Boomi, Accenture, and Tech for Good: Sowing Real-world Solutions With Digital Agriculture

October 5, 2020
Cynthia Au
Boomi, Accenture, and Tech for Good: Sowing Real-world Solutions With Digital Agriculture

As the world’s population continues to grow, global food supplies — and the space in which to cultivate them — continues to shrink. According to the United Nations, by 2050, over two-thirds of the world will live in urban areas. And as cities expand, so will the global demand for food production — straining supply chains and conventional farming methods. Vertical farming can play a significant role in carrying this weight.

With vertical farming, production yields are significantly higher — giving growers 4 to 6 acres of capacity in a single acre. A 30-story building could produce an equivalent of 2,400 acres of horizontal farming. However, to achieve this, producers must overcome the myriad complexities of vertical farming. This is where Boomi and Accenture’s Digital Agriculture initiative is sowing seeds that are starting to grow. Watch the video to learn more:

Rooted in cutting-edge sensor technology, Boomi’s robust Cloud brain, and rich data analytics, The Connected Garden is an interactive smart garden MVP with the power to analyze real-time plant data, optimize growth, scale operations, and make decisions with maximum efficiency and faster time to harvest. Boomi acts as the conduit between IoT plant sensors (i.e., Raspberry Pi Zero, or other edge device) and the Internet, to enable the garden to grow with maximum efficiency: reduced pollution, conserved water, reduced soil erosion, increased soil fertility, and maximized energy output. The result is a real-time dialogue between producer and plant that seamlessly integrates multiple APIs, monitors interactions, consolidates data, and responds to disruptions with speed and agility (often before they occur).

We recently sat down with Boomi’s Mike Bachman and Krishna Kilambi, as well as Accenture’s Jaime Guerrero and Greg Spata, to discuss Digital Agriculture and its potential impact on global food production, climate change, and supply chains — as well as harnessing this technology to transform other industries.

What is Vertical Farming?

Jaime Guerrero: Vertical, indoor farming leverages digital agricultural techniques that eliminate the impacts of what a lot of our traditional agriculture faces, such as: weather, the impact of climate change, and limited grow cycles, as well as the abundance of natural resources required to grow that food.

Unlike traditional farming, where horizontal crops are planted in a single layer, vertical farming stacks crops in layers and shelves. Stacks can range from two or three layers, to as tall as a 10-story building. So, strategically, there’s a lot more real estate to grow harnessing ultraviolet lights to drive photosynthesis. Hydroponics is another innovative methodology employed with indoor farming to leverage fertilized water in a controlled environment — eliminating the need for soil and worrying about the weather. Whether growers need cooler temperatures for leafy greens, or higher humidity for more tropical fruits and vegetables, this can be easily controlled.

Why invest in Digital Agriculture?

Jaime Guerrero: We believe there is a big opportunity in this space based on the research, the investigation, and the input we’re receiving. First of all, vertical indoor farming has a gigantic market size. Right now, it's worth around a hundred billion dollars, and it's forecasted to grow quickly in the next 10 years to about $171B. So, the output is massive. But, in addition to yielding a bounty of fresh produce (fruits and vegetables), it has the potential to advance other categories as well. We’re already seeing growing demand for this type of solution across a variety of sectors — from agri-business, to pharma, to resources, to retail and consumer goods, and the software and hardware technology underpinning all of them. All of these different pieces make the prospect of vertical indoor farming…ginormous.

Likewise, though the United States holds the largest potential for vertical indoor farming, our research shows that while there are a lot of players in this space, no one has really taken the leadership role. Accenture and Boomi have a tremendous opportunity for a first-mover advantage to create strategies, bring solutions to market, meet and drive demand, and to truly be the leaders in this space. That’s why we're so excited.

