This coming December, a Ford Focus will roll off an assembly line in Germany and an identical one in the U.S.. It'll be Ford's first truly global vehicle-designed by teams around the world, the same car, using the same factory design, coming out simultaneously in multiple regions. That wouldn't be possible without the collaboration and data sharing platforms the IT teams led by CIO Nick Smither have implemented.
Ford's doing better than most in the hard-hit auto market. Though May sales were down 14% from a year ago in a slow European market, they were up 23% in the U.S. Ford got through the recession without a massive government bailout, and it has a fresh product lineup, from its Flex and Edge crossovers to new work vehicles such as Transit Connect.
The U.K.-born Smither joined Ford's European operations 30 years ago in product development, moved to the U.S. to integrate its South American operations, and became CIO in 2006.
IT works right alongside product development teams in advancing Ford's Microsoft-based Sync system, which links smartphones, music players, and a growing number of Internet services for safe use in the vehicle. It reflects Smither's strategy of keeping IT people close to business units. "We have people embedded in each of the skill teams, so we have IT people working with the development team around things like Sync, and the same is true across each of the other functions," he says.
A second major front for IT innovation is collaboration. For teams around the world to design vehicles and factories together requires one global IT infrastructure for data sharing, something Ford has built the last several years. For more informal collaboration, Ford relies heavily on videoconferencing, and increasingly on Microsoft SharePoint to let teams set up profiles and their own sites to work on projects. With a diverse employee base split across time zones and geographies, Smither says, "the whole social media is a huge opportunity." -Chris Murphy