How Ford Is Building the Connected Car – Wall Street Journal
So says Marcy Klevorn, the Ford veteran who became company’s chief information officer in January 2015.
Over the past year, the 56-year-old Ms. Klevorn has expanded Ford’s presence in Silicon Valley and taken a broader role in product development as software becomes an integral part of every vehicle.
Ford also is experimenting with ride-sharing and pay-by-mile rental cars, expanding it research fleet of driverless vehicles, and in April will roll out an app called FordPass that will allow both Ford owners and nonowners alike to do things such as reserve and pay for parking spots or rent out their vehicles to other drivers.
The Wall Street Journal spoke with Ms. Klevorn about her role in turning Ford into a market leader in connected-car technologies. Here are edited excerpts:
The right mix
WSJ: As Ford introduces new technologies into vehicles, how has the way the company thinks about IT changed?
MS. KLEVORN: The scope has totally changed. When I started 32 years ago at Ford, information technology was payroll processing in some backroom somewhere. Then it became about business-process mechanization to find efficiencies.
And now, truly, you have to almost think about how do we [leverage IT] to help our customers and help Ford. Now, we really have to think more about the revenue side of the equation.
WSJ: From a customer perspective, what am I going to see inside or outside of the vehicle from Ford that I haven’t seen before?
MS. KLEVORN: When you think about something like FordPass, it’s really about how Ford can help you improve your life and make it more efficient, whether you purchase a car or not. It may be in the vehicle; it may be outside the vehicle. One of the paradigm shifts that we’re experiencing as a company—and where we’re kind of disrupting ourselves here—is that our business model used to be a one-one relationship with a person and a vehicle. That is changing. My son lives in New York City. I would like him to be a customer of Ford through these other services that we can provide.
WSJ: What is the biggest challenge of bringing FordPass and these other “connected car” technologies to market?
MS. KLEVORN: It really gets back to the integration and the architecture. There are going to be a lot of things you can put in the vehicle, as well as things you can interact with outside the vehicle. I think it’s getting that mix right, and figuring out how artificial intelligence plays into it and how to support it when something goes wrong. How all of this fits together and how we integrate everything will determine who wins.
WSJ: What do you mean by getting the mix right?
MS. KLEVORN: I think about things such as, is there something I can do inside my vehicle that today I have to do outside my vehicle? If I could do those things inside my vehicle, then when I’m stuck in traffic for a half-hour I might do more of them. Improving customers’ lives may have nothing to do with the vehicle per se, but there are things that people need to do that can be brought into the vehicle. [The challenge is finding] the right balance, where it isn’t an overload and where it isn’t distracting to the driver, where you really are improving their lives, not complicating them.
Another issue is customer help. The trend over the last several years has been if something goes wrong you’re first encouraged to go to a website and try to solve your own problem. I see the trend swinging back to more hands-on [help]. Let us interact with you and use the interaction to learn about you as a customer. But then you have to be mindful of cost and you want to respect people’s time. So that’s another balancing act. Sometimes you can do too much and it ends up being complicated and confusing.
WSJ: How do you persuade customers to use the new technologies Ford is developing, and what can you learn from them?
MS. KLEVORN: We have had modems in our electric vehicles for a while, so we’re using that to start the connected-vehicle data platform. And that will be a platform of data that we’re pulling off the vehicle—with our customers’ permission, because it’s an opt-in program—and analyzing to see if there are more proactive ways we can tell you about service opportunities.
[For example,] can we coach you on a better route, knowing that you always do X-Y-Z every single day? Can we connect with your home and as you approach turn your heat on, or open your garage door? If I see that you always go to Starbucks
on Tuesday, do I send you a coupon to say here’s a free coffee on Tuesdays?
WSJ: How do you start to educate people about vehicle software and engage them in a conversation about what it can do for them?
MS. KLEVORN: This reminds me of a personal experience. I moved to Germany a few years ago—I was CIO of Ford in Europe—and I’m thinking of my mother. She was 70ish at the time. She wanted to be able to communicate with me via FaceTime or somehow keep in contact with me. So we went and got her a MacBook Air, and she went to the Apple store because she could sit down next to somebody and ask questions. After getting a little bit smarter [about the technology] and trying some things, she could then go back and ask more questions. It wasn’t intimidating.
When I think about our vehicles, nobody’s going to bust out the manual and read through pages of stuff, although we do provide that. Today, people usually want to learn through experience and by talking to other people who have had those experiences.
So I [see us doing more with] crowdsourcing, providing group experiences, chat experiences, and even rethinking the way we do on-site support here at Ford.
There are situations where people want to sit next to somebody with their technology and have a conversation. For consumers and their vehicles, I think we have to be more like an Apple store, where there is someone I can talk to who is approachable and not intimidating. And then, once I learn a few things, I can take my vehicle back and maybe ask another question or join an online group of other 75-year-olds who have my vehicle. We need to think more like that.
Mr. Norton is a reporter for CIO Journal in New York. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Write to Steven Norton at STEVEN.NORTON@wsj.com