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Agriculture Technology Podcast Ep. 150: JDLink and Remote Support

19 Aug 2021

This latest episode of the Agriculture Technology Podcast covers JDLink and Remote Support.

Nate Schlief is an expert at the remote solutions offered to today's growers and he joins host Tony Kramer to discuss the options in depth.


Additional Resources for our listeners:

5 Important Things to Know About JDLink™ Connectivity and Machine Data 

Data Management

Past episodes

Precision Ag Answers YouTube Channel


View the entire transcript here:

Tony: Welcome back to another episode of the podcast. This is episode number 150 and today we are going to be talking about the new JDLink connectivity as well as remote support.

Before we dive into the show please take a moment to subscribe to this podcast, if you haven't already, you can subscribe to the show on the many different podcasting apps that we're streaming this out too such as Apple's podcast app. We've got it on Stitcher, Overcast, SoundCloud, as well as many others. While you're out there drop us a review. We'd love to hear what you think about the show. Lastly make sure to follow RDO Equipment Company on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and catch all of our latest videos on YouTube. You can also follow me on Twitter @RDOTonyK.

Now with that let's get back to the show. I'm really excited to bring on Nate Schlief, who is a technical communication specialist with RDO Equipment Company. Thanks for joining us on the show today Nate. To get started I'd like to hear a little bit more about you and your background and how you got involved in the industry.

Nate Schlief: Thank you Tony. Appreciate getting a chance to be on the podcast with you. To give you a little bit of my background, I grew up in west central Minnesota on a small dairy farm that we had dairy cattle until about the middle '80s. Then in the '90s we got into farrow-to-finish on a small scale and beef cattle. Ended up going to NDSU and graduated with a degree in Ag Systems Management. At the time precision Ag was just being discussed. There really wasn't any classes available through NDSU but I did get an opportunity to go down and do an internship with a small company at the time that was only five years old called Ag Leader Technology.

Obviously Ag Leader grew and it was a great opportunity to get my feet in the water and see what precision Ag could do for producers that were using it. That started my interest with that. When I finished college, I started working for Ag Chem Equipment. I was working with their software program that they had for all the co-ops to create variable rate prescription maps and doing support.

I started out in the support role, ended up going to a company that did manufacturing of short-line sprayers called red ball, spent a couple of years there in support. The interesting part was the precision side always kept continuing to follow. At that point we got into selling foam, our replacements for foam markers which just a light bar. I remember everybody thinking that that was such great technology at the time. It's interesting to see how things have developed in a sense then. Then I spent some time at a New Holland dealership and also worked with some of the precision Ag stuff at that point and onto Case IH where is where I got most of my product support knowledge from the precision Ag aspect.

I came to RDO in 2019. I've been here just about 20 months now. I'm in the role of technical communication specialist and really enjoy supporting our customers and our stores out there in the field.

Tony: Yes, you've definitely got a long list or a large amount of experience when it comes to product support across the whole industry. Not just with John Deere equipment, but you talk about Ag Leader, you did some time with Case New Holland dealership. "Did some time", I make it sound like you're in prison. [chuckles] I promise that's not the way I wanted it to sound but we love John Deere here. It works either way, but no it's great to hear your background. A lot of it of course is in that product support which is why this technical communication specialist role here at RDO Equipment Company fits you very well in your knowledge and your background.

One of the things I want to talk about before we dive into the remote support and what you do on the daily basis is I want to talk about JDLink. John Deere recently made some changes to JDLink. Where previously since JDLink came out back in 2011, There was a subscription attached to the JDLink service where you had the JDLink hardware or the MTG terminal whatever you want to refer to it as the telematics, modular telemedics gateway. As long as you have the hardware, you could then purchase a subscription to connect your machine and have all of these different capabilities.

Now John Deere recently changed that and they went to what is now called JDLink Connectivity. As long as your machine has the JDLink hardware in it, you can get all of these benefits for free just based off of having the JDLink hardware. Now I say that, I say 2011 and newer. Well, in 2011 we had 2G terminals. Then shortly after that, we moved on to 3G technology and now we're in the 4G technology.

