Decisions made simple with ABC

Sharon Chapman, founder and managing director of ABC Software, discusses the evolution of the New Zealand-headquartered company, which has a growing footprint in the Australian market.

By Matthew Jones

Can you begin by giving us a quick overview of the past 12 months for your company, ABC Software.  Have you seen increased demand for your specialised software packages, and if so, what do you attribute this to?

There has definitely been an uptick in enquiries and sales.  Given the escalating cost of labour and compliance, more growers are looking for digital solutions.  ABC’s software packages are focused on giving decision making tools for operational insights, which is increasingly important given the labour and regulatory climate.  Our growing reputation for providing quality, fit-for-purpose software, underpinned by really good support, is attracting new business.

You’ve recently launched some updates to your ABCgrower platform, including live productivity reporting and a new Business Intelligence API module.  Can you tell us about these updates and the benefits they’re delivering to your customers?

To deliver on legislation changes introduced by Australia’s Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) in April, we had to make enhancements.  Catering for minimum wage calculations and top up payments was simple, as we have this legislation in New Zealand and our software already complied.

The tricky area was competency and the additional payment that should be made to competent, averagely productive pieceworkers.  To do this we introduced the ability to record what we call intra-day times, that is the start and end time for a task.  This allows us to show live productivity as the grower now has both quantity and duration.

Sounds simple, right?  Well, not exactly.  It took some effort and fine tuning to cater for various scenarios like individual workers moving between tasks or teams moving collectively from one task to the next.  It needed to be easy to collect the data, and we worked hard at making it as simple as we could.  We have great clients who give us really good feedback on what works and what doesn’t.

We have done a lot of work to give comprehensive block cost information within ABCgrower.  Some of our clients want to take information from ABCgrower and combine it with information from other systems.  This is where the Business Intelligence API comes into its own.  Our clients can bring the ABCgrower data into tools like Microsoft Power BI, along with other data, to create holistic reporting.

You’ve also made updates to your ABCspray and ABCpacker solutions.  Can you tell us about these?

We continue to finesse ABCspray, and have now included most of the feedback from our New Zealand and Australian clients.  It’s reporting capabilities confirm with the various compliance and certification agencies, such as GlobalGAP.  Our roadmap is to have offline capability to record the actual sprays used.

Regarding our packhouse software, ABCpacker, this is currently installed on-premise at the packhouse, as opposed to in the cloud. We have started developing a cloud-based solution that can run on-premise for those packhouse without internet access, and in the cloud for those that do.  ABCpacker not only takes care of the packing and sales but has comprehensive packing inventory and grower payment modules as well.

Have these advances helped ABC Software attract new clients or extend its solutions to new categories?

As our reputation grows, so do opportunities to work with clients in new categories.  We have clients across apples, avocados, berries, cherries, citrus, grapes, summerfruit, mangoes and more.

We’re recently begun working with a mushroom farm and are talking with onion and potato growers.  We have built flexibility into our solutions to deliver fit-for-purpose software to cater for the variations in business processes and styles.

While you’re a New Zealand-headquartered company, you have a strong presence in the Australian market.  How is your business developing in Australia?

Australia is a much larger market and has significant needs with the FWO changes.  It becomes harder to use pen, paper and spreadsheets and stay compliant with the latest legislation.  It is often challenging for the grower to adopt new processes such as software.  Growers are traditionally time poor, so moving to digital automation is not usually in growers’ wheelhouse, and implementation takes effort before the rewards are evident.  To this end, we work diligently with the grower through the on-boarding process.  We have very responsive support and are only a phone call away with assistance and guidance when required.

A lot of effort has been put into making ABCgrower a great tool to meet the FWO rules and the Australian Horticulture Award in respect of worker’s time and pieces.  We calculate top ups for minimum wage, show competency and productivity for the 15 percent uplift for the averagely productive, competent worker.  ABCgrower can track hours for overtime payments, such as a causal worker exceeding 304 hours over eight weeks.  It can be used by the grower to see their costs in real-time, and not wait for a payroll to be completed, by which time it is too late to make operational decisions.

Jenkins Group, which specialise in end-to-end packaging solutions for the fresh produce industry, recently invested in your company.  Can you tell us about the deal and how it will drive new innovation at ABC Software?

The Jenkins Group is known by many in Australia as J-Tech Systems.  In addition to packaging, they are very active in the automation space with the award winning Aporo, an automated apple packer.

Jenkins saw ABC as having innovative software also operating in the horticulture industry.  The relationship is still new, and discussions are current on how to best digitise and automate solutions for the client base to bring efficiencies and value for all.  However, with like-minded values, the Jenkins Group is a great company to be aligned with, and ABC is enjoying the new relationship.

Published in Produce Plus Summer 2022 Issue 47

Software to help with piece rate changes

Australian Citrus e-News Case Study

Far North Queensland grower, Wim Van Niekerk of Widem Farming presented ABC Software at the Citrus Technical Forum as a possible solution for growers unsure how to move forward this season with changes to the piece rate and minimum wage.

As of April 28, seasonal workers must be paid a minimum of $25.41 an hour, which is minimum wage ($20.33 p/h) plus 25 per cent for casual work loading.

Workers can still be paid at piece rate, which must allow the worker to earn 15 per cent higher than casual rate.

