When being “too ahead” becomes a problem

In a job based on selling products and providing services, it’s always important to know the current trends. It’s like how malls put in front their most colorful and thin clothes in the summer – they understand that their market wants clothes that are appropriate for the season. It’s also like how food establishments put emphasis on their cold desserts and refreshing drinks when the heat makes people take refuge inside buildings with air conditioning – Chowking with their Halo-halo, Greenwich with their Pearl Coolers, McDonalds with their various versions of the sundae. No matter the business, knowing the market – what goods are in demand and which ones already have supply in abundance – can help save money, time and effort… and in today’s fast changing world, the latest information on the market should always be on hand.

Being on top of the changing trends requires access to the fastest channels of information, which, considering today’s standards, are mobile and online communications.  While it is true that many Filipinos would rather look to the more traditional channels of print and radio for business information, it cannot be denied that in terms of speed, mobile and online channels trump the two. In today’s competitive world, it’s the advantage speed gives that can decide a good pay day or months with financial worries over your head. That is why the innovative mind of one Edgar Herbosa found it necessary to integrate the two fastest social media into one of the oldest and most important sectors of the Philippine economy – agriculture.

The B2B Price Now Project

The project has two major goals: to provide Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) a comprehensive and up-to-date compilation of product prices in the market; and to enable SMEs – including small time farmers and fishermen – to properly use the said system. It sounds like a pretty straightforward project – trying to provide a service not unlike a stock market watch for agriculture-based businesses. But what sets this project apart is the choice of channels utilized: the internet and SMS.

By subscribing to SMS and internet services, SMEs are able to receive regular updates on the prices of products in the market. It even allows them to transact with retailers directly, as is the case with the online channel. With these technologies, SMEs no longer need the services of information brokers, thereby allowing them to keep the money they would have paid for the information. Imagine that: aside from fast updates, they also earn more just by subscribing to the innovative and free Herbosa technology.

(Too) Ahead of Its Time

The idea of farmers using mobile phones and computers to further their livelihood is charming and noble. It’s heartening to know that Filipinos like Herbosa still exist – Filipinos who recognize new social media as tools to better life, not control it – and more than that, as tools to better an industry in a way that no one has ever thought of. But I think that he may have been too ahead of the trend this time, considering the current limitations of internet service providers in the country. Farmers using mobile phones, I can imagine. Actually, I don’t doubt that many of them have these devices. But for these people – people who live on less than a dollar a day – I find it hard to imagine them making use of computers when they could use the money for other more urgent needs. I find it even harder to believe that they would trust some unknown website instead of a broker they’ve known for all their lives.

Herbosa’s project targets not the individual farmer who sells his produce in the local wet market. His project targets those with the capacities to make use of either (or both) SMS or the internet. While it’s good that he is able to help these people, there are more farmers belonging to the first type I described. They are unable to access these media for various reasons – I know personally some who have never even seen a computer before. Regardless of the reason, the fact is that the channels he chose for his project are not the best ones, considering the circumstances, and considering those who need help the most.

It’s as John Naisbitt says in his book Mind Set!: You can’t go too far ahead because you can’t carry everything out alone. You need the people to see you for them to follow you. If you go too far ahead, you lose your followers. If you go too slow and lag behind, you are left in the dust of others. You have to find the balance, the right timing and make your move at that right moment. Everything rides on how you play it out in the right time.

  1. I remember our discussion about this topic a week ago and I still agree with you – the project is ahead of its time. I think Filipino farmers need to be educated about the technology first before they appreciate it and we need government assistance and support for that. Plus, before going to this, we need to fix a lot of things in the agriculture system first like the feudal system that still pervades our country.

    However, it’s still nice to know that someone has enough imagination, concern and initiative to start a project like this. If it doesn’t work now, it can still work someday when the farmers are more prepared.

    • Yeah, it’s really nice, isn’t it? I’m happy that there are Filipinos creative and capable enough to accomplish such feats. I just wish the government had enough funding for these people to develop them.

