WOOL industry attitudes to change need to be addressed collaboratively for the proposed Wool Exchange Portal to succeed, according to the operator of Australia’s only online wool marketing platforms.
At a recent Agribusiness Australia luncheon, AuctionsPlus chief executive officer Anna Speer was asked how the online company’s wool businesses – AuctionsPlus Wool and Wooltrade — would contribute to the development of the WEP.
Ms Speer said AuctionsPlus had spent time working with the WEP working group.
“But not so much now – I think they are going to go it alone to build their own system, which is great.
“I would probably challenge the use of growers’ dollars; whether that is the wisest way to spend it, because we already have a platform that exists,” she told the luncheon crowd.
“The problem with the platform that exists is not that it doesn’t work.
“There is a whole other barrel of problems that need to be dealt with, including why doesn’t the industry want to move online,” she said at the luncheon.
“Until they look at those problems I think the WEP will just be another Wooltrade or AuctionsPlus Wool.”
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Ms Speer said AuctionsPlus’ online auction AuctionsPlus Wool has had limited success, but its bid and offer platform Wooltrade, giving 24/7 access to wool, has had steady patronage for the past 15 years. Wooltrade sold 3,923,440 greasy kilograms of wool in the 2016 calendar year and has traded 1,251,795 greasy kilograms so far in the 2017 calendar year.
Wool Exchange Portal report due this week
AWI’s Woolgrower Industry Consultative Committee meeting on March 24 was told the WEP working group is expected to put the business case for an online platform to the AWI board meeting today.
At the November 2016 AWI annual general meeting, AWI chief executive officer Stuart McCullough said the working group had been asked to present a cost estimate and development timeframe for the WEP, and a WEP company business case to the AWI board’s April 2017 meeting. AWI directors also asked for a cost-benefit analysis.
AWI shareholders were told raw wool would be available for ‘24/7’ purchase via a bulletin board within the WEP. WEP working group chairman Will Wilson told the AWI annual general meeting the group’s vision for the WEP was for it to be “the primary and universal online entry point for wool growers to access industry information data, selling choices and trading opportunities, provided by a collaboration of wool industry stakeholders.”
Collaboration is needed
However, Ms Speer said one of the wool industry’s problems was being able to work together, in collaboration.
“We saw it back at the beginning of the Wool Selling Systems Review, when people struggled to talk about this in an unemotional way and really get commercial on what are going to be the benefits and how is it going to work, and how are we going to work together as a supply chain to deliver it.”
Ms Speer agreed with calls for more visibility along the supply chain, with feedback between wool growers and end-users. There is no lack of interest from AuctionsPlus in wool marketing change, she said.
“I would say the reverse is true, I would say there is a lack of interest from the industry as a whole wanting to make a change collaboratively.”
Ms Speer said the solution to expanding online wool marketing is not the same as for the livestock industries, because of the differences in the way sheep or lambs and wool are currently marketed.
“The immediate value of the online marketplace is not there because the processes in the wool industry are different to the way you trade livestock.
“You need to test your wool at the moment, which means it has to go somewhere, so that logistical cost-saving that is really easy in the livestock game with online selling isn’t there with wool.”
Ms Speer said the problem with the wool industry is not that the technology for online selling did not exist.
“We need to look at the barriers around why aren’t people moving into the online space and utilise the softer skills around change management.
“We need to identify the barriers that the WEP will break down — at the moment this is unclear to me, we already have wool portals,” she said.
“Providing more information to people is not going to have a life-changing effect, but finding a way to value-add in an innovative and iterative style will.”
Evolution not disruption
Ms Speer said the word “disruption” had negative connotations.
“I don‘t think we are disrupting the livestock sector, I think we are evolving it.
“Every single change we make has to provide value to all customers,” she said.
“This evolution combined with technology means that there will be some movement of people out of the supply chain if they are not adding value.
“But if we can work together as an industry, test, iterate and make the right decisions to move forward, you will find that industry move forward with you,” she said.
“There may be a few naysayers, but the majority will move forward with you if you are solving a problem or providing true value.
“But you’ve got to do it with an iterative approach; you can’t just say ‘ta dah, here’s our new WEP’, let’s turn it on and we are going to transact all wool through it, because I guarantee you that won’t work. I believe you need to bring the wool industry along for the ride,” Ms Speer said.
The core issue is coming back to the people; what do we need to do to improve the supply chain at a grass-roots level and how are we going to bring the people along for the ride.
“You can’t just do it by chucking $2 million at a giant new platform.”
Live web-based auction interface is available
Ms Speer said the wool industry needed to “start iterating, piloting, trying little things, failing and prototyping to see what might work and also to show how technology can assist rather than just be “scary”.
AuctionsPlus has developed systems for a live web-based interface with the nation’s physical wool auctions, but there has never been strong wool industry interest to test, pilot or implement it, she said.
“It’s not that we don’t want to do it, it is just that the livestock people do want to do it, which is why we are currently focusing our energies on improving the integrity and efficiencies of our livestock platform.”
“We offered (to the WSSSR) to take the AuctionsPlus software and run it at a physical auction or to simply trial inside the board room to see whether it would or wouldn’t work, trying is the only way to tell, ” Ms Speer said.
Ms Speer said she is not afraid of competition from the proposed WEP.
“I think competition is great, but I think let’s compete on something that is worth competing on – we are such a small piece of the pie at the moment.”