Just like cell phones, cell phones are actually moving to 5G technology but 2G technology has sunset. That's gone. We would have to update the hardware for those. 3G technology is actually going to go dark at the beginning of 2022. If you've got machines with 3G terminals in them, you definitely need to look at upgrading those to 4G terminals, so you can take advantage of all the benefits of JDLink connectivity being free. That being said if you have older machines or you have competitive machines and you're running John Deere displays, we can put JDLink universal kits into those machines and you can still get the same benefits with what we're going to talk about here today about remote support capabilities.

Definitely look into JDLink connectivity, make sure your hardware is updated to 4G terminals so you can take advantage of it. There's a lot of different things. Two things above and beyond the remote support capabilities. There's also things like with your Agronomic data. You have data sync and you have wireless data transfer. Then for those customers with large fleets of equipment, there's also a lot of fleet monitoring that can happen with all of that.

Just a few notes on the JDLink changes, JDLink connectivity what it is? Talk to your local John Deere dealership your local RDO Equipment dealership. Go in talk to them make sure you are set up with JDLink connectivity. If you are familiar with the John Deere operation center you guys have an organization set up. All you need to do is log in, go and accept the terms and conditions of the JDLink connectivity, turn on auto enroll machines and you are good to go. Really nice to be able to do that all. It's just one process. You don't have to do it individually for each one. A few changes with JDLink but definitely a lot of benefit that can come out of it.

Now that we've talked about a little bit of the changes, Nate I want to dive in to your every day what you do as a technical communications specialist here at RDO Equipment Company. The big thing with JDLink is the ability for remote support. Now I know that can play a big role in what you do but first let's just talk a little bit about how you are able to help customers even if they don't have a connected machine. What does that process look like? On a day-to-day basis how do you help customers through their issues when they don't have a connected machine?

Nate: When it comes to the support line we've got a couple of different ways that you can access us. Through RDO in our service support center, we've actually got an 844 number that customers can use to contact us, or if they can't call into the store and everybody is busy at the store they'll also contact us as well. I get phone calls from both farmer customers and from our own dealerships as well inquiring about different items, everything from lawnmowers up to large combines and precision Ag.

My day really is very variable depending upon what's happening out there in the field. In the wintertime we'll get a lot of calls and people that are doing maintenance on their equipment and they want to know different things. It might be engine specs, it might be an overhaul all the way up to hey I'm on operation center and I need to be able to go in and generate this report. Can you help me do that? It's always when the phone rings, you never know what the question's going to be but it's never the same two questions that makes it very interesting to me that we're continually doing that.

I work with a group of two other gentlemen here at Fargo and we have two folks down in Yuma, Arizona, that also cover the Ag line. We also have support teams for construction, machine health. There's a lot of different things, our Vermeer line as well, but I focus on the Ag side. With my background in precision AG, we also have a separate number for the precision AG support line so people can call in specifically on that as well. We are here from 7:00 in the morning until 5:00, and then we also have folks that run a couple hours after that, like I said with our two specialists down in Yuma and we also carry a cell phone.

We change off every week on who's actually covering that. Basically, we've got support 24/7 if somebody needs something and that's really nice for the customer to know that that they can call in. If we don't get to the root of the issue, or we have them install some software and then they want to know if things are going to work, they can still get ahold of us after normal business hours, and we can help them through that.

A good example of that level was last night, we had a gentleman call in. He had an issue with an S780 combine and after we did the research on it, we figured out a workaround to help him get his rotorcade shifted into second gear but we knew that there was a software update. Later on, he waited and we remotely sent that to him and then he downloaded that software when he had time. It worked out pretty well. If you don't have JDLink, that's the first thing we're going to talk about.

If you call into us and want some support, we're here, we're available to talk to you on the phone. How do we know what's happening out there in the field? We rely a lot on the communication from the customer. Sometimes the terminology that the customer has or they're looking at something that they don't know how to describe, they don't necessarily know what it is that's giving them a problem and they gave you some detail as to what it is and you really have to start answering or asking the correct questions and determining what that is.