Mike Bachman: If we just think about this at the macroscopic level, the United Nations’ sustainable development goals call out 17 different initiatives. Zero hunger is a discrete, but essential, element of those 17 different SDGs. Especially because the United Nations reports that by 2050, over two-thirds of the world population will live in urban areas. Vertical farming has the potential to eradicate hunger, reduce agricultural footprint, slow deforestation, and prepare for future population migration from rural to urban areas.

How are Boomi and Accenture creating technology solutions to transform vertical farming?

Jaime Guerrero: There's a significant problem that we're trying to solve. The impact of climate change on traditional farming is enormous, especially with regards to water and its role.

The majority of fruits and vegetables in the U.S. are produced in California, and over the past decade the state has experienced record drought. However, produce yields from vertical farming use 95 percent less water. In addition, vertical farming alleviates a lot of the waste from production as well as from supply chain logistics by bringing crops closer to consumers. Not only does it eliminate the risk of future food shortages, but it removes food waste from shipping across country while bolstering local workforces.

Another alarming issue is that we are running out of farmland. Currently, 50 percent of all habitable land is used for agriculture — threatening biodiversity and shrinking wilderness areas. Likewise, the average farmer in the U.S. is 57 years old. We have to infuse new STEM-focused thinking to solve this farmland shortage: Vertical farming requires 75 times less square footage to grow the same number of crops as a traditional farm.

And last, from a population perspective, the numbers are getting bigger every day. In the next 30 years, the population is expected to grow by more than 2 billion people. The USDA and other experts are suggesting that the amount of food we're producing has to double to meet those demands. What we're doing here is also addressing a national security issue for the US, if not the rest of the world. We’re starting to hear this from experts from agriculture in our government as well. Vertical farming has been proven to produce three times more food than traditional farms. So, in terms of both environmental impact and technology for good, there’s a huge benefit in bringing farming indoors.

What is the technology challenge here?

Greg Spata: Fundamentally, the technology challenge is to interface with very small, purpose-built data collection points — edge devices that centralize and analyze the data. In order to solve this problem, with security, performance, and reliability, we needed a “master orchestration system.” This is where we excel. Boomi provides the smart conduit connecting the different components of the architecture together: the edge devices, the persistent storage, the business logic we apply to analyze data, generate dashboards, and make predictive decisions.

Krishna Kilambi: In addition, data generated from the vertical farm is coming from an extremely distributed environment. Boomi provides a unique and powerful platform to capture this data and exception events from various signal sources in the farm. This data, and the events, can then be used by the growers to make environmental adjustments to boost growth and yields, at the lowest cost possible. This is a critical differentiator.

Greg Spata: Also, in devising the technology, we wanted to maintain “loose coupling.” That is, to architect the solution in a way that doesn’t call for a specific edge device to provide input. It could be a Dell PC, a Raspberry Pi, or anything in between — as long as it can communicate with a certain digital contract. That's what Boomi enables for us.

Mike Bachman: It's one thing to develop edge-based use cases for farms, but also it extends well beyond that. This technology is pervasive, not only with vertical farming, but other applications as well. With Accenture’s scale and reach, and Boomi’s interconnectivity, the possibilities of connecting production, supply chains, distribution, etc. are limitless.

What are the critical problems that Boomi and Accenture are solving?

Jaime Guerrero: While Accenture and Boomi bring together a lot of great tools, I want to focus on three categories that are barriers and opportunities for vertical farming:

  • First is manpower. It’s absolutely essential that the skillsets of a traditional farmers evolve to apply more Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)-based approaches. The output that's coming out of vertical farms is significantly higher. We believe that Boomi and Accenture can leverage technology to drive more automation and streamline the farming process, from seeding, to managing, to harvesting.
  • Second is the capital expense and the energy needed to run and maintain this new form of farming. Producing more food in the same amount of space requires more power. However, from a CapEx and energy perspective again, through automation we can optimize performance, efficiencies and drive down costs from seed to harvest — from the cost of circulating water to the cost of using UV rays.
  • Last is crop diversity. There are a limited number of crops that are currently grown and managed within vertical farms, requiring a significant investment. But by leveraging the technology we're building with Boomi, we can help inform the creation, testing, and R&D of new crops and accelerate results. With real-time data and analytics to help inform them, we can grow faster, scale bigger, and inspire the development of new crops.

