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How a Great App Platform Helps Support Our Data-Driven Non-Profit

  Fruits and vegetables are a beautiful thing. They’re nutritious and delicious. But nobody ever said they had to be perfect. However, to make it onto grocers’ shelves, produce needs to meet conformity standards. You’d be amazed at the amount of produce that goes to waste simply because it’s not pretty. A gigantic carrot or misshapen onion may be fresh and ready to enjoy, but everything needs to fit just right on a grocery store shelf. And if produce looks a little out of the ordinary it’s headed to the trash heap of history. Grocery stores reject ugly produce. Actually, this food might not even make it that far in the value chain. Knowing grocery stores won’t want it, distributors might not even try to sell it. Sometimes farmers don’t even harvest it in the field. But when they do, distributors and farmers may donate it to food banks. That’s where we come in. What We Do Brighter Bites brings the donated food to families who otherwise wouldn’t have access to fruits and vegetables. We bag it and add tip sheets on how to prepare it. Then we deliver it to families at schools in low-income areas in which affordable produce is hard to find. When families pick up their two bags of fresh produce, we stage food demonstrations and offer snack samples. We also provide recipe suggestions. These gatherings occur at 70 school locations, 16 weeks out of the school year, and during eight-week summer programs. The schools are in Austin, Dallas, and Houston, our headquarter city. Our employees and volunteers also stage demos and distributions at our new schools in Washington, D.C.; New York; and Immokalee in southwest Florida. Our 501c3 non-profit has 30 full-time and 20 part-time employees. We have hundreds of volunteers weekly – mostly parents from the schools, but also community members. And about 15,000 families are enrolled to receive Brighter Bites’ produce and services. A lot of people and resources need to come together to make the program work. But we’re happy to make it all happen, because providing fresh produce and related education to these families is the Brighter Bites mission. So we continue to work to bring our families these important sources of nutrition. And, as part of that effort, we strive to make our organization more efficient and data-driven. That’s where AppSheet comes in. The company now powers about 16 Brighter Bites applications. These applications mean our employees and volunteers can spend more time working with families and less effort on data entry. Data collected with AppSheet-powered apps also is more accurate. Plus, the AppSheet platform provides Brighter Bites and its donors with quick access to the most current information. And they help us in several other areas. I’ll tell you more about all our AppSheet-powered apps in a moment. But let me start by telling you what brought us to AppSheet in the first place. Brighter Bites keeps track of who attends and gets produce, recipe cards, and tip sheets (like how to slice an avocado) at our distribution events. We check in several thousand families on our roster weekly. The distributed produce changes based on what’s available. So we use a roster to track the contents of a standard bag on a given day. We also track the employees and volunteers working each event. Now that we’ve embraced AppSheet, we even track the weather on one of our apps. That helps us understand how storms and other weather events impact attendance at our events. Our Pain Point Prior to adopting AppSheet, Brighter Bites used Excel to track family attendance and bag pickups at our distribution events. Sometimes the spreadsheets were printed out, so workers had to re-enter the data later. That process was error-prone and inconvenient. Some of our schools are an hour or more from our offices, so data re-entry meant data wasn’t immediately available. Other times our workers used computers running Excel. So they spent a lot of time scrolling to the right column and row to input data. And they had less time to interact with our families. But data input errors and on-site inefficiencies were just part of the problem with Excel. Another major issue was that our data was so disorganized. It was everywhere. So creating reports was an extremely painful exercise. As a result, we typically compiled our data just once or twice a year. That meant if our leaders or donors had questions, we’d have to scramble to create a special report, or they’d just wait for the annual report. Brighter Bites is a data-driven organization, so this situation couldn’t continue. We like to know and show that we’re making a positive impact. And when our funding sources – whether it's a private donor or the Department of Agriculture – request information, we need to deliver. A Better Way So, having recently joined Brighter Bites, I decided it was time to centralize