Fate brought Gerry Williams and David Geiman together, and the result is an innovative computer program with applications for the pork and beef industries.
Williams and Geiman formed NDM Solutions, in Fairway, KS, to develop their software and market services.
Williams background is in business and computer science. He worked for a company, in Chicago, for several years before moving to Liberty, MO, in 1995, to take a position as chair of the business department at William Jewell College.
Geiman's background is agriculture. He worked for Continental Grain for several years and was in charge of their cattle and hog businesses. "In 1995, I went out on my own and started a contract feeder pig production business," he says. Geiman has 21,000 sows on contract with Land O'Lakes to provide feeder pigs for their farms in Illinois, Missouri and Iowa. Geiman oversees production on seven sow farms.
"Gerry and I met by chance in May, 2000, through a link of mutual acquaintances," says Geiman.
Geiman went to William Jewell College to hire students to work on one of his projects, while Williams was looking for ways to get students involved in external projects.
"One of the things that brought us together was my theory that education would be enhanced by practical experience for the students," says Williams. "It is ironic that for 10 years we both worked in Chicago, literally across the street from each other, and never met".
"We were looking for an application that would allow us to clearly communicate tasks and job assignments to people that are not computer literate," says Geiman. "Something that would allow us to communicate with people on the front line of the workforce." They wanted to combine job scheduling with goals. "We wanted to relate what people did individually, with the goals of the entire organization." There are products on the market that do one or more of these things, but nothing that does the whole package, according to Williams.
Geiman wanted the software to be easy to use, so a person would not be intimidated by it. Employees who use the software do not have to remember a password to access the system. To access the system, employees will use a device that scans their fingerprint. This also serves as an added security measure to keep unauthorized people out of the system. To retrieve information from the system, Williams uses a touch screen or hand held device. "Many users won't have to use a keyboard," says Williams. "In fact, there won't even be a keyboard for some users. It is more like a video game in design."
Managers can assign tasks on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. When employees report for work, they enter the system and get their job assignment. If needed, they can get a printout with a job description and directions for doing that job. This would be on a small piece of paper about the size of a three- by five-inch index card. When the job is completed, the employee enters that into the system through the touch screen or hand held device. Managers can check throughout the day to see if and when jobs are completed.
Being able to assign tasks a week, month or even a year in advance can be useful in keeping up with maintenance schedules, according to Geiman. Once the maintenance schedule is entered into the system and the job has been assigned, it will pop up on the touch screen the day the work is to be done along with the person who is assigned to do the maintenance.
"We need to make sure that people understand their jobs and the importance of every single step in the production process," says Geiman.
In the pork or beef business, the impact of a job done today may not show up for weeks or months, so it is important that employees know how they fit into the grand scheme. A key element in this software is linking individual activity to total farm activity and letting them know how well they are doing.
"Not many companies have good links particularly between employees and the whole organization," says Geiman. "People often do not often fully understand the difference between a goal and an outcome."
In his business, Geiman has monthly and quarterly bonus programs for production employees. "People like to know where they stand, in relationship to these bonuses," he says. This software program will allow managers and employees to keep track of their progress on a daily basis.
Regulations are a part of every business and agriculture is no exception. With this program, managers can tag regulations to specific jobs. In the pork production business, that might include environmental regulations, safety regulations, odor compliance regulations or even quality assurance compliance. The system can track jobs, as well as regulatory compliance and archive that information.
Evaluation of employees is an important part of a managers job and this software gives managers daily feedback on employee performance. At the end of the day, employees can get feedback on how they did that day, where they stand as far as any raises in pay are concerned and where they stand as far as bonuses are concerned. Computers sometimes put space between people, but Williams says this software is really meant to increase the voice communication between managers and employees. "It frees managers up to talk with employees at the end of the day and do what managers are supposed to do, which is oversee how employees are doing their jobs," he says.
The software program is versatile, in that it can interface with other software, such as payroll programs, it is web based to give managers real time task updates, it can be accessed from remote locations, so managers do not have to be on-site to review job assignments, and Williams and Geiman are working on a satellite package. Telephone lines are not always the best in remote areas, so satellite linkage is an important option. Voice recognition may be an option in the future. "Voice recognition still needs to work out a few bugs to be reliable enough for this application," says Williams. "We want to be careful as we go ahead and make sure we are doing the things that are most valuable for our clients."
Earl Dotson, vice president of the National Pork Producers Council, had an opportunity to see a demonstration of the program developed by Williams and Geiman, in May. "It is a good human resource program," says Dotson. "It has applications for anyone that manages people."
Dotson says the program is unique, in that it can verify when a job is done and what affect that job has in total dollars back to a specific production facility.
A chance meeting brought Geiman and Williams together, but the computer software they have developed leaves nothing to chance.