Development and implementation of an electronic system for animal and plant health surveillance
This case was submitted as part of the Call for Innovations, an annual partnership initiative between OPSI and the UAE Mohammed Bin Rashid Center for Government Innovation (MBRCGI)
Animal and plant health surveillance is a part of the structure of agricultural and livestock production, including supply safety, pest and pathogen control, and certification of agro-industrial products. However, we lacked of tools that allow integration of activities and ensure agility in the transmission of the data obtained in the field. We developed an integrated system of surveillance for the inspectors to use, in the animal husbandry agency in the state of Minas Gerais, the Instituto Mineiro de Agropecuária.
This work relies on the important mission of improving the processes of animal and plant health surveillance through mapping and standardization of procedures, surveying of the underlying legal and normative tools and the systematization in the collection and transmission of surveillance data, resulting in improvements in all the system, with benefits for the public and private sectors, and also for the consumers.
National agribusiness leaders and administrators of federal and state agencies of animal and plant health surveillance demand a system that allows a greater integration between databases of federal and state levels and also between states. The characteristics considered desirable by such a system include (a) real-time information transmission in the administrative level; (b) the existence of a unified database for issuing online documents; (c) access in decentralized units; (d) data transmission security.
The improvement of the operational processes of surveillance became even more urgent with the breakout of the operation known as "Weak Meat", where the Federal Police of Brazil identified the occurrence of adulteration of meat products with the unequivocal participation of inspection agents. It was an event with a great economic and social impact, which exposed the necessity to improve the work tools of these agents, seeking to add the necessary transparency to their function.
Prior to the implementation of the electronic surveillance system, inspectors recorded their work on written forms, consisting essentially of descriptive fields indicating the irregularities found in the supervised establishment, as well as corrective measures to resolve these. With those records, it was not possible to translate the data into information in order to support decision making. There was also no technical support tool to assist in the conduct of the work field, counting only with a scattered and complex legislation and unharmonized technical manuals.
In this scenario, it can be noticed that the technological evolution, mainly of mobile devices, and information security has reached sufficient levels for relevant applications in the practice of animal and plant health surveillance. The vast improvement in data traffic services coupled with the inexorable expansion of the use of mobile devices in everyday life demonstrates the invariable course that current processes will, in short-term, become completely digital.
Thus, it was important to introduce mobility in data collection to ensure that the proceedings done by inspection agents are uniform and secure, both for the public (regulatory) and private (farmers, agroindustries, storehouses, conveyors) sectors. One of the guidelines established by law determines, for the public agents, the application of technological solutions aimed at simplifying the processes and procedures of customer service and provide better conditions for information sharing, which reinforces the importance of this work.
Considering all that was exposed above, we developed an electronic system for use of the inspectors in order to substitute the written documents, through an app in a mobile device, which connects to a unique web database. Currently, this system is been used by all inspectors of animal and plant health surveillance agency of Minas Gerais state in Brazil.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
The innovative character of the project can be perceived in the use of an own and integrated methodology of process analysis, requirements gathering and software development, as well as the development of an agile methodology for creating and versioning electronic forms, meeting the requirements of the standards of quality management.
This methodology allowed a deep understanding of how surveillance activities are carried out, translating into an information model that is more rational and appropriate to the reality of the public sector. The methodology application, combined with the use of mobile devices in the execution of such activities is an initiative unprecedented in the country, contributing to the standardization of the tasks related to the animal and plant health surveillance. It also brings agility, traceability, and transparency of the collected data, which can be storaged in a unique database, allowing a better decision making.
What is the current status of your innovation?
The electronic system developed was implemented in the inspection and auditing activities, also including the georeferenced control of about 700 vehicles. Electronic forms were made available on mobile devices, with the possibility of printing in loco the results of the inspections. Currently, the system is been used by about 800 inspectors from the State of Minas Gerais, which covers an area of 586 000 km2. From April 2017 to August 2018, more than 80,000 electronic documents were issued. Currently, the 56 electronic forms already available in the system include the areas of inspection of the trade and use of pesticide and products of veterinary use, livestock events, poultry, equine, bovine, beekeeping, goat and sheep control, inspection and control of phytosanitary certificates, seed trade, inspection and monitoring of pests and diseases in plants.
