Ford the automaker is celebrating its double identity as a software company, heralding the 5 millionth vehicle sold carrying the SYNC in-vehicle software.
For a reality check on how hard it is to embrace software development, listen to Ford CTO Paul Mascarenas. In the video below, Mascarenas discusses two big challenges: recruiting talented software developers and engineers, and meshing the "that's-so-six-months-ago" mobile software mentality with the years-long process needed to design a new car.
Ford noted its 5 million mark last week with its SYNC development partner, Microsoft. But earlier this fall, Mascarenas talked in-depth with InformationWeek 500 conference attendees about the challenges Ford still faces in the journey to become a software company.
Companies in a range of industries will face this same software challenge as they create customer-facing technology, from embedded software like Ford's to mobile apps. Here are two key excerpts:
On recruiting development talent: "Electrical engineers coming out of college aren't really thinking about the auto industry in the way we would like to have them thinking about the auto industry," Mascarenas said.
He singled out electrical engineers because that skill is in particularly short supply. Ford is trying to get graduating EEs to think of a carmaker as a place to go to create zippy customer-facing experiences, not just to build systems that run antilock brakes and windshield wipers (although carmakers need those, too).
Ford faces the same challenge in recruiting other technical talent, from software developers to "human-machine interface" designers. In particular, Mascarenas sees growing demand at Ford for controls engineering, software engineering and core electrical engineering.
On the pace of development with software: When Ford comes out with a new vehicle, such as its redesigned Fusion and Escape models this year, the mechanical features have been locked down for about two years in order to get them tested for quality and safety and to set up factories to build them. With software features tied to SYNC, Ford can make changes less than a year before launch.
Ford needs to move at least that fast to keep its software from looking stale since SYNC's interface will be compared with Android smartphones, iPhones and tablets that evolve at least every year. SYNC lets drivers do things like interact with apps on their smartphones using voice commands. Ford has an ongoing challenge, Mascarenas said, to mesh in these faster-changing features and technology into what is still a longer, more traditional product development cycle for the vehicle itself.
Ford grabbed an early lead in in-vehicle electronics, but all its competitors now offer voice controls and integration with smartphone apps. In the video below, Mascarenas discusses the new pace of competition at Ford as both a maker of cars and trucks and as a software and consumer electronics company. CIOs across industries will have to learn to live with a similar dual identity.
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