  2. Kudos to Edgar Herbosa for his very noble idea.

    Unfortunately I would have to agree that his idea is not for this time. Many of our farmers are way behind in terms of agricultural developments so before they can even think of using the internet for farming I believe that they’d be better off buying tools/machines that will increase their productivity.

    On a bright side, Edgar Herbosa’s idea will have its time 🙂 Not now but in the near future, maybe (hopefully).

    • It’s sad, isn’t it, that we’re telling him that it’s not his time yet, while what we should be doing is rejoicing his creativity… If only we were more capable of integrating this superb idea… -sigh- Oh Philippines, my beloved country, we still have a long way to go.

      I’ve heard that other countries are planning on copying this technology for their agricultural programs… good for them, I say. Maybe if our government sees how efficient the technology is, then they’ll put more effort for our agricultural programs.

      Thanks PattyDC.. ❤

    • Gel
    • July 1st, 2010

    “Everything rides on how you play it out in the right time.”

    YES. I agree, seatmate. 😉 It’s hard to keep up, as much as it’s hard to slow down. Technology (and the communication it has tagged along) has maintained its equilibrium too well, so well that many are feeling pressured to integrate technology in their everyday lives even if they aren’t sure if doing so will be for the better.

    Take it easy. Clear your mind, people. You’ll feel that genuine urge to use social media when the real need arises. So much for internet addicts. We need healthy, wise media users. 🙂

    • Kudos to healthy, wise media users! We need more of this type of netizens. They’re very endangered, I think. :3

    • slightlydillydallying
    • July 2nd, 2010

    Even in communication, timing is deemed very important. Efforts are futile in the absence of great timing. While I do agree that our farmers may not yet be ready for Herbosa’s technology, the availability of this technology per se should be impetus enough for the government to educate their people. After all, doing so could be a launchpad of something even better.

    • I agree.. this could the be opportunity we are all waiting for – the opportunity to improve not only agriculture, but also other sectors of the society. But the rest still lies with the government. I just hope that this opportunity is not wasted, like so many others before it. : |

  3. “But I think that he may have been too ahead of the trend this time, considering the current limitations of internet service providers in the country.”

    You got it, Erose! Herbosa may have considered the B2B Price Now Project as a breakthrough in the country’s SME and agriculture-based industries. The use of the Internet and SMS to facilitate small-scale commerce in the Philippines seem to unload the burden of tedious transactions among retailers and consumers. Nevertheless, the fact that the Philippines is a third-world country and that majority of our population has no access to the Internet (in 2009, only 21% of the total population is connected to the Web, says a survey) simply defeats the vision of Herbosa’s project.

    Though we are pressured by the expansion of trade in different countries and the growth in number of businesses turning online, appropriateness of the technology to our local setting still holds primary consideration. We can always choose not to go with the trend if there proves to be a misfit between the status quo and the requirements of advancement. For all we know, an ill-timed and unfit innovation never works.

    • I wanted to discuss this topic because it reminded me of our book report for Sir Ed’s class, Mind Set! by John Naisbitt. His innovation being untimely is his biggest hindrance to improving agriculture through new technology – it’s as you said, there’s a misfit between the status quo and the technology he is offering. The only way I see he can make use of this in large-scale is to wait until ISPs advance to a level such that even farmers are able to access the internet with minimal costs.

      Thanks for commenting Anne!

  4. Change is a process. Revolutions, or turning point as OrCom students define it is an abrupt, total change. But still, revolutions have a process. Step by step, it must be, and there are prerequisites that must first be accomplished before you can jump to the final outcome. Change, specifically positive change, is very beautiful. However, an abrupt change, no matter how positive, if it did not follow the process or what I mean to be is it hasn’t accomplished the things before the final change, is hollow or empty, and of course, it is not sturdy, and can easily crumble.

    • Yeah, exactly what I was talking about in this article. It’s good that there are change agents who are willing to improve the services that we currently have, but in order for these changes to be accepted and implemented, there has to be that gradual easing into the mindset of the people. We have to think of how we’re going to frame our product such that people will actually pay attention to it and actually make use of it. :3

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