We do a lot of that just by phone communication. One other tool that we do have available to us now as a program that we can actually send them, it's called ExpertConnect, and we can tie into their cell phone. Even if the customer has got say a lawn tractor, and they have questions about putting a belt on, if they have a smartphone and have the capability, we can send them a text, they can respond to the text and I can use my phone to see the camera on their phone and then they can really easily show me what the actual problem is.

Think of it like FaceTime, you have the ability to see that back and forth, and that's been a tool that several of those customers didn't know that we had and we've been able to utilize that, which has saved us a ton of time on the phone, trying to understand what it is that they're looking for. We send a ton of email communication out to customers, people that are, "I need a little bit of help with this."

We can look at our tech guide, we can look in operations manual, save some of the pages and send it to them, and then they have the information in front of them to look at. If they're having a tough time, like visualizing what it is, lot of the operator's manual will have nice images in there. We can take that picture, blow it up, send it to them, it'll point out exactly the connector that we're looking for, or where something might be on the tractor, a lot of the questions are where do I find this even on the tractor to start diagnosing this? Where might I-- is a connector in the cab, is it outside of the cab?

The tools that we have obviously just using the phones to support each other, but email, texting, get a lot of pictures from customers, "Hey, I don't know how to describe this, but if I send a picture of it to you, can you take a look at it? Can you tell me what I have?" Then we move that on to the ExpertConnect. There are some really great ways that we have to support the customers that are out there in the field if they don't have the equipment or have a current JDLink activation or the capabilities on their equipment.

Tony: Yes, and that's something a really good point you bring up Nate, is that you guys dealing with lawnmowers and utility tractors and some of that smaller stuff, it may not have the capability of even adding JDLink to or were not utilizing a John Deere Greenstar display or something like that. Something like ExpertConnect.

Then that communication, that's the one thing that I really find almost tough about your guys' job is making sure that that communication is very clear when you go back and forth between the terminology you use or the terminology the customer uses or what you think they're looking at but maybe they're looking at a different page, things like that. Communication is very, very vital when you're not utilizing something like JDLink or ExpertConnect.

Now, that being said, JDLink can offer on the machines that are capable of it, JT link can offer a lot of advantages to help you as well as help the customer. You brought up that story about that S780 that there is a very beneficial tool to be able to send remote software and stuff like that. I want to hear a little bit more about what are your capability is when there is a connected machine? When that machine has JDLink connectivity active, and you are able to go in, there's things like Remote Display access that I want you to talk about, and the software download stuff like that. Let's dive in and what is diagnosing a problem look like when the machine is connected?

Nate: Sure. When the machine is connected, once we have the serial number of the machine, we can go in and look up the information. If we actually tie into it, basically, we set up a connection. The RDA, or the remote data access, gives us the ability to say, okay, I want to connect to this machine. The customer on the other end then has to accept that connection. He knows that somebody is trying to tie into his machine, it's not just us blanketly going out there and looking at his machine without their prior knowledge, that's very important to understand that, that it's a communication, but it's a partnership between us and the customer that has it.

They open it up, accept it, and now we're looking at their machine just as though we were sitting in the seat, watching exactly what's happening. If they're having a problem, we can start to say, okay take me to the screen that shows what are you-- While I'm noticing that I'm throwing a lot of material over, for instance, and how can I set this machine better? Okay, now we're seeing those actual numbers as the customer is going through the field.

If we do determine like we had last night with this S780, that there is truly a software update that might fix this problem, we can then look up that information, click on that software piece and basically send that to them and the customer then accepts it and at their leisure, they have the ability to download that. The gentlemen last night wanted to keep combining, finish the field, we had a workaround for him to get by with what he needed to do, and later on, he was going to be moving the machine, and then he went to have time to actually allow that update to take place and he did that at that point. It was very flexible on what he needed to do and when he needed to do it.