our data and improve out input process. We started out using Google Sheets. But then I found AppSheet and realized it was the perfect match for our attendance rosters. AppSheet greatly improves data entry and editing, and access to data. And AppSheet apps can run on a laptop, a PC, or a smartphone. AppSheet allows for quick and easy field-based data input. If no connection is available at a school, it syncs the data when connectivity becomes available. And it offers workflow features like notifications, which are really great. The Power of Notification A big part of my role at Brighter Bites is program fidelity. That means making sure we’re implementing our program correctly and in the same way everywhere. So I like to provide tools to our leadership team that offer updates on our programs in each city. Notifications enable that. We also do a survey at every school distribution. After someone at the event submits the survey, the AppSheet notification feature delivers it to the person who filled it out and to his or her supervisor. It comes to them instantly via email, so they don’t have to search for it. Notifications also allow us to send alerts when we add a new produce items or tipsheets. The roster, our initial AppSheet-enabled solution, and the daily site survey are our two primary AppSheet apps. All our workers use these data-specific apps, as we call them. We also now run various internal apps and research apps on the AppSheet platform. That includes internal apps that allow our employees to request data from our marketing team or help from out IT team. For example, if someone at Brighter Bites is preparing a speech or getting ready to be interviewed by local media, they might use the app to request talking points from our marketing folks. And if a Brighter Bites employee is having computer problems, he or she can use the app to find someone in IT for assistance. This app makes it much faster and easier for people to access the resources they need when and where they need them. Our research apps, meanwhile, help us better understand the effectiveness of our program. Here’s one example of a research effort AppSheet is helping enable. Fifth graders at select schools have enrolled in a study through which we track what they select, eat, and trash for lunch during the school day. We post four research staff in the lunchroom to record this information – one to enter the data and the others help with observation and ensure entered data is correct. The aim is to help us understand whether and to what extent our program is prompting the children of our families to eat more produce. Between 40 and 50 people use our internal applications, 30 to 40 use our data-specific apps, and about 10 use the research apps. They are used every day, constantly. I mentioned we’re in 70 schools, well we’re probably active in 40 or 50 of them at a time. I built nearly all of these applications. For some of them, like the IT help system, I used an AppSheet sample app to get started. Others I created from scratch. In fact, I built so many apps that some people were challenged to keep track of them. It’s funny, I feel like every time I have a problem, AppSheet a week before I contact them about it introduces a solution. In this case the solution was App Launcher. App Launcher is a single app through which people can access other apps, group the apps and sort them by access. People love it. And it helps me too. If I have an update, I just do the update in App Launcher. What’s Next As you can see, we’ve already created a strong stable of apps using AppSheet. But we just keep coming up with great new ways to use the platform to support our efforts. For example, I’m creating an app so we can send customized messages to our families. We plan to use this to inform our families what to expect at select events. News of a specific demo, or that we’ve added a certain fruit or vegetable to our bags, may prompt a family to make the trip out to an event. The app, which will also leverage Google and Twilio technology, will also support one-on-one conversations. That way if a family is running late and needs us to hold their bags, we can do that. We’re also working to introduce a new roster app notification to deliver alerts to our families when they check in at our events. The alerts might be something like “You attended two bag pickups this season. That’s more than 100 servings of produce you’ve received!” I’ve been using the AppSheet platform for a while now. And, as you can probably tell, I’m still pretty excited about it. Here’s why I love AppSheet. They don’t stop releasing new features. With other tools, you buy into it, and there’s silence. But AppSheet continues to innovate. The AppSheet platform has so many uses. The way we work now is that if a need arises, we say “Can we do that within AppSheet?” The answer is almost always yes. Greg Bounds is director of analytics at Brighter Bites (www.brighterbites.org).

