John Deere, Russian thieves and the double-edged sword of supplier lockdown [Opinion]


Recently there was a funny story about how John Deere used his tractor kill switch to turn $5 million tractors stolen by the Russians into scrap. I agree with what they did to these thieves, but the fact that a “kill switch” exists and how John Deere and others use technology like this is not good news.

Instead, it’s a problem with the industry shift to technology as a service that we need to think about and mitigate, because John Deere isn’t just using kill switches to keep customers safe, but to exploit these customers for money. Not only is this practice bad for customers, it can also kill the business using it if safeguards are not put in place to ensure this power is not abused.

This week, let’s talk about kill switches, lockout, and how suppliers can fall down a rabbit hole of customer abuse and destroy themselves using a strategy like John Deere’s. We’ll end with my product of the week, a cool microphone from HP’s subsidiary, HyperX.

My personal lockdown journey

The reason I react so badly to programs like John Deere is because when I worked at IBM, it was a big proponent of the lock-in strategy. I reported it as a problem and IBM nearly went under soon after.

I had been assigned to help with unresolved customer complaints and discovered several serious issues. The first was that Royal Bank of Canada had several Severity 1 issues that had not been resolved for over a year. The Royal Bank of Canada was not just a signature account, i.e. it was overseen by several senior executives, it was an essential account in the Canadian market.

Severity 1 issues were mission critical to the company encountering them, and we tracked how long it took to resolve them within minutes. Having multiple issues at this level open for months was supposed to be unheard of but, in my investigation, it turned out to be very common because the support organization had played the system, making it seem like the issues were resolved quickly in reports when they hadn’t been fixed at all.

The reason IBM got away with it was that it had a lockdown policy in place. A lockout policy makes it extremely difficult for a customer to switch providers. Since IBM had basically founded this policy decades earlier, they were very good at it. Customers are effectively at your mercy as the cost of switching to another provider becomes extremely costly and disruptive.

I remember reporting several ways we were abusing customers to the manager I reported to. He put his arm around my shoulder and said, “What you don’t seem to understand is that we do sell air, the customer has to buy what we sell, and we can charge for that. we want because that customer has no choice. .”

Vendor suicide by lockdown

But customers still have a choice, and they left IBM in droves, nearly bankrupting the company. Customers don’t like to be mined for money. IBM learned that lesson the hard way, and now interacts and connects much better. More importantly, he avoids lockdown like the plague as he has found that using it is ultimately suicidal.

Today, IBM sets the bar for honest customer service, but due to its overreliance on lockdown, it has lost the IT market dominance it once had.

An earlier example of abuse that was not allowed at IBM was when a technician, after being notified that a customer was not renewing their contract, logged into the customer’s phone system and removed access to the trunk so that the customer can still call within the company but can no longer call outside. This was particularly problematic given that cell phones had yet to be invented. In this case, the technician was quickly terminated and service was restored as our division head was also on this client’s board of directors.

The lockdown was an example of how power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. You can see this playing out in the coverage over the past few years with John Deere using customer lockdowns resulting in well-deserved supplier hatred – and their practice was instrumental in creating laws who make approaches like this illegal.

But the “kill switch” function is important as we have just seen in the example of the Russian thieves. It’s common in programs like GM’s OnStar to prevent vehicle theft, but it shouldn’t be used in a punitive way against customers, especially farmers, who historically fix their own machines (I grew up on a farm and a ranch).

As the first article I linked pointed out, the use of a kill switch to lock a client into services they don’t need is spreading widely. Another company cited in the article is Medtronic, which is one of the leading manufacturers of ventilators. Their practice is to lock anyone trying to fix a fan out of the system and brick it. It was a huge problem during the pandemic when there weren’t enough ventilators and approved technicians couldn’t travel during the lockdown.

Automakers have used kill switches to prevent the use of unapproved components. There’s actually a good reason for that, as substandard components can lead to safety issues, but as implemented it seemed more about making sure you got your parts from the OEM of the car only to ensure the quality.

As a third-party vendor, there should be a path to have your parts tested and authorized. Otherwise, ultimately you will just be mining the customer for money and eventually that customer will abandon the brand and go somewhere else.

Conclusion: the real problem with lockdown

As we move on to products as a service, it is essential to understand that programs like this can lead to blocking. The real problem is that companies that implement this policy tend, over time, to view customers as resources and exploit them for money while offering less and less perceived value in return.

Locking doesn’t have to be anti-client. Until the 1980s, IBM successfully used it to treat customers like family and maintained its focus on customer service until the mid-1970s after the retirement of Thomas Watson Jr. .. After that, they increasingly took customers for granted by selling them “air” and the company nearly went bankrupt.

This lockdown policy will end badly for any company that doesn’t refocus on customer needs to ensure powers such as a “kill-switch” are used to help customers, not punish them. Device-as-a-service programs are, by nature, foreclosure programs, which means they will need to be linked to surveillance to ensure that the provider is not exploiting the customer for money, but to better guarantee the experience and safety of the customer’s product. .

My advice? Avoid any provider that uses a lockout policy like the plague.

Tech Product of the Week

HP HyperX Quadcast S USB Microphone

HP HyperX Quadcast S RGB Microphone

I was at an event last week on HP Security that reconfirmed that HP has the most robust approach to customer security of any vendor I cover.

HP also gave us a preview of upcoming products which I can’t comment on, but on the desktop they were using, they had the coolest gaming/podcasting/zoom microphone I’ve ever seen. Called HyperX QuadCast, this microphone is amazing.

Given the new normal of working from home, we’re all doing cool things with our workspace and home offices.

For many of us, our offices become shop windows. I have multiple gaming rigs in mine with custom lighting.

This microphone can be color adjusted or waveformed (where the colors change automatically). Not only does the microphone work great, it looks awesome!

The capacitive mute button on the top is quite handy. Its tap-to-mute functionality can prevent an audio misstep with the help of the LED mic status indicator.

HyperX QuadCast mute function

If the light is on, the microphone is active. If the light is off, the microphone is muted. You can adjust the gain, which is also convenient during a video conference call or while gaming.

The price range varies by provider. It retails for $160 but I found it closer to $120 recently which is a bargain. Currently, it’s on the HyperX site for $129.99.

The HP HyperX QuadCast S Microphone looks so good and works so well, it’s my product of the week.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ECT News Network.

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