Andreas Liris, CIO of Maple Leaf Foods and Glenn Sawyer, director of digital supply chain at SAP.

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Andrea Lirius, left, and Glenn Sawyer, right.

It’s no secret that global food production is heading towards a crisis. The system is unsustainable, and things will only get worse unless we figure out a way to feed what will be nine billion people on Earth by 2050.

This is not a time for food producers to pretend all is well. On the contrary, they must set ambitious and determined goals to do better. Maple Leaf Foods has set the goal of becoming the most sustainable protein company on earth. The company aims to reduce its footprint in water and natural gas by 50 per cent by 2025, while finding ways to create a food system that can help to feed all those new mouths.

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Only with intelligent and aggressive use of technology can this be achieved. Precision agriculture is showing great promise in reducing the environmental footprint while increasing production, and advances like high-tech lighting and alternative energy-powered battery storage are helping to make greenhouse production more efficient. Technologies such as artificial intelligence, sensor technology, and the Internet of Things are showing huge potential and will surely provide some of the solutions that make up the sustainable ecosystem.

Alongside these advances, one of the most exciting developments is the integration of traditionally consumer-based technologies with B2B software. A recent project at Maple Leaf Foods serves as a good example: the company kitted out its production supervisors in 10 factories across Canada with iPads loaded with an app that digitizes and mobilizes dozens of previously paper and office-based tasks.

The goal was simple: find a way for production supervisors to do on the shop floor everything they do in their offices, including keeping track of materials and inventory, making process orders, scanning labels, and staying in touch with others.

The act of moving between the floor and office was an inefficient process for production supervisors, and they had to decontaminate every time they entered the production area. Furthermore, if they, for example, found a problem with a piece of equipment, the process of logging it involved e-mailing a picture and entering data into clunky forms. It all felt very early 2000s.

With the new app, things like this can be done quickly and efficiently by just pressing a few buttons, as can barcode scanning, transactions, and dozens of other tasks. Production supervisors now spend 50 per cent less time in the office, which has helped the company improve overall efficiency by 20 per cent. Not a bad result from a few iPads and an app.

It’s now clear that every business-process-creating chief information officer must take Apple and its devices seriously. Since the company began partnering with business software makers such as SAP to support the development of enterprise apps, the opportunities to create elegant solutions that improve efficiency have become too powerful to ignore.

Many companies are reaching the point where they’re no longer solving IT issues. They have the plumbing in place – a cloud platform and a consolidated database of information – and can begin turning their attention to finding new efficiencies from emerging technologies.

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The sheer number of opportunities to use technology in enterprise today is dizzying, and technology is changing so quickly that keeping on top of it is a major challenge. This is where technology partners come in. Don’t underestimate their ability to understand your business, your customers, and the challenges in your industry. In today’s digital world, they should be your closest allies.

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