As the automotive ecosystem becomes increasingly electronics-driven, software and technology companies are seeing the opportunity to leverage their own expertise that a traditional automotive OEM may not possess. While some firms aim for disruption with new systems or services, IBM is bringing a different approach with its Watson, IoT and Blockchain technologies.
“The focus is to bring our technologies in a very consumable manner, co-create with customers in six- to eight-week cycles and build new mobility solutions,” explained Sachin Lulla, Global Vice President for Automotive Strategy and Solutions Leader at IBM. He said the company "is all about where do we strategically partner, bring in capabilities that may not make sense to invest in, and extend our capabilities.”
Recent examples of the "new IBM" include the formation of AutoLAB, the group behind the 3-D-printed autonomous vehicle, called Olli, produced in partnership with Local Motors. IBM has also partnered with BMW and General Motors.
AutoLAB has three key strategic imperatives. The first is to transform products and services, which includes connected vehicles. The group started by developing a basic platform that any automaker can utilize for their vehicles that connects current electronic systems such as infotainment to be ready for future capabilities of the vehicle.
IBM can then build advanced functionalities like cognitive computing on top of that platform. Emerging IoT technologies can then be integrated into the automotive experience that would otherwise have remained disparate.
The second imperative is to transform operations. This includes technologies to support manufacturing 4.0 and Blockchain, IBM’s solution for supply chain tracking. It is a single solution that can track a product from initial sourcing to final sale. The software is designed to be shared by all partners in a business network without any single party having permission to delete any record for a secure history of transactions—including any legal, financial or logistical documentation.
The third imperative of AutoLAB is to transform the experience. One such experience involves the automotive retail process. IBM envisions the possibility to transform how a customer researches a vehicle online all the way to the test drive with augmented and virtual reality. AutoLAB is also leveraging Watson, the company's supercomputer that combines artificial intelligence (AI) and analytical software to serve as a “question answering” machine, to create a more predictive and personalized vehicle experience. Watson can analyze a trip and suggest possible stopping points to refuel, or recharge, based on the options along the route.
The group even sees possibilities for Watson to assist with maintenance and repair to ensure vehicles are running at optimal performance or are fixed correctly the first time.
“We are really embedding our digital capabilities across the automotive value chain,” noted Lulla. “It all comes back to the experience you want to deliver. If you get that wrong, none of this really matters. The last best experience is your minimum expectation now.”