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A Skunk Works with tractors: Inside John Deere’s IoT-innovation unit

Jon Gold | June 5, 2017
Outfitting the cabs of their vehicles with what used to be office gear makes farmers more effective.

They're probably midway through the transition, Teeple said.

"The new generation of growers are much more tech-savvy. It wasn't that uncommon, not long ago, to not be able to find a smartphone or a tablet in a cab, and now it's almost pervasive."



Deere still faces its share of headaches as it rumbles deeper into the 21st century. Transitioning from an iron-and-machinery industrial company to one that heavily integrates computing technology into its products isn't an easy process, and requires a lot of change management.

John Deere thinks it's ahead of the game, "particularly given the investment we've made in connecting all of our large ag machines," said Teeple.

With interoperability a primary concern for most of the IoT field, Deere gets around this by exercising tight control over every part of the stack. Teeple said the company is relatively comfortable that it has a technological lead over the competition in most of the areas where it's vertically integrated and proprietary.

But this isn't a hard-and-fast rule. "Where we know that there are others in the industry that we know are better equipped," Teeple said. "That's where we look to understand how we can establish international standards."

The company is active in all international standards bodies in its space, and Teeple boasted that Deere is an active leader in data-sharing agreements in the ag industry.

"[We're] always looking to improve interoperability, but when it comes to what we can control, we certainly focus on our vertical integration and ... maximizing our sources of competitive advantage," he said.


What's next?

The next step is pushing computing from the cloud to the edge - Deere wants the analytics engine working locally on the farmer's tractor, rather than off in the cloud, adjusting based on local inputs on the fly - "leveraging all that back-office analytics and the prescription you're executing, but modifying it in real time based on conditions in the field," in Teeple's words.

That's where John Deere sets itself apart, he said. "We touch the soil, we touch the seed, we touch the plant with our technology solutions, and that's where we have kind of this unique competitive advantage in the execution in the field of the job."

Source: Network World 


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