The Bloembollenkeuringsdienst (Flower Bulb Inspection Service), or the BKD, is a Dutch non-departmental public body supporting market access by inspecting flower bulbs to ensure they meet the highest standards of quality. It also provides national and international guarantees for the quality of flower bulbs for import and export.
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As part of a mass digitization and standardization effort, the BKD sought to more efficiently capture, and eventually analyze, data around flower bulb inspections and transactions for the flower bulb industry. They needed a database that could not only integrate with their existing systems, but also with the systems of their growers and traders, which interface with a variety of ERP systems and web inputs from around the world. In addition, the database would need to easily scale with both volume and complexity as adoption of the system grew.
Aided by their services partner Nibble IT, the BKD developed and deployed a brand new system, built on top of PostgreSQL, that has dramatically increased the quality, visibility, and breadth of trader and inspection data. This new system has become the de facto standard in the Netherlands for flower bulb transactions and inspections. Also, the data it collects is being funneled into a new EDB-driven data warehouse that helps the agency monitor, measure, and, in the future, predict infection and disease rates, as well as hot spots. The stability and performance that have resulted from the inspection system have prompted the BKD to build a new data warehouse on top of EDB and migrate its existing registration database from Ingres to EDB.
- Quicker development because EDB was able to easily support the system’s substantive iterative adjustments as it evolved
- Faster, more efficient processes due to the automatic ingestion of data from grower ERP systems
- Greater stability and performance over Ingres
- Insight into trade patterns and infections
EDB brings PostgreSQL enterprise readiness to modernization project
For the BKD, ensuring that their reputation is well-deserved is their business. Since 1923, the BKD has been responsible for inspecting flower bulbs—providing national and international guarantees on quality and searching for indications of disease. As part of that effort, the BKD keeps a registry of growers, bulb production, and land ownership. It also tracks the inspection records and the buying, selling, and trading of bulb lots between different parties.
In 2011, the agency embarked on an expansive digitization project that would transition a largely paper-based process (involving literal reams of paper 15-25 cm [5-8”] high being submitted for each trade) into a streamlined and fully paperless information chain.
“Prior to this initiative, the volume of paperwork was so high that our inspectors could spend days analyzing the documents,” explained Arno Van Beek, head of IT at the BKD. “Both the Authority and the industry itself wanted to find a way to reduce inspection time while increasing the quality of the inspections. That required us to build a completely new system purpose-built for this need.”
The backbone of the new system would be the database. While the BKD was actively using Ingres behind its existing registration database, the team considered it to be too brittle and inflexible, which would make it difficult to build and iterate quickly as the system evolved. The team also briefly considered proprietary databases, but immediately determined that the cost was too high for the public agency to absorb.
The BKD turned to their partner Nibble IT, who managed and maintained the existing Ingres registration database, for database recommendations. Given the criticality and complexity of the anticipated system, Nibble IT recommended that the BKD consider EDB and PostgreSQL.
Explained Rob Sijmons, co-founder of Nibble IT, “Nibble IT has used EDB in a number of other client situations, and we’ve seen a track record of strong support and high quality. I don’t want to rely on the community to solve my issues. EDB simply adds a level of enterprise readiness to Postgres that we wouldn’t otherwise have.”
Ease of scalability and high availability key to successful pilot
Given the scope of the system and its importance to the flower supply chain, the BKD anticipated a rolling implementation and gradual adoption. The development of a single, industry-wide system required careful planning; with more than a thousand growers in its ecosystem, the BKD engages with large corporate entities responsible for millions of trades and smaller individual sellers without dedicated IT staff and IT systems.
The BKD elected to perform a two-year pilot to just a handful of key growers, making it possible to identify and address major changes before industry-wide deployment. For example, during the pilot, it became clear that the BKD would have to increase the integration options - accommodating a web-based interface for manual data capture and a much wider variety of source ERPs than originally planned. Each company in the pilot had their own process for how they did things, requiring the BKD to adjust the system to accommodate the differences in processes and systems.
“The additional work was worth it,” recalled Sijmons. “Today, 90% of the data gets ingested via our system APIs. And throughout all the changes, the database easily scaled with our demand.”
In addition, the majority of trading is done in a short period of time, meaning that the database needs to be continuously available for high-load ingestion. As a result, the BKD has taken advantage of EDB’s enterprise tools, including Postgres Enterprise Manager for database monitoring, Backup and Recovery Tool, Failover Manager, and Replication Server to meet its more stringent requirements.
Sijmons continued, “Stability is critical. We can’t afford for the database to ever go down. It needs to be always consistent and require minimal maintenance. We’ve found that with EDB.”
EDB and PostgreSQL enable an infrastructure that “almost runs itself”
Initially, it was difficult to get traders working with the new supporting tools to execute inspections because it not only represented a huge shift in process, but also forced strict compliance--a black-and-white interpretation of many areas that previously allowed for relatively lenient interpretation. However, that same strictness has resulted in significant benefits for both the BKD and its members.
Van Beek described it this way: “Our goal with the system was to become completely paperless if possible. Where initially we had to provide incentives for traders to use the system, today it’s a requirement to export flower bulbs to several countries. The traders have experienced benefits as well: the increase in data quality and breadth has resulted in fewer physical inspections and process optimization for the traders that results in big savings. For countries that accept digital paperwork, we’ve achieved our paperless goal.”
Following the success of the trading system, the team has expanded their use of EDB to other areas of the business. The superior stability and performance they’ve experienced with EDB has led them to reevaluate the legacy registration system database as well, and they are now in the midst of migrating it over to EDB using EDB’s migration tools.
“We had begun to experience some stability issues with our old Ingres system - database crashes, some locking and slowness issues,” recounts Sijmons. “Meanwhile, the stability and performance of the new system was exceptional, so it only made sense at this point to migrate the legacy database to EDB as well.”
In addition, the team has built a new data warehouse using embedded extensions to integrate the two source databases. Combining the data from the two transactional databases has made it easier to interpret and access, resulting in insights (such as infection rates between different varieties) that previously would have taken much longer to identify. The BKD uses the new analysis to deploy their inspectors more intelligently and efficiently.
Concludes Sijmons, “By combining EDB’s enterprise features with a strong database architect, you can set up a good infrastructure that almost runs itself. It self-optimizes in many cases, and much of the management efforts can be scripted or even done automatically by the database. Emotionally, I find EDB just a good company to work with - they’re always reachable, flexible in their solutions, and will help you work through the problems you have.”
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