Yaniv Semel CEO, Phenome Networks Ltd.

In 2008, Yaniv Semel, Ph.D., and Prof Zamir, Ph.D., professor of plant genetics at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, established Phenome Networks to develop software solutions for plant breeding and genomics. Semel holds master’s and doctorate degrees in plant genetics from Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a bachelor’s in computer science from Ben Gurion University of the Negev. He has published more than 10 research articles about applying a systems approach to complex phenotypes.

Once you recognize the need to implement new plant breeding software, the next crucial decision is to decide whether to build a proprietary program or to buy off-the-shelf software. Large organizations with big budgets and skilled IT teams frequently think they can afford the cost and can do a better job than an outside vendor to meet their breeders’ unique management requirements.

But it’s not that easy. The do-it-yourself companies soon discover that building software solutions includes long-term risks and places a potentially huge burden on other ongoing activities. The period from starting development to releasing the first version usually takes much more time and money than was initially expected.

Then, when the program is ready, the company may find its needs have changed and its breeding program has new requirements. In other words, the software has become obsolete before it is launched. This starts a never-ending development snowball that is perpetually rolling downhill as software developers try to stay ahead of breeders’ continually changing needs.

Some breeders think that their processes are so unique that no software could possibly fulfill their needs. However, good breeding software implements extensive configurations supporting all modern processes employed in commercial seeds companies. No company would consider developing their own ERP or CRM systems, so why breeding software?

We have watched very large companies with very deep pockets spend millions of dollars to develop a proprietary breeding software program and then abandon it because it did not perform as expected. Eventually the investment of time and money begins to feel heavy. Financial managers may question if such a ‘journey’ is the right way to go. After so much resources have already invested, they wonder if they have passed the point of no return?! Or worse, is this a failed ambition and who’s fault is?

Implementing a solution developed by a third-party vendor provides a totally different experience. Users receive a mature software package that covers most or all of the breeders’ needs from day one. Technology is commonly upgraded by the software developer. Improvements, maintenance, support, security and backups are all provided by the vendor. Additional development cost will be for updates to a proven working solution.

Breeding activities are complicated no matter the crop. Translating those complex processes into software requires unique expertise in both software and breeding, which only a professional provider can have. After all, the core business of breeding companies is breeding and not software development.