Aldous Huxley, borrowing a phrase from Shakespeare’s comedy The Tempest, titled his 1932 masterwork Brave New World. Eighty years after publication of Huxley’s dystopian view of mankind’s future we do find ourselves in a brave new world.
The difference is we live and work in a vastly more opportunistic world than Huxley could have possibly imagined.
That thought occurred to me as I drove east on lonely two-lane US-24 through mile after mile of flat central Illinois farmland. The quiet provided time to reflect on my past two days at the modern Caterpillar Demonstration and Training Center near Peoria. My mind was still attempting to put the experience—all of the new CAT work equipment and its supporting systems—into a neat package.
I struggled. I realized I would have to return to my notes and review them to fully understand what I had just experienced.
The technology embedded within the yellow work machines and CAT’s product and cutting-edge operator support systems is sophisticated on one level but intuitive to operators. Even relatively inexperienced operators (perhaps even more so than “old pros”), will appreciate the direction that CAT is going in terms of developing “smarter” machines and support systems for its customers, dealers and vendor partners.
“When it comes to customers’ experiences, it’s not technology for technology’s sake,” stressed George Taylor, VP Marketing & Digital Caterpillar. “What we’re all looking for is technology that has an impact.”
In a nutshell, everything I had experienced at the Center in terms of the equipment development convinced me that CAT is going full bore to deliver the following benefits to its customers and dealers:
- controlling costs,
- improving operations,
- managing people and
- reducing risks.
Referencing product development in particular, it’s a world being driven by technology and innovation, said Taylor. Channeling Apple CEO Tim Cook, Taylor added it’s CAT’s aim to develop products and services that customers didn’t know they needed, but come to realize they can’t live without.
Taylor referenced the amazing success of companies such as Amazon, and Uber. They and similar companies are establishing new rules for commerce and shaking the foundations of long-established industries. The rapidity of these changes challenges long-established, asset-laden companies to accelerate their innovation as well, Taylor continued.
In the case of an equipment giant like Caterpillar, with dealers in 180 countries, this requires not only a massive investment in R&D ($2 billion annually involving 1700 employees), but also a willingness to aggressively develop new ways to learn from, embrace and assist its customers, dealers, vendors and supporting partners.
“We are a customer experience company, and we have been that for 90 years. But the world is changing for us and we need to lead in partnership with our customers to a place that is even better,” said Taylor, concluding my two days at the Caterpillar facility.
“We have to be a company that thinks like a customer and acts like a startup. If we do that and we do it effectively, we will be in a very good position going forward.”