Mike Bachman: As an additional layer of frosting to that statement, we've got to consider three critical components: speed, scale, and data. While data production is a byproduct of what's actually happening with vertical farming, harnessing data and pivoting quickly to demand is essential to predict and adapt to new situations. This is done by pipelining and transforming the right source data to the right target assets. Boomi and Accenture are uniquely positioned to make sense of what's happening at the edge, understand it, and provide data to the systems that need it to make better decisions.

Krishna Kilambi: What’s more, Boomi and Accenture have created a technology solution that’s easy to learn, use, scale, and launch at speed for companies all over the world.

Jaime Guerrero: This is what tech for good is all about — driving and sharing insights to make them accessible to everyone. It’s about driving inspiration, collaboration, and innovation.

What other applications or use cases are possible with this technology?

Jaime Guerrero: We're building a technology platform that uses inputs to help inform — and accelerate — better outcomes. Though we're focusing on agriculture for now, the platform can be applied just about anywhere.

Here’s an example. Imagine you’re in manufacturing and hired to build a very critical component for a company whose production plant needs some maintenance. Additionally, however, they want to add automation features, streamline efficiencies, and add more data analytics from IoT to help manage production. Our platform can help them before the problem occurs — before any part of the machinery stops working. What’s more, the system can isolate the problem, determine how to fix it, and track it with a dashboard that shares information with multiple machines and parties to prevent future occurrences.

Mike Bachman: Within the Boomi office of the CTO, we perceive just about every use case as an IoT pattern, especially considering the mass proliferation of new technologies coming online. More than ever, human beings are constantly connected to smartphones and smart devices — accessing the Internet 24/7 — being monitored and mined for data around the clock. In essence, we’re all human IoT devices, providing information out at the edge and sending out all sorts of digital exhaust, wherever we go.

And what’s more, we have the choice to either take all of the noise that's coming from every one of these edge devices and look for the signal, or just simply look for the signal in general and report back. So, we're providing all the raw data that needs to be ingested and processed in a way that it may be acted upon. This approach applies to vertical farming. It applies to industrial IoT. And Boomi and Accenture are proving how it applies to interacting with the world in any, and every way one can imagine.

What are you most excited about?

Jaime Guerrero: I just want to share the enthusiasm that we're hearing already from across Accenture’s agribusiness and aggregate chemical sectors. There's a lot of activity happening already from both a public and private industry perspective, from the USDA to NASA, to agribusiness and retail space. All of this attention and excitement is confirming what we already know: tech for good is also good business.

Any final thoughts?

Krishna Kilambi: I want to close with a fun fact. In many Indian languages, “Boomi” is actually a word meaning “Earth,” represented by a company that operates exclusively in the cloud. Likewise, this digital agriculture initiative is also cloud-based. And, if you add the likelihood of future capabilities, such as applications in space or on a mission to Mars, it more or less becomes “an Earth to the cloud strategy.”

Greg Spata: And in the same vein, Accenture's actually two conjoined words that put an “accent on the future.” So, I guess you could say, our journey is “from the Earth to the Cloud, with an accent on the future!”

About the Experts

  • Mike Bachman is a global architect and principal technologist in the Office of the CTO at Boomi, a Dell Technologies business
  • Krishna Kilambi is a technology evangelist with Boomi
  • Jaime Guerrero is a senior manager at Accenture and a digital agriculture SME
  • Greg Spata is a principal director at Accenture and the director of operations for Accenture’s Liquid Studios in Atlanta, GA

To learn more about how Boomi and Accenture are working together, visit www.boomi.com/partner/accenture

About the Author

Cynthia Au is the global systems integrator partner marketing manager for Boomi. She is also responsible for North American regional field marketing.