The icing on the cake is growers are required to keep record of the hours worked by the piece worker along with the rate applied to the hours worked.

This begs the question; how do growers keep track of hours worked for workers in the paddock, and how do growers keep their workers productive if they’re no longer paying for productivity?

Keeping Track

Wim started using ABC, which ‘helps you grow’ with ABC grower solutions and minimum wage guarantee, in an attempt to compete with labour costs across the world after originally coming from South Africa.

“As you know, South Africa labour costs is a quarter of what we pay in Australia and it’s very hard to compete with them.

“That’s when I turned to ABC”

Unknowingly, Wim had started implementing the new minimum wage and piece rate laws in his business three years before they had come into action.

“We can do any work on the farm from de-suckering in the morning at an hourly wage to picking lemons in the afternoon, and piece rate until the rain comes.

“Then when the trees are wet, going back and doing something else at that hourly rate again.”

With the press of a button ABC prints out a report and takes everything back to a piece rate and gives you exactly what every worker has done.

How the ABC system works

  • You set up a minimum wage in the system. Example $25.74
  • You then set up a piece rate. Example $2 per unit picked or $150 per bin etc.
  • You scan the workers units as the day progress.
  • At the end of the day the system then takes Units Picked x $2 per unit. It compares that with hours worked and if the hours worked x $25.71 is more than Units Picked x $2 it gives that worker a TOP UP automatically to match the Hours Worked x $25.71.

Example: Worker A

Units picked
Costs per unit
Hours worked
Min wage
8 hours
Piece rate
Top up
Total daily wage

Keeping Productive

Wim admits when he first started the cost of labour was a bit frightening, especially after coming from South Africa.

“I couldn’t believe it. It’s a month’s worth of wage for those people working at home.

“We tried to figure out with people getting paid so much, how do we get them productive?”

Wim said that’s the hard part, as every picker knows, the second they come onto your farm on the piece rate, they know you must now pay them a minimum wage.

“With the ABC reports, which is on the cloud and is directly available in the paddock or from the computer in the morning, we print it and it’s a bit of ‘seeing is believing’.

“You can show these workers exactly what they’ve done, how much they’ve earned, what their friends have done and they realise they got so close to making extra money.

“The productivity the day after goes through the roof,” said Wim.

Widem Farming have seen costs go down 20 per cent and productivity go up 20 per cent since implementing this method of motivation.

“It’s just unbelievable and I think that’s a pretty good bar to compete with the world out there, especially when it comes to exports.”

ABC software also gives you traceability from delivery; from China right back to the farm, it ties fruit back to the packing shed, back to the farm, the tree, the grower, and the person that picked the fruit.

“I think it’s going to become a critical thing in future production of citrus and especially exports.”

BayBuzz Just do it

Fantastic Four

Published BayBuzz January/February 2022

Hawke’s Bay is home to around 18,000 businesses, a fair few of them owned or managed by women.  Meet four incredible women entrepreneurs all with a tale to tell, and hard-won, practical experience to share.

For inspiration, read on.

Just do it

Sharon Chapman, ABC Software

What market and customers do you serve?

We have software products for the horticulture industry, namely packhouses and orchards.  We have clients in NZ, Australia, US and Denmark.  In the last four years, we have transitioned from a custom software development company to a company with software products for sale.  We still do tailor-made software, but our primary focus is on our product sales.

What’s unique about it?

Our software goal is to make the hard, easy; the complex, simple; the time-consuming, fast.  Obviously, this is not always possible but when we get even halfway to that goal, it can be a game changer for our clients. And we back all that up with outstanding customer support!

What impact has the Covid-19 period had on your business?

Initially COVID had little to no impact.  We easily worked from home and all our clients were essential services (growers and packers) so work continued uninterrupted.  Now, 20 months on, not being able to travel to Australia is having an effect on new sales.  I also get the feeling of general jadedness in the markets that is slowing adoption of change and innovation.

If you could offer one piece of advice to a woman entrepreneur what would it be?

Nike say it best: ‘Just do it’.  It is understandable to be afraid to think of all the things that can go wrong.  But when you move from thinking about it, to talking about it, to action, all those doubts take a back seat because now you are in action. 

What you think about regarding your business, is what you will get.  So, bring joy, delight, adventure, ‘she’ll be right’ attitude, and it will be. 

And if it isn’t, don’t worry (it’s bad for your health), just adjust, segue, reinvent, U-turn.  Life is meant to be fun.  If it isn’t, change your thinking.

Who or what inspires you?

People who get out of their comfort zone, shake up the tree.  People who are passionate and inspire others with their words and actions (as opposed to brow-beat or intimidate).  Greta Thunberg and the innumerable climate warriors making a difference, like the HB-grown Project Do Less ( and Action Station Aotearoa.

How do you balance business and personal life?

I’m at the point where I am working around 40 hours a week.  That gives me time for family, friends, fitness and personal space.  Because I am single and no children at home, I have the privilege of really being at no one’s behest.  Personal time is mine and for me to use or squander.  I ditched TV long ago, which is a great giver-back of time.  I would like to work less hours but with our product development we are really a start-up company (which cracks me up) and it needs all the nurturing and attention any toddler would require.  Personal and work life kind of blend.  I’ve got it pretty sweet.  And I’m having fun.