The modern tractor is a very sophisticated piece of machinery, replete with sensors and software that generate masses of data.

Manufacturer John Deere gathers and uses this data for maintenance and other purposes and does not like the idea of farmers tinkering with its product and making DIY repairs as they have done for the best part of a century.

“John Deere have a lock system on their new tractors, without a lock code you cannot put it back into service after you have repaired it,” says Gartner distinguished analyst, Kristian Steenstrup.

“But farmers being the resourceful people are downloading software from Eastern Europe and jailbreaking their tractors.”

Steenstrup told IoT Hub this story to illustrate what Gartner is flagging as a potentially significant issue for many industries: ownership of and access to data generated by equipment, and data gathered in the course of operating and maintaining equipment.

“Once you start to put a value of data and it gives you a competitive advantage, inevitably people will fight over it,” Steenstrup said.

“We have seen early signs leading Gartner to sound some warnings to clients to make sure they are prepared for it. I don't think it has to be very controversial but if you leave it too late you could have a problem.

Steenstrup has co-authored a Gartner report on the issue: Data Ownership of IoT-Connected Equipment Poses New Challenges for CIOs.

It warns “There is a battle brewing for control of equipment data. Unfettered by privacy rights (since machines have no rights) it is unchartered territory for many companies. Equipment makers want exclusive access to the data for product improvements, and potentially a maintenance and support relationship.”

Steenstrup said Gartner had already had reports from clients of challenges over data. “For example, a client launched a data analytics project then found they did not have access to the data from their machines because the supplier had that locked away and was using it for their own analysis.”

Steenstrup said the problem could also appear in relationship to data gathered in the course of maintaining a piece of equipment, or infrastructure.

“A power company in North America owned the power lines but had outsourced the maintenance for over decade and the maintenance company retain the data.

“The utility never put in an obligation to pass that back to them so the maintenance company knows more than the owner and any potential competitor about what the costs are and the issues of maintaining that network.

“If a company owns or operates an asset but outsources maintenance and does not include a data retention clause we think they are giving away valuable data.”

Gartner is recommending that companies look at the software embedded in equipment and at the contracts they have and work out the rules of engagement.

“They should at least ensure they have the right to access and a copy of maintenance history and equipment performance so they can choose how you conduct that down the track,” Steenstrup said.

Gartner sees a key role for CIOs in raising awareness of the issues. “CIOs need to raise the flag because they are responsible for how data is governed in their organisation,” Steenstrup said. “They are the right person in most organisations to put their hand up and say we need to do this right.”