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Sales and service in automotive
5 April 2012
There’s no doubt that automotive manufacturing is becoming increasingly complex in order to meet the demands of today’s customers. Chris Harries, Microsoft’s worldwide industry solutions manager for automotive, reports on the technologies that make a world of difference
(This article first appeared in the Spring 2012 issue of Prime. To find out more about Microsoft in manufacturing, subscribe to Primeor read the digital edition).
Sales and service in the automotive industry has always been difficult, and it’s not something that’s getting any easier. As differentiation has become harder to achieve, and the speed of new model launches has accelerated, advantages from design innovation can be neutralised in a single upgrade cycle. With this in mind, car manufacturers have to maximise the window of opportunity through much more dynamic and pervasive advertising and consumer engagement programmes, building up interest and excitement prior to a launch, and holding it at a high level for longer.
But getting customers interested and excited is no easy feat. In a world where consumers are heavily influenced by the internet, it is critical that the manufacturers are active participants in social communities, helping to form these opinions and create champions for their models. And it doesn’t stop here. Once these informed customers have made their decision, they are no longer prepared to wait for many months for the car of their choice – in fact too long a wait can often lead the customer to look elsewhere. This means that manufacturers and dealers need much better connectivity so that they can act on the customer’s excitement, and turn it into a deal.
“The complexity of automotive manufacturing has increased significantly over the past fifteen years,” says Eduard Marfa, Siemens PLM Software’s director of marketing for the Teamcenter portfolio in EMEA. “Today there’s an unlimited number of options available to customers, who have higher expectations for quality and service than ever before.”
“Customer expectations are higher than ever, and this has created a dramatically different marketplace,” adds Olivier Sappin, vice president of the transportation mobility industry solutions at Dassault Systèmes. “Selling a car is now all about the customer – not only when it comes to the in-car experience, but the sales experience and the after-sales experience too.”
As demand for change is increasing, as globalisation shrinks the world, as consumer choice and voice increases, and as everybody and everything becomes ‘always connected’, the key to success in automotive manufacturing lies in integrated technology systems. However, although the systems in place today keep track of every event and of every decision, they don’t help with the discussion itself. As systems of record they are fantastic, but as systems of engagement there is much work to do.
The automotive industry needs better technologies to share information across all those involved and have a 360-degree view of the customers
Dassault Systèmes “Manufacturers are constantly looking to get the most from their investment, both in terms of cost and customer satisfaction,” says Mark Gorecki, sales and marketing manager at Epitomy Solutions. “Our clients are looking to deliver a high quality process but in the most cost effective manner, and they want proven technology to deliver this. Many automotive manufacturers rely on human interaction and knowledge in the aftersales market, rather than online data analysis, when best practice points towards a combination of both.”
“Current legacy systems are undoubtedly compounding industry challenges further,” adds Iain Milligan, Epitomy Solutions’ marketing executive. “Many people throughout the supply chain are still comforted by paper-based documentation. And while we’re trying to drive forward connected solutions, many want to have paper-based solutions, particularly on the shop floor. However, to succeed in today’s marketplace, manufacturers need the consistency of information afforded by integrated technical solutions.”
Sappin agrees: “Consistency is key, but unfortunately we’re still at a stage where the solutions used by product development, manufacturing, sales and services, and customer services are all very disparate. The automotive industry needs better technologies to share information across all those involved and have a 360-degree view of the customers. The technologies required to move to the next level are already out there – but it’s about investing in change.”
This is where Microsoft technology comes into its own. Microsoft’s Discrete Industry Reference Architecture Framework (DIRA) is helping our customers and solution partners implement the elements required to achieve effective change. DIRA identifies six themes that enhance innovation and productivity to help discrete manufacturers select technologies to improve individual performance, extract more value from existing enterprise software investments, enhance cross-functional and cross-organisational collaboration, and create new customer-focused products and services to seize opportunities in a fast-changing, ever-more-interconnected world.
