Johnston's career has been directed at creating leading-edge infrastructures for the contact centre industry, but his roots are in farming. He grew up on a mixed farm in West Wales and he is looking forward to supporting the agri-food industry.
"Agrimetrics is exciting: it's a small company with big ideas. It wants to do good by using big data and machine learning to help others gain a deep understanding of all the information needed for effective agriculture." Working at the cutting edge of SAAS
Johnston has been working at the cutting edge of cloud computing and 'software as a service' (SAAS) delivery systems where the customer only pays for the service that they require and he considers this could also be a cost-effective method to access added-value data.
Agrimetrics' core technology is a data platform running on Microsoft Azure. It uses large-scale data storage to pull-in lots of disparate data sets, public and private, and provides added value services for business.
Johnston explains that there are many different datasets: "I've only been here a few days and I've already counted 20 different sources of data.
"However, the value comes in relating one piece of information to another so that people can use it to answer questions or put their own data into context. To achieve this, Agrimetrics has developed a novel approach for the agri-food industry that adds context and meaning to data.
"For example, within agriculture we have a number of well understood concepts – a field, a cow, a variety of wheat, hours of sunshine, millimetres of rainfall – and our customers are interested in using data to answer questions about these concepts: 'tell me everything you know about this field, such as soil type, rainfall, crops grown etc'.
"To find this data without Agrimetrics you would need to have researched many websites and negotiate agreements with multiple parties. Now it is available in an accessible format ready to 'plug and play'. To drive the digitisation of agri-food chains
"So, we are providing data service
to people in the agri-food sector who really need a deeper understanding of their part of the supply chain. This could be farmers, supermarkets or anyone in between."
Digital information has the power to transform agriculture but until recently the obstacle has been the sheer complexity of the data. Agrimetrics was established to help the industry overcome this hurdle.
"Part of the challenge is providing visual methods to help our customers extract information from the data," says Johnston. "We have created some sample applications to show our customers what's possible.
"A good example of this is our work with Natural England
, to create a tool that will collate data from different sources and display it graphically to make it easier for advisers and non-specialists to understand and compare. Deployment of such a dashboard would make it possible to create farm, estate and parish plans that are based on a common language for natural capital and ecosystem services."
Johnston says that core to the Agrimetrics technology strategy is enabling people to upload their private data securely and see it in the context of public data to assist benchmarking:
"Sharing data in return for a benefit is fundamental to the digital world and we see this everywhere from customer loyalty cards to GPS systems in cars. How this works within the agri-food industry still needs more discussion but this must be based on trust, and the Agrimetrics platform provides a good basis for this." Resilient scalable solutions
Agrimetrics CEO David Flanders is delighted to have Nigel Johnston on board: