Oberhelman, Allen on Telematics Data

April 17, 2014

Societal paranoia seems to come and go in cycles. As cell phones track our every move, more personal and business data ascends into the cloud, and high-visibility privacy scandals erupt, fears of Big Brother are on the upswing.

Our industry’s no different. With information about the location, health, and productivity of your fleet, and more, out in the ether thanks to telematics, it’s not such a stretch to imagine competitors gaining access and connecting the dots to learn your very current capabilities. There's also the question of what manufacturers do or don’t do with the data.

Heck, even farmers are scared. I bet it takes a lot to scare a farmer.

The good news is that the leaders of the construction industry’s “Big Three” are aware of the concerns. I had exclusive sit-downs with the heads of Caterpillar, John Deere, and Case during Conexpo (read the feature in the May issue of Construction Equipment), and one of the items I wanted to discuss was manufacturer use of telematics data.

I brought it up with Caterpillar chairman and CEO Doug Oberhelman and Deere & Company chairman and CEO Sam Allen, whose companies have been involved with telematics the longest. Cat, of course, with Product Link, and Deere with WorkSight, and now Ultimate Uptime.

In fact, I talked with Allen right after Ultimate Uptime was unveiled at Deere’s show-eve media event.

“The issue is certainly out there, people ask us about it,” Allen said. “The good thing we do is that you don’t have to opt out—you have to opt in. So when we give you that Ultimate package, we give you a form that says ‘Please authorize us to use your data for your benefit.’ But if you don’t check it off, then we don’t use it.

“So the onus is on us to show why it’s a positive, both in terms of machine optimization, and also how we can aggregate the data up where we’re not seeing any individual machine, rather that we’re seeing it collectively to get a better understanding what machine forms go through on a work cycle—and how we can then do a better job of designing equipment to support that,” Allen said.

Allen stressed that Deere is different than some manufacturers “that say unless you check this box off, we have the right to use all this data.” He also said some may not offer a choice at all.

Caterpillar’s Oberhelman didn’t go into the ins and outs of opt-ins and opt-outs (ha), but cited helping the customer as a top priority.

“We’ve got to get on a certain level of standard-type communication with the equipment,” Oberhelman said, referring to the AEM, AEMP telematics standard announced at the show. “And then after that, it’s going to be up to all of us in the industry how we use the equipment. And as far as I’m concerned, the sky’s the limit on the availability of that data and how we all use it, but the benefit has to be the customer.”

I have to admit my Spider-sense went off when I heard “the sky’s the limit on the availability of that data and how we all use it,” but I’m probably chopping up that sound bite as a dirty political campaign commercial would. Chalk it up to societal paranoia. (Always remember what Ray Davies told us: “Paranoia may destroy ya.”) Back to Mr. Oberhelman...

“I think if we can somehow do this so that a customer who owns a machine or a fleet feels [telematics is] as simple to use as an Apple application, we’re in great shape,” Oberhelman continued. “I kind of call it the ‘Apple-ization’ of Caterpillar, of our industry.”

It all sounds good: Apple-type user friendliness to encourage telematics use, and checking a box to opt in or out regarding manufacturers’ use of data.

Here’s hoping it will always be that simple and transparent. And no one else finds a way to snoop around.

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.