John Deere connectivity aim is higher profits for customers

  • 13-Dec-2012 08:56 EST
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For some functions, the in-cab display is best, John Deere says; for others, mobile devices may be the answer.

While John Deere is enjoying success with its existing JDLink connectivity technology, it is exploring new forms of connectivity and new services to help farmers maximize profits.

A case in point: “We believe in the cab of our vehicles there are opportunities to give operators more information to make improved decisions, so we’re working on some integration opportunities for mobile devices,” said Chuck Schleusner, John Deere Product Line Marketing Manager for (the company’s web portal for customers).

At the same time, John Deere is continually working to improve its Modular Telematics Gateway (MTG) (in-cab telematics device), the GreenStar 2630 display, and JDLink overall.

Regarding the use of mobile devices in the cab, Schleusner emphasized that “for the near term,” mobile devices are looked at by John Deere more as a supplement rather than a replacement for the in-cab displays. In addition to in-cab uses for mobile devices, he said, “there are remote decision-maker use cases…for those who are monitoring the work going on in the field.”

One of the challenges of John Deere engineers will be designing software in a way that makes using the smaller mobile devices no less ergonomically friendly than using a larger in-cab control and communication display, said Schleusner.

Some functions, such as gear selection, are just natural fits for an embedded communications and control unit, he said, while monitoring weather conditions would be a more proper use of a mobile device.

John Deere’s larger view is to, in general, enable end users of its equipment to collect more data about more aspects of farming and to share it more efficiently with crop consultants, agronomists, dealers, and other relevant parties—the “ecosystem,” Schleusner calls it. The end game is more profitable and happier customers.

With many different software and communications elements involved in delivering a payoff to customers, integration is a great challenge for John Deere engineers. Where there is more value to be generated, there are more needs to consider, Schleusner said—especially when connectivity is involved.

The two major pieces of John Deere’s connectivity solution are JDLink, its telematics infrastructure; and, its web portal on which the machine and related data can be presented and managed real-time.

JDLink in the past was used mainly to communicate data about machine status and performance, which, among other things, helped dealers proactively support machines in the field, according to Schleusner. The data could also be used by Deere’s engineering group to identify and fix possible machine design problems. Those JDLink capabilities have been developed and deployed by John Deere over the past few years.

What’s new is that “we’re going to start to automatically transfer the data from machine to office (with the customer’s permission)—data around the agronomic productivity of the machine and the land,” said Schleusner. “So where they maybe didn’t get this data until the end of year, they will be able to see how they’re progressing toward completing their work. They can see alerts about how the work is getting done. So if, let’s say, an operator is doing something counterproductive, the manager can see that on the web or on a mobile phone and call the operator and get them to adjust.”

The big benefit is getting more immediate feedback. “We’re taking a process that delivered information in a big lump sum after the work was done—through a very manual process—to automated collection using wireless technologies on the machines, getting the data available through and then letting the customer share it selectively with their dealer, with their crop consultant, with their agronomists, very quickly.”

There are opportunities for improvement on the hardware side to aid customers, Schleusner said, “but we see the way to differentiate our products from other tractors or combines in the future is the quality of the software that controls it, and the user experience.”

An area that affects both hardware and software is the user interface. “Customer demands of the interfaces on our displays continue to evolve, especially as they get used to the new smartphones and tablets. That is driving us to invest in more usable control mechanisms for our machines.”

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