Idea in Brief

The Problem

Until recently most incumbent industrial companies didn’t use the most advanced software in their products. But competitors that can extract complex designs, insights, and trends using generative AI have emerged to challenge them.

The Solution

Industrial companies must develop strategies that fuse what they do best—creating physical products—with what digital companies do best: using data and AI to parse enormous, interconnected data sets and develop innovative insights.

The Changes Required

Companies will have to reimagine analog products and services as digitally enabled offerings, learn to create new value from data generated by the combination of physical and digital assets, and partner with other companies to create ecosystems with an unwavering focus on helping customers solve problems.

For more than 187 years, Deere & Company has simplified farmwork. From the advent of the first self-scouring plow, in 1837, to the launch of its first fully self-driving tractor, in 2022, the company has built advanced industrial technology. The See & Spray is an excellent contemporary example. The automated weed killer features a self-propelled, 120-foot carbon-fiber boom lined with 36 cameras capable of scanning 2,100 square feet per second. Powered by 10 onboard vision-processing units handling almost four gigabytes of data per second, the system uses AI and deep learning to distinguish crops from weeds. Once a weed is identified, a command is sent to spray and kill it. The machine moves through a field at 12 miles per hour without stopping. Manual labor would be more expensive, more time-consuming, and less reliable than the See & Spray. By fusing computer hardware and software with industrial machinery, it has helped farmers decrease their use of herbicide by more than two-thirds and exponentially increase productivity.

A version of this article appeared in the March–April 2024 issue of Harvard Business Review.