Great Challenges for Information Management German Manufacturers
BY JÜRGEN MÜLLER
(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 2 2019)
The German automotive industry is currently under tremendous pressure. While manufacturers are still occupied with eradicating the damage to their reputations resulting from the emissions scandal, there are growing expectations in terms of the development of electromobility. Furthermore, there is a whole series of additional innovations and technologies that are revolutionising the driving experience on the one hand and the manufacturing process on the other. Those who don’t keep pace will soon suffer as a result, as these developments are already taking place. There is no time to stop and think.
When it comes to trending topics such as electromobility or self-driving vehicles, you automatically think of Tesla and Nio – traditional European manufacturers rarely come to mind. It is often said that the German automotive industry has missed the boat with regard to the most important development of our time. Manufacturers seem to only gradually be understanding the urgent need to change their way of thinking. It therefore came as a great surprise to the media and competitors alike when VW introduced its new strategy concept at the beginning of the year. Large-scale staff cuts for a decisive turnaround towards electromobility and autonomous driving – the general consensus ranged from ‘ill-conceived knee-jerk reaction’ to ‘response to undisputed facts that has come in the nick of time’.
It is undeniable that doing nothing is not an option. In addition to fundamental issues, there are many other aspects that pave the digital road that lies ahead for manufacturers. As the products that we tend to have in our lives for the longest, vehicles particularly rely on customer loyalty. Those who have good experiences with a brand are less likely to choose other manufacturers when it comes to purchasing a new car, as they do not have any experience with other marques. Successful customer communication should therefore always be at the core of a business strategy. These strategies could include highly professional marketing activities that ensure consistent branding even in the case of global players, providing interactive websites that allow potential customers to configure their dream car and a long-term after-sales strategy based on personalised service. But all this information must first be connected behind the scenes before knowing which contents containing which elements should be sent to which customer at which point in time, as it is impossible to carry out this task manually.
For one thing, an increasing number of functions and technologies in the vehicle are required in addition to ever-shorter production cycles, which places a great deal of pressure on internal structures and processes. The production process thus shifts into the focus of the manufacturer as the objective of the digitalisation strategy. In fact, there is already a whole series of innovations that help save time and money, thereby freeing up resources for a more creative and open development process. VR and AR can help optimise the design concept, for instance, while connecting the digital twins of various parts helps keep the supply chain as lean and efficient as possible. The highest possible level of transparency – in other words, the knowledge of which parts are available when and where and in what quantities – offers enormous optimisation potential. This simultaneously reinforces compliance and guarantees it in the long term. Good PIM and ERP systems are a must-have in this scenario, as they provide answers to these questions at all times.
Vehicle connectivity is another important issue for the automotive sector. The sole purpose of cars is no longer to transport the driver from A to B. Instead, consumers want to be entertained and thoroughly informed during a trip, while simultaneously expecting various electronic assistants to support them and to provide maximum safety. Cars are therefore increasingly becoming senders and receivers of information, which makes them vulnerable to cyberattacks. For this reason, comprehensive security measures that protect the interfaces of various communicating systems are indispensable.
Regardless of whether manufacturing processes, customer communication or Industry 4.0 issues, high-performance and flexible data management is the foundation of every innovation in the automotive sector. A central storage location for all master data allows the necessary governance structures to be established so that the data held is clean, correct and reliable. This can simultaneously guarantee workflow management, which supports the efficient use of resources. Contemporary solutions must also be agile enough to be able to flexibly adapt to new circumstances, thereby being capable of communicating with various neighbouring systems and microservices and guaranteeing long-term sustainability.
The Teslas of the world have an advantage over the established automotive industry in that they are not built on traditionally grown structures – be it in IT or within the organisational structures. For many, the greatest challenge may not even be the technological revolution, but rather the necessity to tear down internal boundaries and set themselves free. This is the only way in which to design new concepts and business models and ultimately join the immense and imminent digital revolution.
After studying mechanical engineering and obtaining an MBA, Jürgen Müller initially worked in international management consulting before switching to the software industry and taking over the management of Viamedici Software GmbH in 2002. Jürgen Müller is an expert in digitalisation and product information management.
Picture credit © Viaframe/Getty Images