Food for Thought
Thomas Böck sums up an extraordinary fiscal year and takes a look ahead.
“We can’t do that!”
“How is that supposed to work?!”
When Frank Drexler thinks back to how his colleagues reacted to the partnership with John Deere beginning to take shape, he is sympathetic and a little proud too. “The initial responses were completely normal. John Deere and us sharing data – it would have been inconceivable a couple of years ago, there’s no doubt about it,” the co-manager of the DataConnect project at CLAAS says. The industry also sat up and took notice when the initiators of the project, CLAAS and John Deere, and data management experts 365FarmNet announced at AgriTechnica 2019 that CNH Industrial would also be linking up its cloud solution. This kind of partnership is an industry first, but also an innovation that has been all about the customer since day one.
After all, not many farmers will have purchased their entire machinery fleet from the same manufacturer. The reality is that workflows involve combine harvesters, forage harvesters, and transfer vehicles from a variety of different makes, all of which can only be monitored in a single system with a significant amount of effort. “With DataConnect we can say to our customers: you don’t need any additional software, you can simply record the speed or position of this CLAAS, CNH Industrial, or John Deere machine on whatever platform you choose,” Drexler says. In principle, many thousands of agricultural machines around the world can use the DataConnect interface, irrespective of their year of construction. The only condition is that they are fitted with a telemetry system.
No new investment necessary
There was one simple reason why all of the companies involved in the platform were in favor of this approach, rather than starting a joint venture and developing additional software: “If a customer has already made two investments – namely in our equipment and equipment made by the other manufacturer – then we consider it our duty to connect the equipment without offering a new application,” Frank Drexler says. In technical terms, this solution was quick, too, as it only required a couple of months of programming work. “We already have the infrastructure in place, as do our partners,” explains Drexler. “It’s the same story with programming expertise.”
“We believe that digital solutions have the most potential to help farmers and contractors work more efficiently and also more sustainably at the same time. That’s why it’s up to us to make these solutions convenient to use.”
Thomas Böck, CEO
One goal: defining standards
One of the more complicated parts of the journey was resolving the strategic questions surrounding the partnership. CEO Thomas Böck remembers well the initial discussions between CLAAS and John Deere: “They were certainly a challenge for us as competitors. But all of us in the agricultural equipment industry were committed to establishing a single digital standard. Ultimately we grasped the initiative together as market leaders and have actually gone a step further than the automotive and commercial vehicle industry.”
Under lock and key
One topic that continues to occupy project manager Frank Drexler’s thoughts is data sovereignty. In order to counter any misgivings, Drexler addresses the issue openly with his counterpart at John Deere, Georg Larscheid. The question of who benefits more from the platform is often asked.
“Our customers have also requested a simpler way to share data within their machinery fleet in the past, to boost the profitability and sustainability of their farms by opening up new possibilities in terms of digitalization.”
Georg Larscheid, head of Sales Services &
Precision AG at John Deere
“DataConnect is aimed solely at the customer,” the head of integrated system solutions at John Deere says. “None of the partners are at an advantage or disadvantage, because we haven’t developed a platform for ourselves.” In other words, there is no way for CLAAS to gather data belonging to competitors – and vice-versa. Only the customer can do this, by making data available for analysis by third-party providers, for example. What’s more, there are no common business models that could result from DataConnect. “There are clear boundaries here in terms of market law,” Drexler explains. “In addition, the GDPR also provides an extremely stringent data protection framework in the EU anyway.”
The possibilities are endless
Despite the complexity of the platform, the partners are very optimistic looking ahead. “It was a great feeling when we connected the machinery together for the first time and saw that it worked well.” A number of months have passed since then, and some farmers have already linked up their machinery with their portal of choice. Starting this fall, a single screen gives farmers answers to any of the following questions: Where is my machinery? What is its status? How quickly is it traveling? It goes without saying that the sensors on a combine harvester or a forage harvester are capable of gathering much more data from the field than just these parameters.
“As soon as DataConnect is expanded to include agronomic data such as fertilizer volume or yields, thousands of farmers and contractors will be able to use their management software to their full potential and optimize their operations in the process.”
Patrick Honcoop, Head of Product Management Partnerships at 365FarmNet
Under the platform roadmap, more and more agronomic data such as harvest volumes, field boundaries, and fertilizer volumes is set to be added to the system. This data can then be compared against soil and cultivation data, making it simpler to plan sustainable optimizations. “With so many different systems out there, we know of many customers who still transport their data from A to B using USB sticks or don’t use systems at all,” says Patrick Honcoop, product manager at co-initiator 365FarmNet, underlining the potential importance of these expansions. “Simple data exchange also fosters acceptance of further farm digitalization and data management.”
As soon as DataConnect is available, entirely new questions will arise in terms of maintenance and service: What happens, for instance, if a partner’s machine generates a fault in the TELEMATICS portal? What about servicing? How do I integrate the machines into my system of choice? “These processes are being developed in parallel to the project, with dealers and service partners receiving training,” says Drexler. DataConnect is seemingly much, much more than a few gathering clouds in the data sky.
Synergies with international projects
A number of projects on the international stage could profit from DataConnect: All DataConnect partners are also members of the Agricultural Industry Electronics Foundation (AEF), which is looking to develop an industry standard for data exchange as part of its Atlas project. Hence why the partners in the DataConnect project plan to share their experiences with the AEF. Gaia X is another European data infrastructure with the aim of enhancing data security and sovereignty within the European Union. The agriculture-specific program is called Agri-Gaia and is geared towards establishing a decentralized infrastructure for the exchange of data and algorithms in agriculture. Through the Gaia X-based standards, Agri-Gaia aims to give farmers the opportunity to move data freely between different cloud platforms and use the data themselves for economic purposes. Findings from DataConnect could provide some orientation here, too.
Gathered machinery data:
Historical position data
Diesel fill level