PigCHAMP Reinvented and Revitalized
A vision for the company, along with new products and services, put PigCHAMP squarely in the leaders’ position.
By JoAnn Alumbaugh
Q: How has PigCHAMP changed, from when you started in 2005 to what it is today?
BRCKA:One of the things I found very appealing about the opportunity to work at PigCHAMP was the strong, wellrespected brand and loyal following the product line has had for over 25 years. But, what I found was that we had become so comfortable in that position that we had lost sight of doing all the right things to maintain trust, loyalty and respect with our customers and the industry. Our product development efforts were not turning out worldclass products and our sales people were not always dealing with customers in a manner that earned their trust and respect. So we initiated efforts to make the changes needed to clearly position ourselves once again as the global leader in swine record keeping and analysis systems.
We totally re-engineered our development staff and processes to secure the best talent available, including the addition of Martin Widdowson, who is widely regarded as the premier swine software developer on the planet. We also made changes in our procedures to incorporate worldclass development standards for requirement definitions, development and testing to ensure that our products have the features the industry needs and the software is of the highest quality. We have also upgraded our sales, support and training efforts with people who not only have good knowledge of the swine industry and our programs, but also the passion and integrity to provide value and trust to the partnerships we have with our customers. At times, it has felt like we’re trying to change tires on a vehicle that’s traveling at highway speeds, but the results so far have been pretty dramatic.
Q: What do you consider the best features of PigCHAMP – what separates it from competitor’s products?
BRCKA: The original PigCHAMP DOS-based program has long been the global industry standard. As Microsoft Windows™ software and the Internet became more prevalent, some companies basically copied the functionality of this simple program and gave it a Windows or Web interface and claimed a product that was “as good as PigCHAMP.” These products are, for the most part, the alternatives that are available today.
Our challenge for the next generation of record keeping and analysis is to create products that are clearly superior to the old PigCHAMP and provide features and value that are important to increasing performance in the 21st century. Being “as good as PigCHAMP” isn’t good enough anymore. When people see the power of our current generation of products, they quickly realize we are providing value and analysis abilities that are not offered anywhere else. That’s why our Care 3000 reproductive program became the most widely used program in North America just a few months after it was introduced in 2007. The products we have in the pipeline for finishing pigs and web-based analysis will also raise the bar in functionality and producer value.
““It seems to me that one of the few sustainable advantages for North American producers may be the ability to collect useful data, process the data quickly and accurately into information, and immediately execute change to increase efficiencies and performance based on that information.”
— Bob Brcka, General Manager, PigCHAMP
“The efficiency and accuracy of the grow-finish system to be introduced this summer will provide a new level of information on virtually every aspect of a finishing operation… We believe this product will be as revolutionary as the original PigCHAMP.”
— Bob Brcka, General Manager, PigCHAMP
Q: If the PigCHAMP DOS program was so popular, why did you decide to discontinue selling it?
BRCKA:The simple truth is that although it was very popular, it wasn’t profitable. It is a very strange situation for a product to have virtually 100% market share and not be able to make money, but that was basically the situation with the PigCHAMP DOS program. When PigCHAMP was developed and marketed by the University of Minnesota, I believe the objective was to get this incredible tool into the hands of as many producers as possible. The nominal price for the software basically became ingrained as the “market value” for swine record keeping software, even though the value provided to producers could easily be justified at a much higher cost. This is one of the primary reasons, in my opinion, that we haven’t seen much advancement in swine software over the last 30 years… it is very difficult to provide service and support as well as make significant investments in new development at the prices that the industry has been accustomed to paying.
Fortunately for PigCHAMP, the brand was purchased in 2001 by Farms.com. Company leaders had the vision and saw the potential for PigCHAMP. They knew the brand could be expanded to provide value to the industry and they were willing and able to make the investments needed to produce programs that clearly provided more value than what was currently available.
Our new products now allow us to fund our own development efforts. Personally, I believe that the price of swine software is still a bargain when compared to other inputs of a swine operation, or compared to the software that other industries use to manage their business.
Q: Tell us about PigCHAMP Support and how these individuals work with customers.
BRCKA: The on-going support we provide for customers is another advantage that sets us apart. We have a wide range of support options, which includes an interactive web-based tool with frequently asked questions, an e-mail address specifically for support questions, and, of course, a toll-free telephone number. We try our best to provide immediate assistance when possible and always respond in a timely manner. We have a pool of experts that can be brought in to answer virtually any support question, ranging from installation issues to data entry shortcuts to setting up advanced reporting features. We want to be easyto- find and responsive to our customers. We won’t take your money and then forget about you at PigCHAMP.
Q: Since this interview is featured in the Benchmark magazine, tell us why producers should use benchmarking as a management tool?
BRCKA: Quite simply, benchmarking is a way that producers can see how they are performing in key production indicators against a statistically significant average. This can be helpful in a number of ways: It helps producers understand where they may be underperforming against other operations and point out areas for improvement; and you can get an understanding of industry trends, regional differences and ultimately differences in performance for genetics, housing, feeding systems and any number of other factors.