Sometimes these things can be immediate. Another example, I think of is last winter, actually, we had a customer that was down in Florida and they were starting to plant. What we found out was that he didn't have the software loaded on the display that he needed in order to make that happen. We sent that to them immediately. While we're on the phone with him, he gets it, he installs it and it takes care of the problem, and now his tractor is moving again.

Think about this. We're in Fargo, North Dakota, it's the dead of winter, and now we have somebody in Florida that's getting started in the field and basically by a phone call and also being able to connect and know that what his problem is, we were able to send him the software, get him updated without anybody physically going out to that machine, nobody touching except the customer and he is moving.

How much time do we just save that customer by being able to do that? How much downtime would he had if he was sitting there? We all get busy. The local dealers that he had, were also busy at the time, it was something that a machine that they had purchased from us so he called us to help with that connected support. Those kind of things are so instrumental on keeping the machine rolling, especially in timeliness of getting a crop seated in the ground.

When we're able to connect with the machine and look at things like that, I also have some friends that have allowed me to get access into their account and I've just went through and looked at some of their machines and looked at some of the alerts that were there and later on. I said to them, "Well did you realize that you've got an alert happening?" Oh, we didn't, the operator hadn't told us or the operator had click through it and here it sat.

Now, I had a history to go back and say, yes, it had happened eight times in that machine. This is something that you need to know. The owner, who wasn't actually physically at the machine could then go into his operation center to look it up, see exactly what we were discussing, and fix it. There's a lot of things that we can do remotely to help that customer out when they have the ability with the JDLink connectivity.

Tony: Yes, you bring up the, just like what you said at the end there with the diagnostic codes and everything like that. You brought up fleet monitoring, being able to see if you're more of a farm manager, or a farm owner, and you've got hired hands out there., you can monitor your fleet. You can see what's going on with your equipment but one of the things that I really wanted to key in on was the difference between non-JDLink support and JDLink support.

It came back to me every single time is just the time. The time spent on the combine that you had to send software to. We didn't have to send a technician out to the field. That customer didn't have that extended amount of downtime because they didn't have to wait for a technician to get out to the field, we were able to push that remotely. You talk about it in a non-connected machine, having to wait for that technician or you having to talk with them over the phone, text pictures back and forth to truly figure out what's going on. To be able to one, remotely access that display and see what those DTC's are or to be able to watch the machine and how it operates. Then to being able to send software remotely.

Now, I do know that not every software payload is remote capable. I think it's based on the size of them but there there are a lot of them that are remote capable. To have that ability is a huge time-saver. We all know that in the world of agriculture time is very valuable. You only got so much time to get your crop in the ground or get it harvested and get it in the bin or the storage. The other thing, along with remote software payloads and controllers and stuff, if you have JDLink, the customer can also update displays and receivers wirelessly as well. Correct?

Nate: Right. That's right. Yes. There's a- that information can be pushed across through our WDT or wireless data transfer. That's one thing I was going to discuss a little bit is imagine that you've got- let's just say you've got three machines, for instance, or a combine running together in the field, okay. And all of a sudden, you're looking at the data and you're comparing them. You see that one machine is not performing the same way the other two machines are. There you sit as an operator, or as an owner, looking at what is that operator doing differently in that machine? How is that machine set? What can we do to increase it?

I remember, back when I went on a harvest crew, and we were on the radio with each other. We're wondering why we had machines that were having a dump in the green cart more often than other machines was because we had some machines that weren't set the same when we were throwing some of the seed over the back. We were doing that all through two-way radios to determine exactly what it was that was going on with that machine and getting out and stopping and looking.

Well now, all that data is available at our fingertips. We look at that and say, Okay, I got two machines, and they're showing that we're able to perform at this maximum performance of the machine and the other machine is just not up to par. Why is that? I think that's a huge item, that the owner can sit there and really look over what's going on with the operational machines.

Every hour that gets put on a machine costs money. If we can make those machines more efficient, get them in and out of that field quicker and it's just timeliness. Everything is about productivity and time. We really have to especially when you look at we're in a situation where every bushel right now is counting. We don't have extra bushels this year, because in most areas that we deal with, they're dealing with some type of drought. When the bushels really count, you want to make sure that every bushel is going into the tank, and that's just a real good way that you can do that and monitor that remotely.