In addition to this, Microsoft Advertising solutions are engaging customers wherever they are, on whatever platform they are connected, whether this is on their smartphone, on the way to work, on their laptop or tablet in the workplace, or their gaming or social networking device when at home. No other company has the potential to reach people across all platforms 24 hours a day.
And Microsoft’s collaboration technologies are enabling OEMs, suppliers and dealers to share information on a new level. One example is the safe and secure yet flexible collaboration enabled by using platforms such as SharePoint and Lync within PLM solutions from Microsoft’s industry partners such as Siemens PLM, PTC, Dassault Systèmes and AutoDesk, that makes it possible to put detailed data into the hands of everyone who needs it.
“We’ve been using Microsoft technologies to develop a number of solutions that help automakers and their suppliers accelerate the development of innovative products that have higher chances of market success,” explains Dassault Systèmes’ Sappin. “Based on the PLM 2.0 architecture, our solutions integrate business process management with cutting-edge tools for design, engineering, analysis and manufacturing so that all automotive product development stakeholders can effectively collaborate throughout the lifecycle of the product. As well as our focus on the 3D experience, we’ve also created a social collaboration platform called 3DSwYm. Creating online communities enables manufacturers to gather people from different disciplines, geographies, companies and start networking, sharing information, experiences and ideas. It also allows customers’ needs to be placed at the heart of product development activity by involving consumers in the communities.”
Siemens PLM has a significant amount of experience working with global OEMs in the automotive industry. Ford Motor Group is one example which, using Teamcenter PLM technology to manage in-vehicle software, has made over US$100 million in warranty cost savings. This implementation has also set the stage for additional savings through software re-use.
“Siemens’ approach to PLM enables car manufacturers to design vehicles for commonality,” says Marfa. “Using a wide range of Microsoft technologies, the Teamcenter PLM environment provides the information that all important links in the chain need to quickly evaluate previous designs and their associated manufacturing processes against current requirements – and thereby determine and facilitate re-usability. Using solutions such as platform designer supported by Teamcenter Mobility, manufacturers can design a whole family of cars quickly and effectively, and get products to market quicker than ever before.”
Partners like Epitomy also have a major role to play here. “Our heritage is strongly linked to the automotive sector,” explains Milligan. “We’ve worked with high profile automotive manufacturers for over a decade, providing solutions built on the Microsoft stack such as Data Manager and Publisher, which bring the benefits of a single data view improved data management efficiency, enhanced data accessibility and usability, and increased dealer support driving parts sales. One of our customers, Optare Bus, provides an interesting case in point. The bus and coach builder uses our solutions to manage aftermarket part sales. Since adopting the solution it has seen a 75 per cent increase in efficiency and time savings, and has cut incoming calls by 33 per cent, which really is remarkable.”
In addition to these solutions, Dynamics CRM is providing companies with a world-class CRM platform fully integrated into existing office productivity tools such as Exchange and Excel. Furthermore, the underlying technology – what we at Microsoft call xRM – provides our customers with a core relationship management platform. Not only ideal for the emerging need for better vehicle relationship management, this platform can also help customers improve relationship management in all areas, including dealers, suppliers, partners, industry groups and legal bodies. Given the power of the platform, many Microsoft’s partners have built up capabilities to deliver specific solutions.
And finally, Microsoft is making great waves with analytics. This has long been an area of specialism, needing deep expertise in mathematics and technology, but now Microsoft’s standard database and analytics tools with very powerful visualisation are making intelligence available to anyone, without the dependency on IT departments or systems experts.
All in all, there’s no doubt that Microsoft offers a truly end-to-end platform, and this is something we’re committed to investing in long into the future. The power of the consumer voice can only increase, and technology will need to keep pace with the volume and relevance of data that will be available. Vehicle connectivity will drive a whole new world, as the vehicle itself starts to schedule its own maintenance, and as OEMs develop advanced technologies to resolve issues electronically on the road. The mass of new data that will become available will enable better product maintenance, and at the same time create the potential for the development of many new services and sales models. And we are certain to see the continued advance in virtual reality, especially for vehicle configurations, test drives and maintenance, giving a much more natural user experience. Only the connected manufacturer will be able to cope.