Driving Change - InformationWeek
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Driving Change

Five business-technology leaders in the auto industry talk about their challenges

CIOs in the automotive and truck industry are accelerating change at their companies, more closely aligning IT with business practices, improving the standardization of processes, and driving the use of evolving technologies in their supply chains. On the following pages, you'll meet five leaders who are using IT in innovative ways to move their companies into fifth gear.

Investment In I.T.

Susan Unger credits her background in economics and finance for the success she's had as DaimlerChrysler AG's senior VP and CIO. Unger, who holds a bachelor's degree in economics from Michigan State University and an M.B.A. in finance from Wayne State University, began her career at Chrysler in 1972 as a financial analyst in sales and marketing and held various financial positions until being appointed to her current post seven years ago. "It was in finance where IT brought the first huge change ... that helped people achieve great new things," she says. "My finance background has taught me to treat IT as an investment."

Unger makes sure the 
DaimlerChrysler projects she's directing will have a payoff.

Unger makes sure the DaimlerChrysler projects she's directing will have a payoff.

Photo by Bob Stefko
So Unger makes sure the projects she's directing are going to have payoffs. One of the most significant examples of this is DaimlerChrysler's U.S. grid, which was deployed two years ago to connect 256 PCs to let engineers analyze their designs more quickly. With about 30% of U.S. computing resources devoted to analytics, the time savings that come from enabling engineers to take advantage of unused processing power, especially in the evenings, adds up fast.

"The speed has been incredible," Unger says. "When our engineers used to submit tests, they'd have to wait days and days for the results. Now they come back the next day."

Besides saving time, there's another benefit for the $192 billion-a-year automaker: cost savings. The grid has reduced by about 20% the number of new systems DaimlerChrysler has had to purchase for such tasks, Unger says. The project has worked so well for engineering that grid computing will likely expand soon to other areas within the company, such as finance and sales, to save costs while boosting processing power, Unger says.

DaimlerChrysler also is investing heavily in what Unger calls its "Catia pipeline," or digital factory. The goal of the project, which began in 2002, is to improve production facilities and cut new-vehicle construction time by 30%. "This is one of the ways we're aligning business priorities with IT," she says.

With CAD and Catia product-life-cycle-management software from Dassault Systèmes S.A., DaimlerChrysler designers are able to construct virtual assembly lines to see how they can be optimized for existing and new Chrysler and Mercedes plants. "It is amazing software," Unger says. "It will highlight machines, show how the robotics work, and highlight areas that may need adjustment in red," she says. Unger estimates the digital factory can save DaimlerChrysler 30% in factory-production-planning time and more than 10% per square foot on plant floors.

The software has been used at several plants, including the North Assembly Plant in Toledo, Ohio, and the German engine plant MDC Power GmbH in Koelleda.

DaimlerChrysler also is experimenting with how the technology can help improve auto services. The simulation software can model the work a mechanic has to do on a car to install a new part, and if it's problematic, DaimlerChrysler can reengineer the part before the car goes into production, Unger says.

"There's nothing IT can't get done," Unger says. Technology already has helped shave 3-1/2 years off the six years it used to take for the automaker to get from idea to product, and that's just the beginning. "The important thing," she says, "is to stay focused on the major business goals."

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