Mobile App Makers Are Influencing the Future of Forestry

Many times when we think of apps, the two main categories that come to mind involve entertainment or business. However, that is just a small part of what mobile apps can accomplish. The students at Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture at Stephen F. Austin State University are finding some amazing ways to combine the power of technology with the importance of environmental stewardship. Research Associate Jason Grogan oversees many projects at SFASU. Not only does he assist faculty with numerous research projects in forestry, he is also manager (forester) for the college forestlands. Additionally, he assists with teaching several courses, specifically helping to integrate technology and electronic devices into forest measurement data collection. “Our students are currently using AppSheet to collect forest inventory data to use to make management recommendations for the forest. AppSheet allowed me to create an app that specifically collected the data we wanted, integrate a map in the app, and have all the data automatically combined into a single file, all without programming experience,” explains Jason. “AppSheet also allows us to use the student's smartphones rather than purchasing new data recording devices every time technology improves. The Bring-Your-Own-Device concept has the potential to allow concentration of our investment in other technological needs, rather than often replacing field data recording devices.” Prior to using AppSheet, Jason attempted to use customized programs in an off-the-shelf GIS package. However, certain portions of the data recording process were prohibitively slow. He also used a off-the-shelf forest data collection programs and basic spreadsheets, but these did not allow for pick lists, error checking, or map support. In just two months, a customizable app builder has made great strides in helping the students of the SFASU forestry program. Jason is excited at the new possibilities this poses for present and future programs. “Development of this app has began a discussion about the potential of ‘Bring-Your-Own-Device’ for teaching purposes; this has the potential to greatly change the way we function and allow the students to take the technology with them! I see AppSheet as a way to more effectively leverage our overall investment in technology which will not only benefit our students, but our environment as a whole since we are training the next generation of foresters, wildlife managers and environmental scientists.”

This User's Mobile Apps are Helping Produce Safe and Reliable Farm Products

  Zane Schwendiman is the Operations and Administrative Assistant* at Zen-Noh Hay, Inc,  a hay processing facility located in Pasco, WA. Zen-Noh Hay’s services include feed milling, on-farm consulting and brand development, food processing and packaging, transportation and logistics, fuels, and many more. According to the company’s website, its primary goal is to “provide Japanese consumers with domestically produced farm products that are safe, reliable, and of impeccable quality.” In order to do so, Zen-Noh must be sure its operations are running via the most efficient and up-to-date methods. The Operations team noticed some of the processes were a bit antiquated-- namely, those by which employees were tracking inventory transfers and entering customer purchase agreements. Prior to finding Appsheet, the team recorded the information on paper and then later manually entered it into the computer. A laborious-- and potentially error-prone process indeed. Zane found AppSheet via Smartsheet’s integrations offerings. He experimented with the platform and soon realized he could accomplish all of the previously paper-based tasks with a couple mobile apps he built himself. He says, “creating the apps using Appsheet wa very intuitive and even though no coding is required the functionality offered by Appsheet is very impressive.” The apps allow the Operations team to see inventory movement and new purchases in near real time; and the offline feature allows them to safeguard information when there is no signal available. Those features are especially useful in the large geographic area the company covers and in large warehouses where connectivity is erratic. As Zane remarks, “the information is readily available now and does not have to be relayed from paper into a computer, and eliminates one more step that could cause errors.” Now that Zane and the rest of the team can see the benefits their apps have brought to the company as a whole, he’s working on an additional app to track sales agreements. He says, “We have enjoyed using Appsheet and continue to look for additional use cases that allow even more efficiency and process improvements.” *Zane is no longer working with Zen-Noh Hay, but continues working with the company for further implementations.

