Author: Mr. Gopinath Jayaraj, Chief Information Officer, Tata Motors
Bringing the benefits of comfort, convenience, and personalization at our fingertips, the digital revolution has changed the way we experience life. Digital technology has allowed consumers to access products and services in ways that were unimaginable before, with the rise of information technology models such as SMAC (social, mobile, analytics and cloud). The potential provided by artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced data analytics has allowed businesses to provide an enriching and interactive experience to consumers. Against this backdrop, the automobile sector has also tried to embrace the shift to digital, enhancing its offerings to serve altered customer needs. The rise of connected vehicles is a strong testament to this shift, with vehicles slowly transforming into mobile phones on wheels.
Indeed, digital technology promises to bring revolutionary outcomes to vehicles, enhancing safety, comfort and functioning. Yet, unlike technological giants in other industries that have the benefit of incorporating digital from the very start, most automotive OEMs have had a long history in the pre-digital era as well. This means we possess large ecosystems that have been developed over years to keep our businesses functioning, and a sudden shift to digital cannot be done without hampering set processes and functions. But is there a way to bring the benefits of digital technology to our customers and our functioning, without disrupting our businesses?
Transitioning from the pre-digital to digital era
Most automotive companies have used, and continue to use, technology within their business through enterprise systems. These include records of core transaction processes, and data concerning logistics, finances, supply chains, spare availability and sales and services. The data derived from these enterprise systems is then used to improve functioning within the organization and enhance customer experience. In the pre-digital era, these systems were used to simply manufacture products or execute processes. Today however, digital technology entails going a step further, to enable a delightful customer experience and generate a favourable business outcome.
Technology in the industry then, may be seen as enterprise-based, and digital. Enterprise-based processes are typically 'inside-out'- consisting of vendor systems, interfaces and data centres, and are all crucial for the running of large businesses. The contemporary digital way of thinking is more 'outside-in' and open-sourced, comprising microservices and cloud/platforms. The core challenge and opportunity here, is not to privilege the digital mode over enterprise systems, but to weave them together.
Bringing digital thinking to core enterprises
To facilitate this blending of modes, a gradual movement towards digital, while keeping core systems intact, can be particularly fruitful. An evolutionary architecture approach seeks to transition the business to digital gradually rather than suddenly. This system may be envisioned as a nested structure with the data centre at its core, surrounded by APIs and microsystem services, orchestrated to be delivered on the distributed cloud over system. This entails getting the data flow, retaining process integrity, and integrating new models and procedures in a judicious combination of cloud and core.
The native enterprise and cloud system in turn can be connected to the OEMs' extended ecosystem- comprising distributors, retailers, and consumers, through digital applications. The structure would thus rest on a) the core systems at the centre, b) the 'edge systems' which are used by customers at the edge of the computing landscape, and c) the bridge component that connects these two-digital platforms created by the automotive company. Together, this digital ecosystem enables internal customers (employees), external customers (the people who buy our product) and the extended ecosystem (distributors, dealers, fuel pumps, toll booths, charging stations and a whole host of other services) to be connected by an evolutionary platform or mobility universe.
What does this mean for customers? You know your vehicle and your vehicle knows you. It can be customized to suit your needs, can be tracked, and will store data to facilitate ease and safety. In case there is a breakdown, since your vehicle is connected to this sophisticated ecosystem, your vehicle company can provide speedy help. Tata Motors has leveraged its digital technology and larger data system to tend to breakdowns speedily, reducing vehicle off-road times for commercial vehicles by 75%.
Evolutionary architecture for evolving businesses
We must remember that ultimately, the automotive industry's move to digital is not about switching off an old system. It is about embracing mutually symbiotic systems in such a way that we take the wealth of knowledge and data available and provide that in the context of a digital ecosystem for our customers. This revolutionary change will be affected through evolutionary architecture-we must mindfully evolve our businesses in tandem with the evolving times.