WHAT if selling livestock was as easy as highlighting some records on your computer and pressing "sell"? A group of recently-graduated uni students is working to develop a system that does just that.
CloudHerd is a startup enterprise that launched last year with funding from the University of Sydney's startup incubator, appropriately called Incubate.
Led by electrical engineering graduate Alexander Stamp, CloudHerd's software engineers are building a herd inventory system that will be the basis of what Mr Stamp hopes will be "eBay for beef cattle".
CloudHerd wants to engage beef producers in two steps.
Initially, by getting producers to use its service to store cattle records, using NLIS tags for identification.
Once a producer has built an inventory, including records on growth rates, health treatments and other information, CloudHerd wants to make selling stock a simple matter of highlighting the cattle to be sold (as individuals or mobs) and clicking a button to put them up on an online auction.
If the model is realised, stock records will be instantly converted to a sales catalogue.
NLIS integration will be built-in, to provide quick paperless tracking of changes in stock ownership.
Mr Stamp proposes to make the basic inventory service free. CloudHerd's business model will focus on taking a commission - probably of about one per cent - on sales.
In future, a premium, paid inventory model might also be made available that links farm records to genetic information, but Mr Stamp said this idea has so far only been flagged in conversation with Sydney University academics.
Putting in place a payment system remains CloudHerd's biggest challenge, Mr Stamp admits. Like eBay's mature PayPal system, CloudHerd's system would need to allow for conflict resolution and a means of repaying funds if the conflict isn't settled.
PayPal takes a commission that would effectively eliminate any profit that CloudHerd hopes to make, so Mr Stamp is in talks with banks that have developed their own online payment systems.
The "Cloud" in the business's title refers to the fact that all information will be stored "in the cloud" - remote servers accessed by the internet - rather than on the user's computer or smartphone.
Cloud computing is becoming a standard model for information systems, as well as for applications like email.
Livestock producers will enter data into CloudHerd via smartphones, tablets or their desktop - or through a Bluetooth link with RFID tag scanners - and the information will be stored in remote servers.
To start with, entry will be done through forms opened in an internet browser, but CloudHerd aims to have native smartphone and tablet apps available, and an offline desktop app for businesses with intermittent access to the internet.
Storing data separate from a user's computer or smartphone provides a degree of security against crashes or theft.
It also allows data from different sources to be collected together for analysis.
Eventually, Mr Stamp hopes, delivering analysis on sales and production trends will be part of CloudHerd's income stream.
Right now, this scenario seems a long way off. CloudHerd so far consists of a prototype inventory system being stress-tested by about 25 volunteer users.
Getting to the next stage means attracting investors, the startup's perennial challenge.
CloudHerd will be presenting its model at a Sydney University showcase of startup innovation, and Mr Stamp hopes to attract $500,000 to take the business to the next stage.
For more information visit www.cloudherd.com