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How technology can change the face of the cannabis industry

It takes the average laptop computer about a billionth of a second to add two numbers together. That’s far less time than it takes to blink your eyes or to take a sip of coffee. In fact, it’s fair to say that there are few activities that computers can’t do faster than people. Unfortunately, machines can only do as much as they are asked to.

Machines are faster than ever, but it can take humans years to realize that a particular question needs to be asked in the first place — this is the central paradox of computing today.

 
 
 

This is especially true in the cannabis industry, where things often seem to unfold slowly when they can be quickly solved with technology.

 

 

If you look at the arc of the industry, it’s been on a downward slope for about three years as the early hype and promise have given way to a far less rosy reality. And while everyone knows that things need to be fixed and that problems need to be addressed, it seems to be taking a long time to come up with coherent plans to right the ship. As a technologist working in the industry, I can only describe this approach as infuriating. It doesn’t need to be this way.

One of the biggest problems I see is that a lot of cannabis companies have multiple technology platforms that are not in sync with each other. In other words, a retail software system might not integrate with an accounting system, and neither of them integrates with a supply chain management system. And, yes, paper, spreadsheet, and whiteboard systems are included in my definition of technology here — these are most often the most common tools employed by producers. This requires people to go in and look at data from disparate systems and try to make sense of everything. And all of this needs to happen even before companies can take concrete steps to address particular issues or start to optimize.

There is nothing inherently wrong with using several technology solutions, but it only makes sense if they are able to seamlessly connect with each other and give executives the real-time data they need to make decisions. A lack of communication adds multiple cycles to the process, and it can take weeks or months for business leaders to get the information they need – at which point, it’s probably already out of date.

Getting the right data in one place is critical, but that’s only half the battle. Executives need to be able to make sense out of the information. The simplest way to do this is to give them a single pane of glass that allows them to see relevant information in one place without having to bounce back and forth between systems and applications. When you look at a painting by Vincent van Gogh, you don’t first look at a version of it all in yellow, a second version in blue, and a third version entirely in green — you see everything together to get a complete image. The exact same thing needs to happen in the world of digital information: business leaders need to be able to see everything in one place and compare apples to apples.

The good news is that this is not only possible to do, but it actually takes a lot less work than one might think. For decades, the standard approach to modernization was “rip and replace,” which involved replacing old systems with new ones. In theory it’s a good idea, but if you ask any IT professional about their experiences doing this in the real world, you will get a litany of horror stories. In the last few years, however, the advent of the cloud, mobile apps, SaaS, and APIs (sorry for the buzzwords, but I’m a tech guy and I deserve a little credit for ALMOST making it through an article without using acronyms) have made it possible for organizations to keep their existing systems intact and simply layer on tools that allow them to capture and use the data better and integrate data more effectively.

There’s an old saying that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and that is definitely true in the technology world. No matter how good your systems are, they can only function as quickly and effectively as the slowest point in the process. In many cases, that slowdown occurs in the efforts to replace clunky paper and spreadsheet systems and at the integration stage because systems aren’t effectively talking to each other. By layering on modernization tools that overcome this gap, cannabis companies can finally get the real-time information they need to drive effective decision-making that will help the bottom line.

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