Mercado is designed for (pre)commercial products and trials management. And All-America Selections (AAS) has chosen Mercado to support the management of their trials and results. It is the oldest independent testing organization of flower and edible varieties in North America. They are working with almost 100 judges located in geographically diverse areas all over the U.S. and Canada.
For this article, I (Bernard Russchen, Implementation Consultant at AIP) interviewed Diane Blazek (Executive Director at AAS) and Jenny Boxell (Trials coordinator at AAS) about Mercado; the implementation process, and their experiences.
First of all, I would like to thank them both for taking the time for this interview. It was a pleasure working with the two of them for the past year.
Jenny, you are primarily working with Mercado, so let’s start with you. Could you please tell me a little more about your role within the company? How does it connect with Mercado?
Yes, my name is Jenny Boxell, and I am the Trials coordinator for AAS. I have been in this role for four and a half years, coordinating the trials from beginning to end. I am the link between the breeders entering the AAS Trials and the AAS Judges evaluating the entries. I provide the judges with the entries and the information they need to judge them, then collect the resulting data to share with the breeders. I am in contact with the judges throughout the growing season, making sure they are conducting their observations, and their trials are running smoothly.
How long how have you been working with Mercado?
We began using Mercado a little over a year ago. In early 2020 we implemented Mercado for our 2020 Trial season. In the spring, we set up the first round of trials and worked out the reporting later in the season when the data came in. 2021 is our second season using Mercado. Since we can re-use many of the basic settings from last year, we can focus on improving our set-up, training, and usage.
Diane, you were more involved in the tool selection process. How did you hear about Mercado in the first place?
One of our members told us they met with Lucie Cardon (Business Consultant at AIP) and thought we should too. We took the time at Cultivate 2019 to explore the app and see what it had to offer. We had previous experience with several trialing apps and websites. Right away, Mercado looked like it checked all the boxes for what our judges and breeders were looking for. We did our due diligence by looking at other applications after we met with Lucie but ultimately decided that Mercado was the one we should try.
Why did you choose Mercado?
After years of working with trial managers, we know the way they like to report data. In the same vein, we’ve been working with breeders and understand what they are looking for in trial data from the All-America Selections trials.
Lastly, we know the data we need to determine if any entries are potential AAS Winners. It looked like Mercado could fit with each of those groups and provide good data along with the necessary reports at a reasonable investment. Several of our breeder partners were already using the app or were in the process of setting it up for their trials. That assured us that it was a good product.
What was your experience with the implementation of Mercado, Jenny?
Together with Agri Information Partners, the training pieces were very easy. We took the time to go through the functionalities step by step, which made it easy to follow. That is important because we need to pass along the information to our judges and train them. All in all, the first year went well.
Of course, there were some challenges along the way as well. Initially, there were some issues when we launched the app for our judges. Some judges had difficulties logging in, or the link they received was expired. Other judges were able to log in, but a few weeks later, they had forgotten the password. It takes some steps to get the app up and running the first time.
The good thing is that we had good support from Agri Information Partners during that time. They taught us how to solve the issues to get back to our judges with the solution.
We also learned some new things on the way. Looking back, we should have set-up more mandatory judge training. This season we have added four more trials, and we have welcomed some new judges. So this year, we are focusing on more group training on how to use the app. We also named a “Super User” for each trial so that experienced users can help other judges who have questions.
Another challenge was the different skill levels of our app users. Some were naturally able to quickly adapt and use the app from the beginning, while there were others who needed more attention and help to get up and running.
We also had judges that didn’t have a smartphone. Since the Mercado app runs on Android and IOS, we needed to find a solution for those judges. Mercado offers functionality to be able to import observation data as well. That came in quite handy. We could easily export the observations sheets customized for the specific users, they filled out the required information then we could directly import their data into Mercado in the management backend.
Now we have finished the first season with Mercado, how do you look back?
Once we decided to use Mercado, our board also decided to change our scoring scale. That was a massive change for us. Initially, we were concerned about a major change like that but we are so happy we did it. The judges have a much easier time with the new scoring scale, which is like the industry standard for trial scores. It is more accurate. Mercado is just one element of the many improvements we’ve made to the AAS Trials. The combination of the app, the Mercado system and our numerical scale made real improvements. We now have better data, and it’s much easier to analyze it with the Power BI reports.
In the end, we are pleased by the number of app users that embraced the whole thing and used the application. There is certainly a learning curve. However, the early adopters used every part of the app: from multiple visits, to uploading photos to taking extra detailed notes.
What processes has Mercado improved for you?
Mercado is streamlining the whole process of data collection. Before we used Excel sheets, text sheets, and other documents sent back and forth. We needed to manually manipulate the information and touch it multiple times to be able to compare, analyze and share the results. Mercado made data collection much easier for our judges and we receive the data more efficiently and more quickly.
Above all, it’s much easier for us to analyze all the data. Having the data collected and broken down for us made it very easy to see which varieties were clearly potential winners. The Power BI reports are more professional and easier to read.
We presented the trial data to entering breeders in customized Microsoft Power B.I. templates and exported the reports to PDFs. That Power BI part made it so simple.
What are the most valuable functions of Mercado for you?
We might be using Mercado a little differently than a breeding company, especially since we don’t see the trial locations ourselves. That’s why it is such a benefit for us to see all of the photos coming in. We are able to see how the trials are progressing in real-time by looking at the uploaded images. That’s such an improvement for us. We are able see the entry and comparison’s progress per location over time.
With the module, we were even able to see colors changing as some varieties aged. That’s very helpful.
With our new scoring scale we also received better comments from the judges. The scoresheets focused on numerical things, and the comment tab was there for all additional information. The app users seem to give more and better comments which helps us understand the observations. It is so much easier for our judges to provide information if it can be done quickly.
What do you think Mercado can still improve on?
We still have some questions and suggestions, but in general, most of our challenges have been solved thus far. With Agri Information Partners’ support, we can tackle problems and talk about possible solutions.
One of the things that might be improved is the process of deleting information. If we want to delete a variety, a judge, or a trial from Mercado once processed, it can’t be done. It’s a logical result of an offline application, but it’s a potential cause for unneeded and excess data in our database.
Also, on the app, there still are some minor improvements we would like. The first thing is automatic sync once the judges have entered data. We found that some judges filled out visits but didn’t manually sync the app with Mercado. That’s, of course, confusing for our users. It would be great to support the app user with notifications or pop-ups in such situations.
We would also like to see some more user support on the app. The offline application has many functionalities, and users need to know quite a lot about the functionalities to work with the app properly. It might help to add some support the judges could access themselves while they are making observations. Because our judges do not use the app daily or even weekly, they might hesitate to explore all the app has to offer. That means they are missing out on some of the features they might like to use and that would make their job easier.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Not specifically. We have many judges that are using the Mercado app successfully. They benefit from using it. It’s a powerful system, and we are still learning about our processes as well. However, in the end, entering, reporting, and sharing information has never been easier than with Mercado.
We are looking forward to the coming season!