Taking a Simpler Approach to Technology

June 18, 2014

Everything we see and hear tells us the adoption rate for machine control and telematics still isn’t where it should be. According to Topcon CEO Ray O’Connor, one answer may be to simplify the message to allow yourself to approach change a little differently.

I talked with O’Connor at the launch of the company’s “Technology Roadshow,” a 24-city tour designed to demonstrate its machine control and telematics wares. Three themes struck me.

1) "The One Thing"

“The biggest problem with telematics is everybody who sells telematics will tell you about the 150 things telematics can do for you—they need to tell you one,” says O’Connor. “When we started into telematics five or six years ago, we asked one of our local contractors, a big user of our equipment, for his input. He said, ‘When I drive to the job site and pull up on the hill in my truck and look down, productivity goes up 20 percent. Make telematics give me that benefit. That’s all I need.’”

Likewise, O’Connor wants to point out “The One Thing” about machine control. Hint: it’s monetary.

“Sometimes you think people are hearing what you’re saying, but they believe it’s nothing but a sales job,” he says. “When you’re telling the story, you know what the truth is, but people have to experience it themselves. I hear it all; in my job, I’ve got people selling me stuff every day. Software that can do this, hardware that can do that. It’ll save us all kinds of money. And it’s just noise. From that noise, you’re trying to pick out things that really help you with your business.”

2) Productivity

“The reality [with machine control] is the amount of money—you go to any contractor that’s using machine control today and ask them how much it has increased their productivity, and anybody who tells you less than 50 percent is lying,” O’Connor says. “For the most part, you’re going to increase your productivity in most cases by 100 percent. It’s frustrating. How do we get that message out?”

O’Connor thinks the ability of telematics to measure productivity will ultimately win the day.

“That’s going to become the new area of big growth in this business, because it’s not just the health of the machine, it’s the productivity of the machine,” he says. “Capturing all that data and seeing it in real time so you can manage a project accordingly. Do I need an extra machine on the job or one less machine? Who performs the best work with a certain machine versus another operator?”

3) Integrate the Technology

Education, with campaigns like the Roadshow, is one way to communicate the benefits of these technologies. But O’Connor believes integration into new OEM equipment will do the most to drive future adoption. The company’s overriding business philosophy is to supply its technology to OEMs, the most dramatic example being Komatsu’s Intelligent Machine Control dozer, where Topcon machine control was integrated into the dozer, eliminating masts, cables and connections.

“You’re reaching a point when the manufacturer is going to make it standard on a piece of equipment,” O’Connor says. “When the OEM installs it on a machine, or puts it into a rental fleet, and people who have never used machine control use it, it’s a fabulous presentation of the capability of the technology.”

But the after market isn’t dead.

“Let’s say I have 20 bulldozers and 10 motor graders; well I’m not going to replace 30 machines at once,” O’Connor says. “I’m going to replace, let’s say two machines this year. So what can I do to the other 28 machines that don’t have machine control on them? I put machine control on five of those, or eight of those, depending on the jobs that they’re working on. Even as we integrate in the OEM side of the business, the after market business will grow exponentially, because we’ve got years of that transition yet to take place.”

This is especially true if the life of a machine is seven to eight years. OEMs have their own catching up to do, as well.

“You’re going to see a lot of growth in machine control in the OEMs, which is more the Komatsu model, where they did one machine and now they’re going to do four machines, but that’s a small percentage of the entire fleet of machines they manufacture,” O’Connor says. “It will take 15 to 20 years or more before every machine is getting it, so you’ll still have a large after market business.”

However you get it, you’ll still need to get it. But first consider The One Thing you need—identify a single, simple benefit or reason—and don’t be dissuaded by the details.

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.