Case study: Horticultural produce firm streamlines with wireless network upgrade

Leaderbrand Produce invested in wireless infrastructure that could be managed centrally and minimise device-level configuration – an investment that has brought business benefits to the Kiwi-owned company

Gisborne-based Leaderbrand Produce is a proud Kiwi-owned business that has remained family owned and operated since it started in 1975.

“It is a privately owned company with the main base of operations in Gisborne. We are an intensive horticultural company producing fresh produce for domestic and export markets. Although based in Gisborne we have operations in Canterbury and in Pukekohe, and sales offices and warehouses in Christchurch and Auckland," says Ron Aitken, CFO at Leaderbrand.

“We grow produce not just for the fresh market, but for process as well. We produce tomatoes and sweetcorn, which is processed by a local food processor. And we have expanded recently into a shelf stable pouch product. That’s fresh produce in a pouch, which gives it longer shelf-life.

“We also produce ready to eat fresh salads for the domestic market."

The company also exports produce to external markets, including Japan, Korea, the US and Canada. The firm has around 200 permanent staff, and employs an additional 150 on a seasonal basis.

LeaderBrand uses a well-developed local area network (LAN) that supports a set of applications, such as a SmartFresh sales and logistics system, which tracks produce through storage, transport and retail and RealTime financials. Around 35 per cent of the company’s workforce are regular users of the LAN.

“We have our own server; the server’s on site here. We are not hosted or cloud based at this point in time. We also use a crop management system called Cropwalker, produced by a firm called Muddy Boots from the UK,” says Aitken.

Over the years, LeaderBrand has successively added ICT capabilities to its operations, notably scanning to support SmartFresh, a Fortinet Fortigate-110C UTM (unified threat management) appliance as its Internet gateway and a number of wireless access points from multiple vendors, to provide Wi-Fi capabilities.

“We have one person who is dedicated to IT management and servicing, and a number of people to whom it is part of their internal role. We use Fujitsu to a significant degree to provide us support. They are locally based here and have staff here in Gisborne, which is very handy. But obviously lot of the support can be done remotely anyway,” says Aitken.

The company does backups on a regular basis and stores tapes for archival purposes off site.

Investing in wireless

While the Wi-Fi network was functional in the initial stage of the firm, over the years, the cost and management overheads of the heterogeneous network began to add up.

“We had developed a wireless network in a very ad hoc manner. Since we are a farming company, we tend to be spread out and we have got lots of different centres that operate around the country. These could be everything from a farm to a nursery, or a factory, a workshop and pack houses. They are all different entities."

"Wireless infrastructure was put in place as it developed and it all happened on an ad hoc basis. This was fine to a point, but with the proliferation of handheld devices, it became necessary for each device to verify itself to a number of different routers, which became a real management issue,” says Aitken.

The company realised that it needed not only to upgrade its current infrastructure, but also ensure consistency across its entities in order to reduce management time and effort.

“We had two main goals for the Wi-Fi upgrade,” says Aitken. “First we wanted to make it easier for our staff to securely log-on to the system regardless of which facility they were working in. At the time, whenever they would roam from one Wi-Fi node to another they would have to re-authenticate to re-establish their LAN connection. This was time-consuming and created extra work for them. Secondly we wanted to be able to add more access points quickly and easily…and once we had added the APs we wanted to be able to manage them from a central location.

“In essence,” continues Aitken, “we wanted to make our Wi-Fi system more user friendly and easier to manage for both users and our support staff while ensuring that we could easily add and delete APs as circumstances dictated.”

The company also needed a network that allowed visitors to use it when necessary through a visitor or day-pass.

The team turned to the Fujitsu team for advice and direction in choosing the right solution.

“We had been working with Fujitsu for a long period of time. We have a good relationship with them. We trust their advice. So we asked them to look for something for us and make a recommendation, which they did.

“We went back and forwards a few times. The idea was clarified, understood and refined. Essentially they came up with a solution for us that would work and we trusted their recommendation and ultimately went ahead with what they had recommended,” says Aitken.

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The Fujitsu team recommended that the firm standardise on Fortinet equipment by investing in FortiAP for the wireless infrastructure. Having confirmed that this would be the best way to go, the installation started and went through without any major hiccups.

The Fujitsu team carried our site surveys to identify the best position for the access points. Since they could be configured from the company’s FortiGate 110C, installation time was dramatically reduced. A trial was conducted at the end of the rollout, after which the system was handed over to Leaderbrand.

“There were no significant challenges. We had to have a planned deployment. We just didn’t go and buy 10 devices and then put them all in on one day. There was a roll out of devices, firstly into key areas and then into the less demanding areas later on. There were no real show stoppers,” says Aitken.

The company saw significant benefit with the deployment.

“Once we got the hang of it and got everything working, the amount of time, saved by technical people managing devices just dropped away dramatically. Being able to centrally manage the network and have it using normal network authentication is huge because it sort of automatically slots in with what’s going on at the desktop level,” says Aitken.

An evolving structure

The company has continued to add access points as entities go up across the country. It has also continued to invest and upgrade the rest of its ICT infrastructure where necessary.

“We are currently involved in a fairly major upgrade of servers here. The introduction of virtual servers and services has been big for us in the last few years, and we are continuing that pursuit.

“We will continue to look beyond that. Once we have greater faith in the infrastructure through New Zealand and to our area, we would look more closely at hosted solutions, rather than running our own servers.

“We are reliant on the services offered by other providers with regard to the move. We need to be able to have failover systems, and good connectivity out of Gisborne and out of other areas that we are located in. It is really about infrastructure being fast and reliable, but not ours,” concludes Aitken.

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