Courtesy Caterpillar Inc.
Telematics systems are now available on most heavy machines, such as this loader backhoe.

Caterpillar Inc.’s recent announcement that it is investing in Chicago-based technology startup Uptake is a strong signal of the construction industry’s current appetite for data analytics.

Contractors, rental companies and others who use heavy equipment have for years had the ability to collect data from their fleets. But much of that data is based on history—things that have already happened on a construction project. A new digital age is on the horizon that will allow equipment users to get out in front of their projects and more accurately forecast costs, failures and operational inefficiencies before problems occur.

Cat recognizes the potential of this technology to help it and its dealers service its clients better. “Customers use our current technology for fleet monitoring and to track fuel efficiency, idle times, location and more,” said Cat Chairman and CEO Doug Oberhelman, in a statement March 5 regarding the company’s minority stake in Uptake. “Our existing solutions are effective, but it’s time we take it to the next level.”

Telematics systems available on most heavy machines, trucks and tools are now beaming out what Cat describes as “quintillion bytes” of information every day. With the diverse brands of equipment that fleets are now integrating into their data streams, one can see quickly how fleet managers can become overwhelmed. How are construction managers expected to make sense of all that information while managing a project? This is where the analytics tech, such as Uptake’s, comes into play.

“We want to empower our customers with the insight necessary to shift from a reactive ‘repair after failure’ mode to a proactive ‘repair before failure’ stance,” Oberhelman said.

Few specifics are available about Uptake’s platform, but the company promises to bring a new dimension of business intelligence and benchmarking that will soon be available to construction companies, similar to what Uptake is already doing with Cat’s locomotive business.

“Our platform takes massive data provided by sensors, combines it with data science to understand signals and patterns and deploys insights in real time that save money, optimize performance and prevent unplanned downtime,” said Brad Keywell, co-founder and CEO of Uptake.

In the end, Cat and its dealers expect to use these real-time dashboards to gain deeper knowledge about how their machines are being used. At the same time, construction engineers think they will be able to spend less time managing machines and focus more of their attention on solving construction problems.