October 31, 2013

Interview: Piet and Reinhart De Lille

Adifo’s founder and former CEO Piet De Lille (PDL), and current R&D manager Reinhart De Lille (RDL) (father and son), give their personal views on 40 years of developing this leading Belgium based, software company that serves the milling industry. They highlight milestones the feed and food industry has already passed and, above all, what does the future hold? A unique double interview.
Adifo’s founder and former CEO Piet De Lille, and current R&D manager Reinhart De Lille (father and son)

You’re a software company that has remained in the international market for 40 years. How had Adifo achieved this?

Piet: It all comes down to making the right strategic choices and maintaining a particular vision. Adifo has always been a highly customer-focused company. I’m no computer expert, but I could strongly identify with the strategy of a company, and because of this I was able to design programmes with added value for the organisations. I founded Adifo with my parents in 1974, after obtaining my degree in electromechanics. In the early days we mainly supplied solutions for bookkeeping, invoicing and salary administration. Even at that time, we were already very conscious of the functional aspect of the services we provided. We examined customers’ needs and responded accordingly. We did a great deal of customised work, mainly for trade unions and medical laboratories. Later on, we also did this for construction firms and trading companies and approximately 10 years later chose to specialise in the feed industry.

Reinhart: Indeed, our customer focus and specialisation have always been strong assets. The significant amount of customised work has since been configured in standard packages that serve a broad range of applications. Moreover, our technological choices have been decisive for our continuity. Adifo has always striven to choose the right platform for developing software in order to be able to guarantee continuity to our customers. A large portion of our resources are used for product development.

Why did you actually decide to specialise in the feed and food sector?

Piet: I was always interested in the sector. As a child I preferred to spend my time on neighbours and friends’ farms.

How in the post-war years, food shortages were relieved with imports from the US and South America. The storage of huge quantities of raw materials around European seaports. The development of the futures market, the spot market and the by-products market. How the feed market suddenly became a booming business. It was all extremely interesting.

In 1973, I paid my very first visit to a feed factory. That was at Vanden Avenne in Ooigem, which was already making optimisations in Canada using a telex line. Very revolutionary at the time. However, things really started for us when we took over BESTMIX® from SCIA in 1988. SCIA possessed knowledge of linear programming, and Adifo was experienced in goods flows and the entire logistics process, as well as financial administration. From then on, we chose resolutely to work for this market segment, and we still do today.

And were solutions for the food sector a logical progression?

Piet: The feed industry is unjustly known as being a rather traditional sector, but in fact it is far more modern than people would imagine. It strives for optimal production, taking into account volatile raw materials prices and the availability of raw materials, quality requirements, etc. and could teach the food sector a lot.  

Reinhart: It became apparent that our knowledge of the feed sector was perfectly relevant to the food sector. Only the prior conditions for optimisation seemed to differ. Now our software can be used to optimise all kinds of aspects: logistical, price, quality, nutritional (allergenic, kosher and halal etc.).
What are the greatest challenges facing the feed and food industry?

Piet: We must add the energy sector to this question. Today in the US, 40% of the corn is used in the energy sector. The biggest challenge for each company is finding its right place in the market segment. Volatile raw materials prices, fluctuations in quality, dealing with market speculation, determining the right strategy (what to purchase, what to stock, what to use oneself and what to sell). These represent on-going challenges for the sector. In addition, scale and internationalisation should not be underestimated.

Reinhart: The greatest challenge for the future lies in feeding the growing world population. By 2050, nine billion people will inhabit the earth. They will all have to be fed, but in a sustainable manner in which waste flows and the carbon footprint are kept as low as possible. Sustainability has become a genuine buzzword. Social habits are also changing. In the 1980s, many women suddenly joined the labour market, which meant that convenience foods became extremely popular.

With current questions about healthy eating fresh from nature, ready-made meals are viewed in a different light. Animal welfare and GMOs are also highly sensitive issues.

The question is whether major changes in food patterns can be identified. These appear to be less spectacular than one would expect. But who plays the most decisive role? The consumer or the producer? This market dynamic is absolutely fascinating and presents the food industry with major challenges.

What does the future hold for Adifo?

Reinhart: Adifo will stick with its specialisation and continue to develop it using industry-standard technology. We will continue to be a fan of open technology and give user-friendliness and the user experience a central position in our services. The market will become increasingly open and new cloud applications will be developed.

If you talk about openness you must also be open as a company. Therefore, for example the FaaS and MILAS-AX platform will be opened up so that partners and major parties will be able to integrate and expand it with their applications.

Adifo will also increase its international operations. In specific terms this means that we will intensify our activities in China and the US. In any case, we operate in a fascinating world and are looking forward to the future with great enthusiasm.

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