4 Types of Agriculture Apps for the Modern Farmer

Due to its focus on hands-on work, agriculture might not be the first industry you think of when it comes to mobile apps. Farming has a tremenendous amount of potential for innovation and change. While manual labor is a huge part of the work, agcriculture apps can make these processes much more efficient and even successful. Here are four ways mobile apps can help you become a modern farmer.  For the livestock manager Livestock management is a huge undertaking. There are thousands of animals to keep track of and several elements to streamline. In order to increase productivity, it is crucial to minimize distress and disease, group animals in an efficient manner, keep track of routines, and more. With all of these pieces, the paperwork also begins to pile up. Apps can help simplify these processes while giving farmers access to tools they might not have had in the past. For example, a cattle or livestock management app allows users to input and have the most up-to-date information on a herd or flock, including transport and medicine administration. With calculators, farmers can be prepared and estimate the cost of feed. Other apps enable them to buy and sell livestock by listing the most accurate prices in close proximity. AppSheet user Drikus Eksteen has created his own app to do this while also managing leads.  For the inspection afficionado The U.S. Department of Agriculture has several inspections required to be done on farms for safety purposes. Sometimes these inspections are done by the agency, however, other times they are to be managed by the farms themselves. The policies are constantly changing and there is tons to be aware of. With all of these moving pieces, keeping manual checklists seems like an arduous task. Apps are here to save the day. Farmers can now automate their inspection prep by creating digital checklists, remind themselves of particular safety guidelines, and creating keys for pests, insects and more.  For the field operator Simple apps like a time tracker for field employees can enable a farm manager to accurately determine output, increase efficiency, and create projections on how to certain optimize processes. Mobile apps can also help accurately monitor weather and disease along with their impact on various crops and fields. Field mapping has also become simple with apps that enable farmers to draw and project maximum output. Crowdsourcing is also a great solution for farmers who can't figure out what the issue is within their field. Apps give them acess to tons of other users who might have ideas.  For the crop farmer A lot of a crop farmer's work is manual in nature. However, mobile apps are enabling them to become a little more hands-off. Farmers can now monitor soil conditions with a few clicks.They can keep tabs on pesticides and organize other cumbersome records. AppSheet user, Scott Kee with Sacia Orchards, is managing his field spraying process through an app he's customized himself. He has automated the process and sprayers input data directly into the app. This has eliminated the time several workers spend on data management and entry. Several pieces of equipment can now plug into apps and farmers can also harvest their crops without the worries of entering data at every step.  These are just a few examples of how agriculture is evolving with the use of apps. Custom mobile apps are often the ideal solution for the complex use cases that farmers face. AppSheet has a few agriculture-specific sample apps to get users up and running quickly. See here for the full app gallery. 

App Innovator: Scott Kee with Sacia Orchards

Founded more than 100 years ago, Sacia Orchards is Wisconsin’s oldest and second largest apple orchard. A family-owned business, Sacia Orchards has been passed down through generations, each committed to growing the best apples in the most sustainable and efficient ways. In fact, previous owner Robert Sacia often commented that “growing apples is a survival of the fittest-- you have to keep up with new varieties, methods, and equipment.” And that’s the way the business is run to this day. Scott Kee is VP of Operations at Sacia Orchards, and part of his job is making sure the company continues to cultivate current owner Sacia Morris's vision (granddaughter of the original owner, Fred Sacia). Scott’s responsibility is to ensure that all of the processes on the orchard are performed via the most effective and cutting-edge methods. And because there’s much more to growing apples than just planting and watering, Scott’s job isn’t an easy one. Sacia Orchards comprises four different apple orchards, with three that are around 40 acres and the fourth 80 acres. Throughout the year, field workers spray the orchards with a precise combination of fertilizer and pesticides. The staff is continuously refining the spray recipes, and uses Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques and incorporates weekly IPM findings to continually reduce their reliance on insecticides and pesticides. Workers keep diligent spray schedules to further hone their methods. “Your spray recipe isn’t just the nutrients and chemicals you’re putting in, but also flow rates of your air blast sprayers, and how many gallons per acre you’re putting out as well. That stuff is all critical, along with the weather, the wind, how sunny it is-- these things are critical to look back on,” says Scott. Not only are these fine details integral to the success of the growing operation-- and extremely difficult to manage on pen and paper or spreadsheets-- but during the spray process workers are maneuvering tractors with 5,000 lb spray tanks attached. They can’t afford to divert their attention to keeping track of materials for data collection. In addition to tracking operations to improve upon growing techniques, Sacia Orchards must also be completely compliant with government regulations in order to be able to sell their apples to retailers. Government agencies require a critical level of detail when it comes to reporting, labeling, manufacturing practice, recordkeeping, inspections, and more within the food service industry. Sacia Orchards is required to provide all of this information to be compliant, and this requires careful data management. It’s not a straightforward task. As Scott remarks, “You’re in a tractor all day. It’s not a vacation-- you’re really having to be very aware of your surroundings. You’re pretty fried when you get done with a day of spraying. It’s the last thing on your mind when you’re done to sit down and write all this stuff down.” Scott began looking for ways to improve sprayer safety as well as manage the spray schedules, recipes, and government compliance data. Before discovering AppSheet, the Sacia team was simply managing all of this information with Google Sheets. But when Scott looked in the Google Sheets add-on store, he ran across AppSheet and created his first app. The app allows sprayers to input via mobile devices the important data Sacia Orchards needs to continue to refine and recalibrate their recipes and methods-- without detracting their attention from the safety precautions needed to operate the 5,000+ lb machinery. It features a user-friendly form that contains various data points relating to the spray process. Workers record information about fertilizer, fungicide, insecticide, herbicide; and at the end have the ability to take a photo of the orchard in question.* During one year of spraying, Scott estimates that staff members were spending about a week’s worth of time on data management and entry. The app he built has reduced this time to zero. Information is inputted and received instantly. And the sprayers can operate tractors with few distractions. “The app saves us between 30 and 40 hours of manual data entry each year. All the information is documented and ready to go, versus having to say, ‘What did I do today?’”        *Do you work in agriculture and need mobile tools to run your business more smoothly? Copy and customize our agriculture app samples, or sign in right away and start building! Citizen Developers are Workplace Innovators. They build custom apps to improve and optimize work processes in their organizations, introducing innovative ways to "get work done." As citizen development becomes the new normal, it promotes innovation, agility, and flexibility throughout an organization. To learn more about AppSheet and citizen developers, check out the following page:

