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John Deere is known for its industrial agriculture, forestry and heavy equipment, as well as its consumer lawn care line.
But many probably don’t realize it also encompasses advanced capabilities, including AI, computer vision, data analytics, digital twins, sensors, robots, and co-bots — proving that 185-year-old manufacturing companies can go through digital transformation, too.
In June, we reported on how John Deere is using AI to harvest data. At VentureBeat’s Transform 2022 event last week, its CIO Ganesh Jayaram reiterated this and highlighted the other innovative efforts the company is taking to propel it forward.
“You can think of that as ‘Industry 4.0′” John Deere CIOsaid Ganesh Jayaram, in a livestream keynote during Transform 2022 last week.
Production at the edge
John Deere’s technical strategy is built around two principles, Jayaram explains: the public cloud and the edge.
“There’s a need for both,” he said — it’s just a matter of defining what kinds of workloads happen where.
The edge is best for low-latency applications, “where you really don’t have time to send the information back to the cloud.”
For John Deere, that advantage is the factory and warehouse operations, Jayaram said. The company is scaling knowledge at the edge and investing in private server networks.
“We’re trying to drive compute and analytics, leverage intelligence at the edge, as close to the point of impact as possible,” he said. “We want to translate intelligence at the edge so that those high-bandwidth, low-latency applications can perform there.”
The technical stack for production
In addition, Jayaram described an emerging tech stack. The best way to conceptualize that in the manufacturing world is to combine IT and OT, he said, that is, adding manufacturing components to a core IT stack.
The top layer of this stack combines applications and analytics. Just below that is the data platform. This includes connectivity and software platforms (for example, enterprise resource planning software). Finally, hardware and services. And cutting that stack, Jayaram explains, is cybersecurity.
Ultimately, data is the engine that drives all of this, he said. The company has invested heavily in what it describes as a “John Deere data factory,” consisting of a data lake.
“That core analytics function needs to be powered by really reliable data that cuts across our internal silos [of manufacturing, engineering, supply chain]’ said Jayram. “We bring in these different data streams, manage the data and make sure that the data is of the highest quality, that it’s cataloged properly.”
To further drive innovation, John Deere has implemented a flexible business model across the company.
In this way, the same principles and concepts are applied in the workplace that are applied in software development.
“It’s not uncommon for these (production) teams to be teeming with ideas or challenges,” says Jayaram. “Teams come together, they swarm around an idea, and they really try to come up with a solution within a few days.”
Since the rollout of the model, there have been fewer support incidents, a two- to three-fold increase in customer features and a 10-fold increase in deployments.
“Our teams really like this new way of working with that focus on customer orientation,” said Jayaram.
And even further away?
In response to the inevitable question about the metaverse, Jayaram said John Deere is “very excited” about the implications — “but we’re also still in the early stages of the journey.”
His team is analyzing the metaverse’s applicability in operations, he said. He also predicted “several breakthroughs” when it comes to digital twin technologies.
For example, at a Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year, the company introduced a technology that allows anyone to virtually sit in a tractor using only their mobile devices. John Deere is also introducing the digital twin concept into engineering and manufacturing processes.
“If you can deliver a digital experience that mimics the physical world,” says Jayaram, “customers and employees can be much more engaged with the product.”
Watch the full conversation from Transform 2022.