Data Point

Jan. 28, 2014

Edward “Leaky” Snowden and the long tentacles of the NSA aside, how much information on your operations do you want floating around in the ether?

Right now, the data gathered through telematics helps savvy equipment managers do a lot of good things, including track and prioritize assets, prevent theft, diagnose trouble, and schedule maintenance. Equipment makers say they keep that data close to the vest, not even using it for warranty issues. Other than helping you, about the only other thing they do with the data is study it in an effort to improve their products—and that’s straight from Tom Trone, director of John Deere WorkSight Solutions.

Keep in mind that the sum total of what’s gathered about the locations, health and productivity of your fleet is an accurate snapshot of everywhere you’re working and a pretty good idea of your capabilities. If one were to add in a little detective work, the snapshot becomes a detailed diorama

Not to foster an atmosphere of Orwellian paranoia, but the hipsters at National Public Radio (NPR) recently did a piece on the risks of  “big agribusiness” collecting production data from farmers’ fields, right down to what parcel of land produces the best yield, and how this may threaten farmers’ privacy and give big companies too much power.

Some of the same technology involved in telematics for the construction industry is in play here; in fact, the green side of John Deere is half the example NPR cites as big agribusiness.

Now, let’s remember that NPR has likely never met a corporation it approved of, unless the company made sandals and love beads, and even then it probably wasn’t allowed to make a profit. (They also think Garrison “The Human Pug” Keillor is hilarious; that’s neither here nor there.)

But they do have a point: With data that’s often kept in a cloud, it’s not always possible to know who sees the data and what can be done with it. NPR mentions a plausible scenario about competitive bidding on fields for rent, as well as the use of almost instant crop yield information to manipulate a market.

Other than any intentions a manufacturer could conjure up, you may have competitors who could profit from knowing your capabilities, available inventory, or strengths and weaknesses. Not that large a leap.

It’s at least worth pondering the question.

About the Author

Frank Raczon

Raczon’s writing career spans nearly 25 years, including magazine publishing and public relations work with some of the industry’s major equipment manufacturers. He has won numerous awards in his career, including nods from the Construction Writers Association, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, and BtoB magazine. He is responsible for the magazine's Buying Files.