Tony: Yes, absolutely. That brings up another another feature of JDLink actually and I know you don't dive into this realm very much. There is also the ability on S780, or s-700 series combines, if you have the latest software on your machine, you can actually remotely view and adjust the combine right from your cellphone or iPad. If you're out back behind the combine, maybe you're a field foreman and you're following a couple combines around or, maybe you're just the farm owner, and you got two combines. You're in one combine and your son is in the other combine, you have the ability to remotely view and adjust the five major settings on that combine right from your cell phone.

Definitely a lot of benefits, a lot of features when you talk about connected machines. Everything you talked about Nate huge success stories, one after another after another. Just wondering is there one more success story you'd like to share with us just something that at the end of the day, when you went home, it put a smile on your face that you got to support that customer through these remote capabilities?

Nate: I guess thinking that through just a general thought process, I guess is that when we know that if the customer is having issues, and we can tie into that machine, just knowing that at the end of the day makes things so much less stressful. I don't know that I have another specific story, I just think of how more efficient we are. That puts a smile on my face knowing that we can do things without physically being there, just sitting here in Fargo, North Dakota, and I can be looking at a machine in Washington State. I can help that gentleman, I can say, Okay, here's what I've seen, this is what's happening. Here's what we can do to help out.

It might be a software update, it might be just a setting change. Just the idea that we have the capability to do that and we can help out so many customers, without ever having to get in a vehicle drive anywhere. Not having to call somebody out there necessarily, though. That I guess to me, will leave me at the end of the day with a smile that knows that we've done the best job that we can do to support that customer.

Tony: Yes, I completely agree. It's with remote support capabilities, having JDLink connectivity, or having connected machines. It's all about efficiency, reducing your downtime, and just really keeping those machines rolling in the field. Now, if somebody wants to learn more about JDLink connectivity, or about just some of the remote capabilities that John Deere equipment has, where can they go? Who can they talk to?

Nate: Okay, you can obviously give us a call here at RDO. We've got all kinds of individuals with the knowledge that would give you that information, going to your local dealer, find your product specialist, that gentleman can or lady can help you out with that information as well. We have a couple autonomous on staff as well that are very trained, very knowledgeable about that information. If you're looking for information online, go to RDO's website and go check out what's available out there.

Obviously, you can always go to John Deere and Stellar support. That's the other thing that I would tell people to do is go look at Stellar support, they we've got all the updates that are available out there, you can download that information, put it on a thumb drive, for instance, if you don't have RDAm or if you want to do some updates, let's say to your GPS receiver or your display. The last thing that a lot of people I don't know what they're aware of, but it's a very critical thing.

If you're looking for information and you don't have that operator's manual. You just bought the machine, you don't have the operator's manual, you can't find the operator's manual for it. Go to I'll say that one more time. It's It stands for technical publications. That is a website where you can download a number of operators manuals, you can download product and improvement ways to better get better performance out of your machines, and technical documentation as well.

If you're trying to work on a machine, for instance, and you don't have any information, let's say necessarily on the transmission, well, if you go in there, more than likely you type in that model number, you're going to see the publications that are available that you can download. Now some of it has a cost to it, but you have that ability to get that manual, get it in front of you. Every day we send people to that website so they can go and look and see what's available there and a lot of people don't know that that's possible. Make sure that you know if you're looking for some of that information, that's a great website to go to and find out the data you're looking for.

Tony: Yes, I just want to thank you, Nate, for sitting down taking the time out of your day today here to talk about remote support capabilities. At the beginning of the episode, we talked a little bit about some changes with JDLink. Yes, and you said it right there, a lot of resources to go out and find information. Thanks again for doing this.

Nate: Yes. Thank you, Tony. Appreciate it.

Tony: Thanks again for tuning in to another episode. If you have questions about the technology and products discussed or have ideas about future episodes, please leave them in the comments below. You can also subscribe to our RDO's YouTube channel and be in the know about each episode or tune in on any streaming service.


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