Collaborations & Partnerships
A large contingent of public agents, from various hierarchical levels and different fields of knowledge, were involved in the steps of mapping and redesigning business processes. The inspectors brought their experience in the practical execution of the surveillance activities, contributing to the development of a product suited to their reality, while the sanitary program managers dedicated themselves to align the processes with the current norms, ensuring their simplification and efficiency.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
The public sector: improvement of the inspection process, increasing the confidence, security and transparency of the data, with impact on the optimization of human and financial resources.
The private sector: isonomy, impartiality and transparency in inspection, with expanded access to data and documents.
The consumer: access to products with greater value, ensuring its identity, enhancing its reliance.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
There was an improvement in the management of vehicles, obtaining the record of the mileage traveled, the points transited and time of course. To date, 175,474 outings have been made using the Service Orders management module.
Between 2017 and 2018, 56 checklist models were elaborated, containing 495 items composed by their description, evaluation criteria, objective evidence and corrective measures. The issuance of 80,000 checklists using mobile devices was accomplished, totaling 13,051 audited establishments. The use of mobile devices creates auditable records of the location, date, time and execution time of each activity performed.
There was an evident improvement in the quality of the inspections, with a considerable reduction in the subjectivity of the inspector assessment, since the prior establishment of the evaluation criteria harmonized and standardized the procedures. The photographic record of each item was also added, creating materiality to any irregularity found.
Challenges and Failures
The diversity of procedures and forms adopted between the different departments was the main obstacle to establish the new methodology. Likewise, there was great complexity, lack of coherence and fragmentation of legal norms. The processes redesign created uniformity and simplified the activities, favoring the development of an information system and the assimilation of the new methodology.
From the technological point of view, the lack of a data transmission network at the surveillance sites presented itself as a considerable challenge. Thus, the project was designed for the development of an offline app, along with a desktop synchronizer for integration between the mobile collected data and the web database.
There were also cultural obstacles, as we identified groups that were resistant to the project implementation as they saw it as a greater control over their work. Training activities were promoted in order to reduce misunderstandings and minimize resistance.
Conditions for Success
The sponsorship of the leader of the institution was decisive in order to mobilize the necessary resources for the initial stages of the project, as well as to overcome the resistance of some groups.
The establishment of partnerships with other institutions made it possible to obtain the financial resources needed to carry out the project.
The Foundation for Research Support of Minas Gerais (Fapemig) financed the first stages of the project, which consisted of mapping and redesigning the business processes and preparing the first module of the information system.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply (Mapa) financed the acquisition of kits of mobile devices (tablets, thermal printers, and accessories) according to the agreement of the Unified System of Attention to Agricultural and Livestock Health (Suasa).
The new information system was developed for several departments of the agency, which had different approaches in its inspections. It was, therefore, necessary to seek a flexible methodology that could be adapted to different realities.
Thus, an approach similar to that defined for audits, based on ISO 19011 ABNT NBR rules, was considered, taking into account the principles of integrity, fair presentation, professional care, confidentiality, independence, and an evidence-based approach.
Thus, we believe that the methodology and information system created can be replicated to address similar problems in agencies that have the purpose of exercising oversight and auditing, regardless of the segment they are part of.
The project demonstrated the importance of an in-depth understanding of how business processes work before initiating any IT initiative. Poor business processes lead to the creation of inadequate information systems. In this way, the investment made in the mapping and redesign of processes allowed the creation of a product with greater added value and directed to the needs of its users.
Some important conclusions could be noticed thought the execution of this project and after the business process mapping, among which was verified that it was not possible to consistently systematize the inspection activities without a previously structured broader management module. It was understood that this module should be responsible for coordinating the planning, execution and evaluation of activities, the authorization for the use of vehicles, among other related aspects. Thus, the Service Orders management module was implemented, responsible for recording the scheduling and approval of each field activity performed.
Considering a large number of physical forms identified, as well as the number of characteristics that were particular to each one, we also saw the need to standardize the documents. The predominance of descriptive fields with low data structure was observed as a common attribute, and it was evident that this format was inapplicable in mobile devices, considering the difficulty of filling the fields, as well as the evident impairment in tabulation and transcription in statistical and management reports.