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22 February 2024

Cloud PBX? Pick of the crop. Find out how rural businesses can benefit from Cloud PBX delivered by mobile.

In the fertile land that lies to the north of the town of Gintelberg sits the region’s biggest farm. Though Gintelberg’s Chamber of Commerce thinks of itself as principally representing a fast-growing, modern business community (as we’ve seen in other recent blogs), in fact the farm, a bastion of traditional regional enterprise, is one the area’s largest employers with, at peak season, well over 200 workers to hand. In this part of Norway, rural business is big business!

Farming in Gintelberg

Norway is famous for the quality of its produce and the farm in Gintelberg is no exception. For a start, the farm hosts both dairy and beef herds. Milk, cheese, and other dairy products are in fact central to its output. And as a mixed farm, there are crops; cereals, potatoes, barley, oats, and vegetables to name a few.

There are also a lot of greenhouses. With Norway’s shorter growing season, greenhouses are a commonplace in Norwegian farming to extend cultivation periods, especially for fruits. Among these, strawberries are big! And apples; though their growing seasons are different from strawberries (and, indeed, between different varieties of apple), orchards are abundant.

The Gintelberg farm is a year-round hive of activity, as noted earlier, upwards of 200 employees ranging from managers and supervisors to an extensive fleet of manual workers during peak times - many seasonal, some not. Given the farm’s physical size – around 1200 hectares – employees are dispersed over a wide geographical area. And (in a nutshell), they’re largely managed and co-ordinated via mobile devices. Mobility around the farm is thus a big issue as workers need to be always reachable.

At the top of the tree sits the farmer manager himself, the man responsible for making sure everything works. Meet Einar Hansen.

An interview with the farmer!

How does Einar make everything work? How does he bring a team of well over 200 workers distributed around 1200 hectares, all with significantly different tasks, timetables, and priorities together? We need to find out.

A decade ago, answering this question – and running the farm efficiently - was a problem. Thankfully, today that’s no longer the case. Our recent conversation with Einar sheds light on why. You’ll find it instructive.

Q: What was the communications problem you had to overcome to improve the way the farm could be managed?

EH: As you know, we’re a remote farm in a rural area, and even though we’re in the region of Gintelberg, we’re not located in what you might call its “urban communications hub”.

Running a farm of our size using 200+ random, unlinked, mostly employee-owned mobile devices with was, pretty clearly, a barrier to our efficiency and success. You had to know lots of different numbers and people may be present in one season, but not in another.

We knew that we needed to enhance both communications and connectivity, but the question was finding the best way to do it. Building teams was key – so we could organise calls to and from the field, as well as those to our management team. Yes, they are sometimes in the office, but more likely, they’re also out in the fields or greenhouses.

Q: So, you started from a difficult position?

EH: In a general sense, yes. We didn’t have a communications infrastructure that was really fit for purpose, able to do what we needed it to do. We had broadband, for running our website and some of our applications – but we only had a couple of voice lines to the office.

But then we learnt about the Cloud PBX from our local MVNO. It runs over the mobile network, so it meant that anyone with a subscription to their service, could also add the Cloud PBX package. That means that our PBX is basically in our pockets, wherever we are on the farm – and it works all the time, which matters, because we have great coverage across our land.

Q: Why, more exactly, was the Cloud PBX an obvious answer for the farm?

EH: Well, there were a lot of reasons. I. suppose first, flexibility is one thing that comes to mind. While we have over 200+ year-round employees, the farming business is seasonal, and numbers of staff and by extension communications needs fluctuate. So, we needed a solution that would allow us to easily add or remove users or make changes based on what we know are our monthly or daily requirements. For the farm, this flexibility is particularly vital.

Q: I know the finances of farming are also a critical aspect of your business Margins are often tight. I guess cost was another initial consideration.

EH: Yes, that’s true. Our initial research made clear that cloud -based solutions of almost any kind generally have lower upfront costs than equivalent on-premises solutions and this holds true for the Cloud PBX systems from our MVNO.

It’s just a subscription – a few NOK each month. Obviously, this is advantageous for us. In fact, I’ve recommended the Cloud PBX to some of our smaller neighbour farms as it may be even more beneficial to them in the context of their own more limited budgets.

Q: You’ve mentioned the scale and remoteness of your operation already. How did the Cloud PBX help you address challenges in this area of your business?

EH: Well, we knew that the Cloud PBX system would enable access to the communication tools from anywhere. Our employees and stakeholders don’t work from fixed locations. The plus with the Cloud PBX is that it would give us something we hadn’t had before, seamless communication regardless of location. I probably don’t need to tell you what a difference we knew this would make to managing our operation efficiently! And that’s certainly proved to be the case.

Q: What about tools and features? Can you tell us more about what you got from your choice?

EH: As you know, our starting point was the mobile devices used by our permanent team. We moved everyone over the MVNO as quickly as we could and then upgraded to the Cloud PBX offer. Now, we can link people into departments and teams – so we have the main operations, sales, farm management, fruit managers, and so on – each of which can be reached directly or via the main menu.

This has dramatically improved communication efficiency for the farm and made our lives so much easier and more productive. We can also add more users as temporary members of the groups – so, the people in greenhouse A on any given day can become part of an answer group, with the foreman having the full subscription, but colleagues available to take calls when she’s busy.

We can also send alerts via SMS to the teams – so, if more help is needed in the strawberry beds, we can redirect people over there to help out simply by sending a group SMS to another team.

Q: You’ve just said that your Cloud PBX was a “great leap forward”. Were you worried that this progress would come with risks?

EH: Well, if there were issues, our system is maintained by our MVNO, so we wouldn’t have the burden of maintenance. We could worry about strawberries and apples which, joking aside, matters because our technical expertise and IT resources are limited.

Q: Has it all come together as you expected?

EH: Remember those 200+ mobile devices I told you about? Our cloud PBX system allows integration with all of them. This isn’t just convenient for individuals working in the field; it’s instantly revolutionised the way we’re able to work together. And as the farm has grown (we’re still expanding by acquiring new land), our multiple locations benefit from the foundation of our Cloud PBX.

Strawberries, cider, and Gintel

If you want to understand how our Cloud PBX can deliver enhanced connectivity for your mobile users, you should talk to Gintel. If required, we can help over a bowl of Norwegian strawberries and a glass of Gintelberg farm cider!

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