From Mars to ERP: The 250 million mile subscription service

Excerpts from an article by Karl Flinders on

Today being able to get a taxi from anywhere by tapping your phone, with all payments settled immediately seems pretty normal. Autonomous cars are already becoming inevitable in most peoples’ minds. It won’t be too long before you tap your mobile and your own car comes to pick you up, and that’s without a helpful relative, or anyone for that matter, behind the wheel.

So what’s next? A subscription to a data service 250 million miles away, which automates the ordering of new machinery, that’s what. Subscription billing software is not the most exciting subject to be writing about, but the colonisation of Mars no matter how subtle the link is.

That’s exactly what heavy machinery manufacturer Caterpillar is planning.

First a bit of background. I spoke to Tom Bucklar, director of IoT ad digital solutions at Caterpillar, at the recent London conference of subscription billing software maker Zuora about this.

NASA could eventually use a subscription based model with a manufacturer to monitor or replace the machines that will be used to prepare Mars for colonisation by humans, and the machines used to support the colonisers afterwards.

This not only has obvious benefits for NASA but also the machinery suppliers.

Caterpillar manufactures machinery such as trucks and earth moving equipment and it sells or rents these out in a traditional way through its dealers. But the company is now looking to sell services on top, known as Cat Connect services, which involves changing how it serves and charges customers.

Through a subscription model Caterpillar can charge for the services without the painful journey from CRM to ERP or quote to pay as it is also known. You don’t want the signal from the machine 250 million miles away taking less time than the second part of its journey through Caterpillar’s and NASA’s back offices.

Providing an efficient back office is certainly not NASA’s core business so automating quote to pay for parts is something else it doesn’t need to spend time and money on.

Scientists likewise don’t want to be maintaining machinery and setting off a transaction for a new part when needed. So remote monitoring systems, connected to a service that automatically informs users of the status of machinery, and automatically orders and pays is attractive.

Caterpillar already has over half a million units of machinery connected to its services and this is growing, said Bucklar.

Read the full article on

And watch this video with Tom Bucklar, Director of IoT & Channel Solutions at Caterpillar where he outlines the company’s various IoT services and the role of the subscription business model.

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