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When cloud hits the road - how automotive manufacturers are tapping into Google, Salesforce and Microsoft to drive transformation

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan October 14, 2022
Putting cloud transformation into top gear at Mercedes-Benz and Ford Motor.


The Connected Car has been an emerging theme in the automotive industry for some time. This week has seen three major announcements from three separate cloud platform providers about how they’re aligning with the disruption in this space.

First up was was Microsoft which announced a partnership with Mercedes-Benz to extend its MO360 data platform to over 30 passenger car plants globally. The platform is already in use in EMEA, but will now be rolled out in the US and China as well.

Built on Azure, MO360 gathers data from across the vehicle production process, then creates a virtual version that enables Mercedes-Benz engineers and managers to spot potential supply chain problems early and be able to tackle them more quickly. Overall, the firm expects to see a 20% increase in current vehicle production efficiency levels by 2025.

The company also argues that the platform makes the global production network more intelligent, sustainable and resilient in an era of geopolitical and macro-economic challenges. The platform  enables dynamic allocation of operational resources within and across plants to prioritize the manufacturing of low-emission and Top-End Luxury vehicles.

According to Jan Brecht, Chief Information Officer of Mercedes-Benz Group AG :

With the MO360 Data Platform, we democratize technology and data in manufacturing. As we are moving towards a 100% digital enterprise, data is becoming everyone’s business at Mercedes-Benz. Our colleagues on the shop floor have access to production and management-related real-time data. They are able to work with drill-down dashboards and make data-based decisions.”

There’s also a strong sustainability angle to the use of MO360 as it supports Mercedes-Benz’s Ambition 2039 strategy of becoming carbon-neutral by 2039. The manufacturer plans to have more than 70% of its energy needs met through renewable sources by 2030.

Ford motors on

Meanwhile over at Google’s Cloud Next event, the firm’s partnership with Ford Motor came under the spotlight. Under a six year deal, Ford previously named Google as its preferred cloud provider with millions of new Ford and Lincoln vehicles set to be powered by Android and have Google apps and services built-in.

Ford and Google have set up a joint working group, Team Upshift, to work together on the former’s digital transformation push and explore new areas of collaboration, such as emerging retail channels or enhanced personalization of customer experience.  The manufacturer also aims to accelerate modernization of product development, manufacturing and supply chain management, including potentially using vision AI for manufacturing employee training and more reliable plant equipment performance.

Meanwhile, beginning next year, Ford and Lincoln customers globally will find Google apps and services built-in to their vehicles, such as Google Assistant to allow drivers to execute actions via voice; Google Maps as the primary navigation systems; and Google Play to provide music, podcasts, audiobooks etc.

Speaking at Cloud Next this week, Ford  CEO Jim Farley provided an update on progress, saying:

At the heart of our business at Ford is a commitment to meet the evolving needs of our customers. Now that is a lot of corporate speak, but I want to spend time with you today to bring to life our transformation. Technology, in particular the digital capability to connect a car, shipping software to cars, allows us to deliver and develop a customer relationship in ways we've never been able to do in 119 years.

This is a really big deal for us at Ford. For me, the real revolution in auto is digital and Ford intends to lead that revolution. We're turning our vehicles into generators of data that will receive continuous updates. We can ship software directly the car, delivering incredible value for our customers. We're just approaching 5 million software updates. We're leveraging that data in new ways, like  telematics for our commercial customers and Ford Pro. We see our vehicles being able to do preventable diagnosis themselves for service. We're investing in a whole new generation of talent. Coders and software engineers from so many tech companies want to join Ford because they know we're going to ship some great software and some great products.

There’s also an aim to super-charge the use of AI and machine learning, he added:

We doubled our number of AI-powered solutions last year by putting advanced AI and ML capabilities in the hands of our employees, not just our data scientists.  These advanced software tools make EV charging easier or parts shipment more efficient. They even help us race better on the weekends. We're using Google Data Cloud to power operational data and analytics to improve our manufacturing operations, efficiency and quality. I hear this all the time when I go to our plants.

Ford has also been working with Salesforce on VIIZR, a tool that combines Ford Pro, Ford’s commercial vehicle and service business, and Salesforce Field Service, to help tradespeople, such as plumbers and electricians, schedule field appointments, send invoices and manage customer relationships from one integrated, cloud-based platform.

Automotive Cloud

For its part, Salesforce sees the vehicle industry as a sweet spot, yesterday announcing Automotive Cloud, as its latest industry-specific cloud, aimed specifically at automakers, dealers, automotive finance groups, and their customers. Built around Driver 360 - a version of the wider Customer 360 offering - Automative Cloud is pitched as providing:

...exceptional service and experiences with Driver 360 across every customer interaction, drives revenue through better lead conversion and collaboration, and leverages industry-specific automation, intelligence, and real-time analytics for increased productivity and cost savings. 

The company argues that only one percent of automotive customers are fully-satisfied with their car buying experience, while only 25% of automakers and dealers believe their companies have adapted well to selling online. Achyut Jajoo, SVP & GM of Manufacturing and Automotive, Salesforce, says:

The automotive industry is facing a new digital imperative amidst massive upheaval brought on by the rise of direct-to-consumer models and the dawn of the electric vehicle age.

Built with industry-specific data models and processes for the automotive industry, Driver 360 includes:

  • Driver Console - to provide service teams with a complete view of every customer interaction through continuous touchpoints and customized alerts, from car browsing and purchase history to service journeys.
  • Vehicle Console - to provide automakers, dealers or finance groups easy access to comprehensive vehicle information, such as odometer readings, vehicle market value and real-time service and repair information. 
  • Automotive Data Foundation - to support interoperability, intelligent data protection, global regulatory compliance, and flexible data sharing.
  • Automotive Lead Management - to enhance collaboration between dealers and automakers by using customer and vehicle histories to route the most high-value leads straight to an individual’s preferred dealership along with a complete snapshot of their wants, needs, and history.
  • Dealer Performance Management - to empower analysis of dealership performance by region and monitor lead pipelines.
  • Flow for Automotive - to provide intelligent automation with click-based configuration and integration tools to simplify the build and delivery of branded and automated experiences.
  • Analytics for Automotive - to deliver insights to monitor automotive manufacturers business via purpose-built dashboards tracking sales and business performance, customer and asset lifecycle, and revenue trends.
  • Salesforce Genie  - to unify customer and vehicle data across all channels and interactions.

My take

An industry sector that has its foot on the accelerator pedal when it comes to cloud-enabled transformation.

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