The dairy giant recently announced that it would be migrating its mission-critical operations to the Microsoft Azure cloud computing service, which will be managed through Microsoft’s upcoming data centre in New Zealand – effectively making Fonterra the first F&B firm to join this data centre.
According to Fonterra Chief Information Officer Piers Shore, shifting to this cloud-based strategy is expected to provide more stability and security for the firm’s data, but more importantly it will help to enhance food safety and quality monitoring operations for its dairy products.
“Food safety and quality is a critical priority for Fonterra. As we move more workloads into the Cloud, including the applications supporting traceability, it becomes more cost effective and easier to scale [the related safety and quality operations] up when required,” he told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“We are also working with Microsoft on initiatives that allow us to harness the power of cloud computing and new tools like machine learning and image recognition to further automate and improve control monitoring [which] will help us better meet expectations around product and packaging quality.
“Part of our manufacturing operations is already on the Azure platform, so we are anticipating the transition to be fairly seamless.”
As an example, Fonterra is currently trialling machine learning to detect improperly sealed or faulty bags of powdered milk in its factories, to prevent faulty products arriving at stores or food wastage.
The data transfer from Fonterra’s on-site data centres to Microsoft Azure would enable the firm to utilise tools such as IoT sensors on farm milk vats to smart machines in factories to increase the amount of data gathered and analysed in real time, as well as synchronise its current massive amounts and types of data.
“Fonterra generates a very large amount of data across the co-operative, [which] is stored in various formats across many different systems and databases,” said Shore.
“There’s a saying that if the currency of last century was oil, then this century it’s data. Real-time data is key to helping us be more customer centric and driving forward, [so we now want to] make this data more widely available to generate insights and better decision-making.”
The partnership also takes Fonterra’s sustainability commitments into consideration, as Microsoft has pledges to use only renewable energy in its data centres.
“[This partnership] is also better for the environment and will ultimately provide us with a more resilient network,” said Shore.
No date has yet been confirmed for the opening of the data centre, although Microsoft has confirmed it will be in Auckland, and already voiced enthusiasm to use its partnership with Fonterra to ‘demonstrate how [Microsoft can work with] New Zealand’s entire agrifood network’.
The wider picture
Food safety, quality control and data management for Fonterra aside, Shore added that such digital partnerships had potential to benefit food and beverage companies all over New Zealand.
“Having this facility locally, with associated enhanced security for in-country hosting, is a great thing for New Zealand [companies],” he said.
“It will also help to turbo-charge the local tech industry – and the more people we can attract into technology, the better as this will help improve the competitive position of [New Zealand’s dairy] industry and the [F&B industry in the] country overall, so I do see [this] benefitting all of New Zealand.”