Technology is one of the greatest forces changing how business gets done. With today’s pervasive connectivity and widespread access to information, customer expectations are rising and enterprises need to become more responsive in order to remain competitive. No business or industry is immune.
In the automotive industry, leadership sees that differentiation at the pure product level is increasingly hard to achieve and even harder to sustain. New features that provide an advantage appear in competitive vehicles in short order. Everyone recognizes the battle for market share is shifting to be all about the customer experience in and around the vehicle. And the relentless pace of technological advance means technology itself provides no defense.
So how can automakers compete in today’s digital world?
The customer experience battleground
According to Forrester Research, “in this age, the only source of competitive advantage is the one that can survive technology-fueled disruption: an obsession with customer experience.”
You have to obsess about the resulting customer experience, and today’s leaders know that to become a customer-obsessed organization, they must transform into a digital business.
That experience is increasingly influenced through digital engagement, and in many cases the experience enablers – often comprising apps and services delivered via the cloud – get updated at “consumer speed” throughout the life of the vehicle.
This is requiring a new way of thinking about quality practices, shifting from a focus on the car as an end product to becoming the guardian of the resulting consumer experience throughout the lifetime of ownership.
The quality shift
For the quality organization to be this guardian of the consumer experience, its scope has to expand in two dimensions. It needs to cover these apps and services, and it needs to do this not just in the launch configuration but continually over the product’s lifetime.
As the industry trends toward intelligent vehicles, many aspects of the customer experience will depend on software, and on services delivered through software. The automotive industry is really on the journey to becoming a service-centric industry, where the vehicle becomes the platform for a sustained customer experience delivered through services.
In product definition terms, we are at the start of a new era. And with it, a new level of quality management is born, one that needs to manage delivering both a vehicle platform that will stand the test of time, and a set of continually developing services as part of the customer experience.
This shift brings a new set of suppliers, a new set of service portfolios to be managed, and a degree of complexity many magnitudes greater than before. The explosion of digital experiences is also creating an equivalent explosion of data, from the vehicle itself to external sources like social media. And while capturing and reasoning over this data is the first step in developing new quality practices, with so much data, our old-world tools will buckle under the weight.
New tools to manage quality
Fortunately, these same technology advances have created a rich set of capabilities that can advance the quality industry today. These include:
- unlimited cloud storage and processing power,
- a new generation of data management and analytics tools to provide insight from the explosion of data,
- connected consumers who want to engage in defining and testing new ideas, and
- new standards and formats that are being adopted across the industry.
Coming up, I’ll look at each of these four capabilities, what they mean for the automotive industry, and how Microsoft is putting them to work in its own business as we all make the shift to services-oriented businesses.