The first of an expected wave of local web services is being developed by Canterbury company iAgri for rural users.
IAgri’s Landmark financial and livestock administration suite is to be launched as a Microsoft .Net service some time in the next year. .Net is Microsoft’s emerging web services development platform. Microsoft and rivals Oracle, Sun, IBM and Hewlett-Packard are racing to be first with next-generation web services, which will deliver applications via the internet.
IAgri says it has been trialling a version of Landmark Farm Software for delivery by an application service provider (ASP), which is likely to lead to it being offered as a .Net service.
IAgri chief executive Sinclair Hughes says his company attended the VBit conference in Sydney of Visual Basic developers, which led in April to Microsoft providing it with a beta release of its Visual Studio .Net software.
“All our planning, development and coding is such that when .Net is available, we will simply be able to go into it. We have been developing Visual Basic further, not developing in .Net.
“[Landmark] is not [yet] formally a .Net product, but it will be in time,” he says.
However, Hughes believes farmers will worry about the privacy of their data if applications are delivered via the internet. “Farmers seem to be very wary on the issue of privacy of data where it may be held remotely. Who has access? That will take a lot of education to alter that view.”
Microsoft New Zealand technical marketing group head Terry Allen says he is unaware of iAgri but views its software as a “very appropriate” use of .Net and XML.
“We are excited that iAgri is investing in .Net as the platform to build its next generation of software,” he says. Microsoft is counting on 10 local web services being ready by the time Visual Studio .Net is commercially launched at the end of the year.
Allen admits, however, that farmers and others will need “education” in trusting third parties with sensitive information.
“While these concerns are natural when businesses are adopting new technology, there are clear examples of this happening today. For example, internet banking in New Zealand is enjoying strong growth. In this banking experience you trust a third party with your data. This level of trust will develop in the farming sector as reputable organisation’s build these types of internet web services,” he says.
IAgri recently launched a third version of Landmark. The update includes the downloading of bank statements from company websites into farmers’ cashbooks and a quality assurance traceability for livestock and paddock records.
Developed in Christchurch and launched six years ago, the product serves 4000 farmers across Australia and New Zealand. Hughes says Landmark is based on standard, open technology such as Visual Basic and C, Microsoft’s Access database and XML. Spanish-language versions have been launched in Chile and Argentina and a Portuguese version is about to be launched in Brazil. The company is also working in Turkey, Canada and Eire.
The company, formed in 1994, employs six. It developed after Hughes, a farmer and former marketing manager of the Kellogg farm management unit at Lincoln University, saw that previous packages were developed from academic research projects and were hard to use.