and large-scale arable farmers to co-ordinate large workforces.

John Deere’s MyJobConnect system

Mr Sinclair had been looking for a software solution for some time, but after a visit to John Deere’s factory in 2015 he decided to go for Deere’s offering, which at that time was in its infancy.

“There are a few doing it, but most are too complicated. I liked the simplicity of the MyJobConnect system and as we run almost all John Deere equipment, everything is compatible. We only have one phone call to make if there are any problems too.”

What is John Deere’s MyJobConnect?

  • A suite of apps that allows farmers and contractors to plan and assign jobs to staff
  • Satellite navigation option for premium customers to guide staff to fields
  • Allows data collection on jobs to help with costings
  • Apps are free to download and activated on subscription
  • Basic version costs £143 per user per year for MyJobManager and MyJobs apps
  • Premium service includes MyLogistics satnav app and costs £380 per user per year
  • Apple iOS compatible, with Android apps currently in development

A screenshot from the MyJobs app

© John Deere

The system operates through two apps, the MyJobsManager app and the MyJobs app. The tablet-based MyJobsManager app allows the management team to create a job in the system for a specific customer.

The job is assigned a date for completion, type of operation, the tractor and implement to be used and the operator to carry it out. For jobs such as input application, rates can be specified and special notes added, such as which side of the field to start.

Magnus Sinclair works on a computer in his office

Magnus Sinclair © Adam Clarke

Smartphone app

Each operator then has the MyJobs app on his or her smartphone – either their own or one provided by the business – which gives an overview of the jobs to be completed, without the need to be instructed face-to-face or over the phone.

The manager can also specify categories operators must fill in when a job is complete – typically the time taken, fuel used, plus outputs such as area ploughed, tonnes hauled or cubic meters applied.

A third app, MyLogistics, is a navigation system that includes farm tracks to navigate operators to the required block of land or field. It will also take account of machine dimensions to avoid height, weight or width restrictions.

Mr Sinclair says it has made his business more efficient, allowing him to sit down at night to plan and schedule jobs. Staff can then see these coming into the schedule from their own device.

“It means [staff organisation] isn’t all through me. I can come in at 7.30am and all the staff already know what they’re doing – sometimes they are even out the yard before I arrive,” he explains.

A screenshot from the MyJobs Manager app

© John Deere

Accurate record-keeping

With dead time in the morning eliminated, the next advantage has enabled Mr Sinclair to cut down on mistakes by staff when recording work carried out on a day-to-day basis.

When operators are putting in long shifts during peak periods, it is easy to forget to write down job details needed for invoicing and costings, such as fuel use.

This results in information being late, inaccurate or not submitted to the office at all, essentially costing the business hard cash.

Mr Sinclair says the MyJobManager app allows him to set the essential snippets of information he requires for each job and the operator fills in each category.

“We were trying to get away from a pen and paper and minimise the choices staff must make, which improves the standard of information we get back,” he adds.

Getting staff to the right field

Operating across such a large area, having the option of navigation using the MyLogistics app has also been useful, particularly as contractors often have a high turnover of full-time and seasonal staff.

To reduce wasted time when new or even experienced operators can’t find a farm or a field, Mr Sinclair can now pin a location and the system will guide them in.

While it takes a considerable amount of data input of customers’ farms’ maps to offer pinpoint accuracy, Mr Sinclair believes it will have greater benefits as the business grows.

“I can’t be everywhere, so operators need to be trusted to go to places alone. Even the most experienced need some guidance from time to time, so it takes the pressure off the office in getting guys out to the right field,” he explains.

While the advantages the system has provided Sinclair Contracting have been considerable, Mr Sinclair says it isn’t perfect and there are a few tweaks and additions he’d like to see in the future.

Improving the system

As one of three customers helping to trial and develop the system, he has been in regular contact with John Deere developers since its soft launch in August 2016 and the firm have so far been proactive in improving customer experience.

“Ideally, the system will get to the stage where John Deere have the full farm management software package across the board,” he says.

He’d like to see timesheets incorporated into the system, allowing staff to clock in and clock out through a phone app, helping to streamline payroll. Automatic invoicing once jobs are complete would also be a big bonus.

Information flow needs to be made watertight too, as there is no way of knowing if operators have seen jobs and there is no obligation to fill in the requested information on job completion.

“They need to create an alert [for both] and could make it so a job can’t be completed until the data has been filled it.

“I’d also like to see it incorporate our health and safety requirements, with the ability to attach risk assessments to each job when its assigned,” says Mr Sinclair.

Business facts

Sinclair Contracting, Fiddesbeg Farm, Ellon, Aberdeenshire

Farmed area 324ha

Cropping

  • 182ha grass for 500Kw AD plant
  • 142ha woodland for biofuel production

Contract services

  • All agricultural tasks with a focus on grassland, slurry and digestate application
  • AD plant management and operations
  • Recycling and waste haulage

Machinery

  • Forage harvesters 2x John Deere 8400i
  • Tractors (all John Deere) 1x 6190R, 2x 6175Rs, 2x 6155Rs, 2x 6150Rs, 3x 6900, 1x 6800, 1x 2850
  • Loaders/shovels 2x John Deere 3220s, 1x JCB 541/70, 1x JCB 412, 1x JCB 413S
  • Mowers 4x John Deere F310R (front) + 131 (rear)
  • Balers 2x Krone 210s (round), 1x New Holland BB980 (square)
  • Grass equipment 2x Lely tedders, 2x 10m Kverneland rakes
  • Muckspreaders 2x Bunning 120s, 2x Pichon 1350s, 1x 20t Western
  • Slurry/digestate kit 3x Tramspread umbilical systems, 1x 18,000-litre Pichon tanker with 18m dribble bar
  • Trailers 7x 14t-16t Marshall
  • Trucks 8x Scania 450s plus 14 tankers/bulkers

Staff 27 full-time staff, plus seasonal workers