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Automotive Industry´s digital awakening

Blog: Capgemini CTO Blog

The automotive industry’s digital awakening began a few years ago, with autonomous driving, the electrification of driving, connectivity, new mobility concepts and the combination of on- and offline. Mostly, the implementation of digital transformation is still regarded as a technical task, but in fact it is more a question of cultural transformation. Especially with connected cars and mobility there is a convergence between automotive companies and internet giants like Google, Amazon, Tencent and Alibaba as well as with consumer electronics leaders like Apple and Samsung. The competitive landscape of Automotive is under significant change. While fundamental performance values like the number of units sold continue being relevant, new approaches like invoicing by mileage or per ride are emerging, and with them growth prospects. Even more than electric cars digitalisation and autonomous driving seem to change the industry. Players like Didi (Tencent Group) in China or Uber in the US are driving a trend where reach, customer contacts and customer centricity are in focus. With this trend comes the integration of design thinking into established automotive players, to systematically develop consumer centric product and service innovations.

Newcomers in connectivity and mobility have the advantage that there is no need taking into account traditional technologies, existing structures or business models. Their market capitalisation depends more on future perspective than on today´s profitability. Meanwhile the established players need to balance both margin from current core business and investments into the future. Nevertheless, if in this phase of upheaval, public trust in the company is shaken, as it exemplary occurred with the diesel scandal, then the pressure for a quick transformation is increased. And despite continued good sales figures, the “burning platform” is visible for changes.

In particular within the technology divisions of companies, a change in thinking is noticeable: Agility, task boards and scrum sprints have conquered automotive companies and their suppliers. Small cross-functional teams step up and follow agile role models like Spotify, ING DiBA and Google with the idea of clear client focus and result-oriented processes. Prototypes are developed within a short period, not only by innovation labs, start-up garages or data hubs, but also in the traditional line.

This development is accompanied by the improvement in software skills of the value chain in the automotive industry. Nevertheless, the distinguishing feature of the manufacturer remains the product, which has now to be enhanced with mobile software to become the ultimate mobile device. Instead of developing another variance of powerful combustion engines it might be more relevant to identify services around mobility and to gain practical experiences with those services. At the same time, it is crucial to form a portfolio which is in line with the essence of the brand. Only in this way the connection of digitalisation and the car leads to new possibilities, highly attractive, client-focussed offers, a strong market position for the future, improved risk management and above all, long-term prospects.

The challenge lies in implementation: How can the development cycles of product and software be reconciled? How do planning processes that are traditionally oriented towards the development of vehicles become agile and multi-layered? How do purchasing processes and regulatory frameworks fit together with the ideals of agile development? For support divisions in particular such as purchasing, HR, marketing, finance and planning, the new digital culture is a big challenge.

The current structural change brings new tasks and new competitors to the established leaders of the last decades. It carries new chances and new risks, where all relevant players have started to reinvent themselves. The top down clarity to drive the change which goes along with massive investments demands respect. Nonetheless the true hurdle to overcome is the transformation of pure product companies to customer centric players. After many years of successful development the “iphone moment” is visible for automotive industry. This means elegant devices with user centric consumer electronics are coming to market. The race is on.

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