App Innovator: Drikus Eksteen with DJ Eksteen Boerdery

DJ Eksteen Boerdery is a cattle brokerage company in South Africa’s Western Cape whose mission is to reach a wide audience of individuals looking to buy, trade, or sell cattle. Using agriculture apps and online technology, DJ Eksteen Boerdery hopes to empower cattle farmers, feedlots, meat wholesalers, and more who need a quick and easy way to buy and sell cattle with the information they need to do so. Given the company’s commitment to utilizing existing online technologies in order to accomplish its goals, owner and founder Drikus Eksteen was looking for a simple method to collect leads and contact information for the cattle trading business. Before, he was using a to-do list app to organize this information-- but the limited functionality didn’t give him rich data management options, and most importantly, didn’t sync with a backend database. Drikus found AppSheet and built an app to manage his lead data. He now has the capability to add information via the app, with the added function of automatic synchronization between the app and his spreadsheet. He also appreciates the ability to take pictures of cattle and map locations for future loading dates. Even in just the first few weeks of using the app, Drikus says it’s already made a huge difference in productivity and efficiency. He says, “It is fantastic the way all the info is immediately transferred to our custom database in Google sheets. I also like the way you can use Google forms to build the structure, and then use the Appsheet add-on to convert it to an app.”  

Customer Stories: Nicolas Mory with the City of Westmount, Montreal

  Westmount, Montreal Westmount, Montreal’s official website calls the Canadian suburb an urban forest. With a vibrant landscape of trees, forests, parks, as well as a commitment to sustainability, the city’s environmental employees make great efforts to care for Westmount’s population of plants and trees. Nicolas Mory is an agronomist for Montreal whose job is to manage tree species and related arboricultural activities in the city. Looking for a way to automate his processes, he found AppSheet through the Google Sheets add-on store. He created an app to test for Westmount-- a suburb of Montreal-- and so far has been using it for a few months. He says the use of the app has “most definitely” had a positive effect on operations. Nicolas is utilizing his app, called PlantCité (it’s all in French), to monitor the health of trees in Westmount and to keep track of past and future assignments. Using third party geospatial software, he is able to generate geolocations of the trees he’s attending to and import that information into his app, which then features the easily-located lat/long data of each site. He also employs the use of forms in his app in order to be able to record information about each tree on site. In his form he uses dropdown menus that allow him to choose fixed options as well as multiple selections. Before, all of this data had to be recorded by hand. Without the app, Nicolas was having to carry around paper folders in which he recorded the information. He’d later need to transcribe the data onto a computer database, which understandably, took up lots of time. Not to mention the responsibility of carrying and keeping track of several stacks of papers while out in the field. Nicolas was excited when he discovered AppSheet, because he’d been searching a long time for inexpensive software that wasn’t out of date and could be hosted in French-- to no avail. And he didn’t have the time to develop one himself. AppSheet has allowed him to quickly create a system that meets his needs-- and more importantly, one that can be instantly modified and adjusted based on changing requirements. As Nicolas says, for his line of work, the ability to move from the paper-to-database method, to a mobile, data-centered solution “speaks for itself.” Click here to get started creating your own apps!