Mobile // Mobile Applications
Commentary
11/14/2011
09:31 AM
Chris Murphy
Chris Murphy
Commentary
Connect Directly
LinkedIn
Twitter
Google+
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Why Ford Just Became A Software Company

Ford is upgrading its in-vehicle software on a huge scale, embracing all the customer expectations and headaches that come with the development lifecycle.

What does it mean for Ford to become a software company? Most importantly, it means two different innovation cycles: one for the metal, one for the software.

It takes Ford about two-and-a-half years to plan, develop, and build a new car. But it can develop a new software interface in months--and update it again and again over the life of the car. When creating a hood, given the required stamping machinery and assembly line setup, manufacturers must set the design long before the car rolls off the line. Automakers can change software much closer to launch, though the code still faces rigorous testing.

Jablonski paints a picture: Imagine a fast-moving gear and a slow-moving gear, each of which must mesh at precisely the right moment to create a vehicle.

Ford’s upgrade also shows a timeless lesson of software: Version 1.0 is inevitably flawed, if only because until code lives in the real world, it'll have too many of some features and not enough of others. With the first version of MyFord Touch, drivers complained that there was just too much information--rarely used buttons for power users, for instance, were nearly as prominent as essential ones, like the radio volume.

The new version reacts to customer feedback by moving only the most used features to the foreground, and the fonts are up to 40% larger for the most important functions. In tests of the new software, "people are using words that I wouldn't expect, like 'calming,'" Jablonski says.

New Skills, Processes Required

Being a software company has also forced Ford to add new skills, which it has been doing over the past 10 years. Some of those were classic application development skills that a software company would have. Ford partnered with Microsoft to develop Sync, so Microsoft helped to "infuse Ford" with an understanding of what's needed to develop software, Jablonski says.

A second big thrust is for "human-machine interface," or HMI, engineers. These are people who study how people interact with technology. Ford has been cultivating these people from within since the early 2000s. HMI engineers come from a range of backgrounds, from software development to mechanical engineers. They're people who can live in worlds of art and science at once.

The biggest challenge, though, is deciding what goes in and what stays out of this software platform. "We essentially have a PC in the car, and there's no shortage of ideas of what we should do with that PC," Jablonski says.

And there's also no end. Unlike designing a new car or truck, where there are clear timelines when a new model comes out and where the development ends, and when work on the new model starts, the software cycle is less clear cut. "Unfortunately, there's no finish line in my job," Jablonski says.

More On Automakers' Tech Strategy:

Ford And Toyota Team Up To Speed Development

Toyota's Friend Network Will Test Customer Ties

Why BMW Suddenly Loves Mobile Apps

Previous
2 of 2
Next
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
pfischer681
50%
50%
pfischer681,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/2/2011 | 7:12:32 AM
re: Why Ford Just Became A Software Company
I own a 2011 Ford Edge and I downloaded the new update two weeks ago and dropped it on a flash drive and plugged it in to my ford and after a 30 minute upgrade all was fine. The voice recognition works great and the whole software package makes me more nimble and efficient. Using Microsoft Sync and MyFord Touch is like using any other interface and that is the "key" is to figure out what you need and just use it as an active input. Make technology an active interface for you as opposed to a passive one.

Microsoft Sync running in a new Ford makes MyFord Touch the next big thing. Watch as all other car companies jump in as there's no finish line in this race.....

ChrisMurphy
50%
50%
ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
11/21/2011 | 1:06:35 PM
re: Why Ford Just Became A Software Company
Ford is trying to get more people like you --- it's mailing out the USB drives in hopes of seeding the habit, getting people comfortable with downloading. That's a big part of what's changing -- not just that Ford chooses to do continual software updates, but that customers come to expect it and take advantage of it as well.
nanana
50%
50%
nanana,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/20/2011 | 10:13:01 AM
re: Why Ford Just Became A Software Company
While I share your view I can certainly understand that some of the "non-power users" would need a stick sent by snail mail.
GPOTTER1233
50%
50%
GPOTTER1233,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/19/2011 | 4:02:11 PM
re: Why Ford Just Became A Software Company
I guess there wasn't much fanfare and you missed it but we passed that Rubicon a year or more ago. I own a 2010 Ford Mustang with Sync and I've installed two major software updates over the past two years. Honestly, snail mailing out flash drives seems like a step backwards from the previous practice of sending out an email with a link to the download and installation instructions.
ChrisMurphy
50%
50%
ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
11/16/2011 | 4:32:58 PM
re: Why Ford Just Became A Software Company
Ralph, thanks for sharing your experience. You touch on a key idea -- there's no shortage of deep tech talent at places like Ford. But even given that depth, learning to develop and support and update a customer-facing piece of software is a different ball game. And more companies are going to need their tech teams to play that game.
ANON1242306966576
50%
50%
ANON1242306966576,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/15/2011 | 7:13:37 PM
re: Why Ford Just Became A Software Company
It's been over 30 years since I worked as a contractor for Ford's Computer Science Department, but I certainly remember it being state of the art at that time. In particular, providing my first exposure to structured software development methods and tools. Admittedly, the software being developed was for support of Engineering R&D activities, e.g. crash simulation and analysis, not embeded embeded real-time systems.

Ralph McNall
Building A Mobile Business Mindset
Building A Mobile Business Mindset
Among 688 respondents, 46% have deployed mobile apps, with an additional 24% planning to in the next year. Soon all apps will look like mobile apps – and it's past time for those with no plans to get cracking.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
InformationWeek Tech Digest - August 20, 2014
CIOs need people who know the ins and outs of cloud software stacks and security, and, most of all, can break through cultural resistance.
Flash Poll
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.