Why Bayer and Microsoft is not a thing

J Matthew Pryor

J Matthew Pryor / February 09, 2022

3 min read––– views

There has been a lot of head-scratching about the true meaning of the collaboration between Microsoft & Bayer

AgFunder published a good summary of many of the different perspectives but didn't land anywhere in terms of an opinion of whether it is, or is not, a big deal. Of course, people are going to pay attention when two large companies strike a partnership. This is particularly interesting based on who they are, and on the never-ending fascination that we have with the importance (or not) of data in agriculture.

In my view, the announcement isn't news, even though it is newsworthy - and here's why.

The rails are heading the wrong way

A lot of the discussion has been about the underpinnings of what we call digitally native agriculture.

Do all these new digitally-native applications need a set of rails? Is there an opportunity to create a common infrastructure for third-party developers to build their applications on top of? Yes, it's called the cloud and we already have at least 3 major flavors of it. Application developers need leverage and platforms provide leverage, but there are natural boundaries where platforms stop and applications start. Leverage is a powerful incentive, and behavior change needs properly designed incentives.

I don't see how the combination of Bayer and Microsoft creates a horizontal infrastructure that incentivizes application developers to move away from what they're already doing.

Who is the user, who is the beneficiary?

Another blot on the ledger is the lack of clarity about exactly who this is for.

The obsession with farm data is well-founded in one particular way. Farmers are very concerned about how improperly used data might cause them harm. If they already use a Bayer service, then this deal doesn't mean much. Many might use any number of Microsoft products, but I can't see how that makes them trust Bayer any more than they already do.

It is unclear who is the user and who is the beneficiary in this collaboration, and so it seems destined to suffer the fate of initiatives that try to be all things to all people. There are some pretty strong forces opposing the wide adoption of a combined offering like this:

Data integration is a distraction. The idea that we can only digitize when we collect data directly on-farm doesn't take into account that the factory has no roof - there will be multiple ways to source data.

What does success look like? Sharing more data is not a technology problem, it's a trust problem. I don't see a solve here.

Don't ignore disruption. When people talk about digital transformation, they often gloss over the real change agent which is disruption and disintermediation by digital natives. It's not clear that there is any protection afforded against those forces by this partnership.

Any doubts I have about this partnership are not based on doubts about Microsoft or Bayer - clearly, they are both great companies.

However, I feel that success in digital transformation will come from completely reimagining what digitally native agriculture solutions will look like and building those.