A business with as many moving parts as salmon farming requires a lot of process management. Scottish Sea Farms have managed to move 80 processes from Excel spreadsheets and clunky software to bespoke, intuitive apps using no-code tools. It’s transformed the way the business operates.
Scottish Sea Farms is, by Head of IT David Anderson’s own admission, the kind of discreetly profitable business you’ve probably never heard of. Based in Sterling, in central Scotland, the fish farming business grows and sells Atlantic salmon (one of the UK’s biggest exports), shipping out over 50,000 tonnes a year to countries all over the world, along with supplying a host of major UK supermarkets. It’s a major operation: the company manages over 60 sites on the west coast of Scotland and employs around 550 people – of whom David estimates around 400 regularly interact with technology. ‘Technology runs the business. It has to. Whether it’s factory-cutting machines or feeding systems to keep fish alive. It’s the driving heart of what we do,’ he says. The company doesn't have an internal development team. To build out software apps, they'd become used to buying off-the-shelf software and, effectively, trying to make it work.
For a long-time the business operated using a combination of digital tools. That was mainly Excel spreadsheets, which David says often led to data being captured with no action taken, and a pretty cumbersome piece of software that helped the business oversee and manage health & safety and quality control. ‘The tool itself was functionally okay, but it was cumbersome. Our employees hated it. It was confusing. And if you were only interacting with it once a month, you’d forget how to do certain things,’ adds David.
The first step in solving those problems was stumbling upon the database platform Airtable. ‘At first I thought, that’s a really useful thing for managing lists and things to do – very light project management,’ David says. ‘But then it became pretty clear it had a lot more scope.’ The business embraced Airtable as a platform. ‘The challenge then was how do we skin this in a way that people can interact with so that they can only see the information they’re entitled to see. We needed an interface to make it easy for people.’
At first I thought Airtable was a really useful thing for very light project management. Then it became pretty clear it had a lot more scope.
How he tackled it
Step 1: Seeing what was out there
It was David’s job to find that solution and he started where many quests begin: Google search. The aim was to see what was out there, and crucially what he could get moving with quickly. ‘The obvious ones that came out of a search was Softr and Stacker,’ David explains. ‘I looked at both. Softr felt a bit more cumbersome and complex, but with Stacker it was just so immediately obvious how to do things. It was just that simplicity to begin with.’
Step 2: Building the first application
David decided to test Stacker out by building a project management system that would look after the governance of the various IT projects they were working on. ‘We built it on Airtable, skinned it with Stacker, and that was the showcase of what could be done for the rest of the business.’ Having an example that other departments could see in the flesh made the difference. ‘It was an easy win. We don’t have a development team so we weren’t trying to compete against people to show what no-code could do.’
Step 3: Seeing if there was demand within the team
While creating an app to showcase what was possible was important, the next step was working out whether enough demand actually existed within the rest of the company to make the investment in Stacker. ‘The first thing we did was talk to our quality department and say, “If we could build you something that gives you almost 100% of what you need, would you be interested in that?"'says David. Unsurprisingly, it was a resounding yes.
Step 4: Implementing it elsewhere in the business
With the green light, David began building more apps on Stacker. He’s now built 8 different applications using the no-code tool, representing over 80 business processes. ‘That represents processes that were previously Excel-based or within a legacy system that we’re actually retiring now, in favour of moving to an Airtable/Stacker environment,’ he adds. That might sound like a lot, but there’s plenty more potential. David estimates there might be another 300-400 processes he could move to Airtable. ‘We’ve got to have records for absolutely everything!’.
We built it on Airtable, skinned it with Stacker, and that was the showcase of what could be done for the rest of the business.
The speed of execution has been huge
For Scottish Sea Farms, the speed at which they’ve been able to build has been the biggest benefit. ‘We can take a requirement and have it live within a few days because we’ve got our framework in place to manage these requests coming in,’ says David. That marks a big change from traditional software development teams – where David says there’s ‘such a lag from initial requirements going through to the thing being built.’
It's helped the business stay agile
One thing David is quick to point to is the fact that working in a heavily-regulated industry means adaptability is really important. ‘Requirements change whether it’s environmental change, or customer requirements. One of the benefits of no-code is that you can actually change things really, really quickly.’
You still need to be cautious
Speed and agility are definitely advantages, but David is adamant that the apps you do bring into a business need to be managed properly. ‘You still need governance around any requests. We do change management and release management too. We’ve got version control, so people can see when things have changed and release notes. We’re treating [no-code apps] like a proper enterprise application.’
No-code can gather momentum
Scottish Sea Farm’s no-code success has definitely been self-perpetuating, according to David. ‘When you do a fix for a function or a department, others can see the benefit. Through time, it’s gathered quite a lot of momentum – people just want to see a solution that works,’ he says.
Full disclosure: NoCode.Tech was bought by Stacker in early 2022. Our editorial independence means that we review Stacker completely impartially – as we do every other tool in the no-code space.