PigCHAMP has been offering a free Benchmarking service for customers for several years, and it’s been very popular. Participants receive quarterly reports comparing their farms against the entire database on several key factors. Since the data set is so large (hundreds of farms from all over the world participate) this information gives a pretty accurate representation of what’s going on in the industry. The year-end data is widely used in research to better understand trends and changes in the industry.
One of the projects we are working on is to make information available through a web portal where producers can get “on-demand” Benchmark reports. This will allow a producer to compare his/her operations to a sub-set of the database that he/she defines. So, producers will be able to make comparisons specific to geography, farm size and possibly genetics on some key production indicators. We hope to have some components of this system available to the industry later this year.
Q: What role can PigCHAMP play in herd identification and a National Animal Identification Program?
BRCKA: We have been monitoring the animal identification program regulations in the United States, Canada and other countries for a number of years. PigCHAMP is well-positioned to help producers participate in national directives in a manner that should be relatively seamless.
We have been working with the USDA for several years on animal traceability and have received preliminary approval to provide an Animal Tracking Database that will interface with the USDA Animal Trace Processing System in case of an emergency. All of our PigCHAMP programs have been designed to include the information needed for animal traceability. This information will be easy to upload into our database (much like our benchmarking information) where it will be safe and secure. PigCHAMP will provide the specific premise information on animal movement according to the USDA guidelines only in case of an emergency for the premise IDs that are impacted. The goal is 48-hour turnaround, and we should be able to accommodate requests in less than 48 seconds. This can be entirely accomplished without a producer needing to do anything except keep his/her PigCHAMP records up-todate. That’s the plan, and we are ready to execute it if and when a National Animal ID program is implemented in the United States.
In Canada, we already share information with the CDPQ program in Quebec. We are also closely monitoring efforts in other provinces and nationally, to see where PigCHAMP can provide value.
Q: How does PigCHAMP plan to differentiate itself from the competition in the future?
BRCKA: The simple answer is that we intend to stay at the leading edge. We are responsive to customers and continuously use their feedback to enhance the productivity and performance of our existing products. We are working with complementary industry partners to help integrate our systems with other systems to enhance efficiency. This could be feed or equipment companies, genetic or animal health companies, packers, accounting software businesses or ear tag suppliers. We are looking at using the web and other communications technologies to make information available to customers faster and more efficiently. We will also continue to work with regulatory agencies to help our customers be painlessly compliant with any traceability programs that might be on the horizon.
Q: How does PigCHAMP fit into the overall Farms. com portfolio?
BRCKA: Working within the Farms.com family creates a lot of synergy in the area of using information as a means for competitive advantage. If you look ahead and ask yourself: Where will the advantages be for North American pork producers in a global market? Cheap labor? Lower feed costs? It seems to me that one of the few sustainable advantages for North American producers may be the ability to collect useful data, process the data quickly and accurately into information, and immediately execute change to increase efficiencies and performance based on that information. The core competencies that Farms.com has built in digital communications and risk management, along with PigCHAMP’s expertise in production management, offers some interesting opportunities. Stay tuned, it should be a fun ride.
NEW PRODUCTS IN THE PIPELINE
“Producers will see more exciting advancements from PigCHAMP in the next 24 months than we have seen in the last 24 years,” says Bob Brcka, General Manager for PigCHAMP.“While we are very excited about the development of our on-line benchmarking service, the big news is the PigCHAMP Grow-Finish program that we will be launching this summer.”
Brcka explains that the original PigCHAMP program had some basic functionality for swine finishing, and while some companies have made attempts to design finishing programs, there really isn’t anything available that fully meets the needs of the majority of people finishing pigs or who have farrow-to-finish operations. “
Tracking finishing pigs is often not a simple process that a simple software program can effectively handle,” explains Brcka. “Monitoring different feed programs, animal movement and other parameters within today’s systems can be very complex. Furthermore, aggregating the information in a way that facilitates good planning and meaningful reporting is not an easy task. We have been working on this for a number of years and believe we finally have the tool that provides the solution. “
The feedback from producers and veterinarians who have been assisting us with the development and testing of this product has given us confidence that virtually any production system will see great value from this program,” he continues. “The efficiency and accuracy of this system will provide a new level of information on virtually every aspect of a finishing operation – from barn placement planning, to feed management and ordering, to expense monitoring, to true close-out profit and loss analysis. We believe this product will be as revolutionary as the original PigCHAMP.”
The company has also recently launched a new generation of handheld data collection devices. Data collected in the barns can be directly imported into the PigCHAMP program without the additional step of manual data entry, says Brcka. “
PigCHAMP Mobile can save producers massive amounts of time and expense while ensuring data accuracy. Since the new system uses ‘smart logic’ to ensure incorrect information does not get entered into the program, potential inaccuracies never leave the barn. This system has already gained much interest and support from our customers,” he states.
Much has changed at PigCHAMP during the last 24 months. Under General Manager Bob Brcka, the company is focused on meeting the needs of producers who want the tools for production management and business improvement. This indepth interview with Brcka provides an overview of the company’s philosophy and vision for the future.