It’s been said that no man is an island.  And, in the ever-changing automotive industry, that’s Mechanic working under carnever been truer.

Broadly speaking, in the 20th century, a vehicle’s parts were the key elements that defined it.  Each individual part did its function and wasn’t designed to be compatible with, or responsive to, everything else.  It was taken for granted that parts were, and would always be, the fundamental building blocks of the automotive equation.

Today, however, with new electronic control systems (auto braking, lane-change warnings, transmissions and fuel management), system engineers are evolving vehicular design in groundbreaking ways.  Today, a vehicle is essentially an I/O bus with wheels.

The fundamental shift in automotive technology means people with mechanical abilities can no longer work their way through various makes and models and simply “fix” all problems.  The common denominators of vehicular design are becoming a thing of the past.

Now, systems rule.  And, people who could once wrap their head around most automobiles are finding it beyond their abilities.  Increasingly and rapidly, as new standards and technological advances arise, simply rolling up one’s sleeves and working in some elbow grease won’t cut it.  In fact, the notion of an automotive system is being redefined – the whole is no longer just the sum of its parts.

In today’s automotive industry, everything is designed, engineered, and integrated, and is specified to work as a system.  New demands call for interoperability.  From original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), and throughout each new vehicular system, customer expectations for innovation drive change.  And depending on how the industry responds, that has the possible outcome of either creating real value or unsatisfying imitations of value.

So where does new technology leave the industry moving forward?

Between the Internet of Things (IoT) and interconnected devices, there comes a deluge of data. There’s more data created every ten seconds than in the first hundred years of the Industrial Age.  And, there is great potential to make intelligence out of that data.

But what’s needed are ways to take it, understand it, and create simple suggestions or predictions that can be acted upon.  If we can’t do that, we fail.

A need for design that’s simple and intuitive, and that creates real business value, must go beyond the hard sell.  This is the conundrum of today: how to simplify in a world of complex systems and boil decisions down to yes or no answers.

Fuel management systems are good examples of trying to serve the underlying value.  They’re being designed in ways that can adjust to personal driving habits or particular conditions.  Vehicles learn and adjust to the driving patterns of individual operators. Did you know vehicles that travel into mountainous areas can adjust to altitude changes to save fuel?

Another example is Tesla’s ride-height suspension.  The vehicle adjusts chassis height, responding to speed and road conditions.  And if there’s ever a problem with that system, it sends a universal software upgrade alert, adjusting the vehicle to fix that problem.

Other industry trends are demonstrated by the way a company functions.  BMW designs its models, but increasingly, it’s the suppliers who are actually building them.  In time, this could lead to a new business model where vehicles are more about a sum of intellectual properties than component parts.  Design and innovation are where the business opportunities are.

Simplifying for the future

Whatever advances come along, there will be fundamental questions to keep the automotive industry in check: Is the technology creating something that is relevant to the driver?  How much technology and simplification does one person desire versus how much the next is willing to consume?

Automotive manufacturers will also have to ask themselves: What business value does Big Data analysis provide to customers?  If a value proposition isn’t fully recognized, there will be a whole lot of ‘so what?’

In the new networked economy, with billions of data points and ubiquitous vehicular systems, the industry ultimately needs to create actionable, simplified intelligence.  Platform solutions like SAP HANA can handle and manage the amount of information needed, while arriving at simple decisions.

Want to learn more about this topic as it relates to manufacturing? Attend the SAP Manufacturing Industries Forum June 23-25, 2015 in Lombard, IL. View the event brochure to learn more.

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