How Volvo’s IT team is extending the reach of the connected car
Klas Bendrik, group CIO at the Swedish car group, outlines the increasingly vital role the technology organization plays in creating human-centric, hyperconnected vehicles.
For Klas Bendrik, group CIO of Volvo Cars, it’s a new service that represents the perfect marriage of the ‘connected customer’ and the ‘connected car.’ An online shopper clicks on the ‘buy’ button and, when their order is ready, it is carefully deposited in their parked car by a delivery driver equipped with a one-time digital key to open the trunk. Simultaneously, the shopper is alerted via their smartphone that the delivery is ready to be driven home and unpack at their convenience.
This is the innovative service that Volvo Cars launched in Sweden in late November just in time for the holiday season shopping frenzy. Initially, the in-car delivery service covers just a few retail partners — Swedish online grocery retailer Mat.se and toy and baby goods store Lekmer.com — with the country’s national logistics provider PostNord handling fulfilment. The service is so far only available in the Gothenburg area to drivers of late model Volvo cars models equipped with the company’s On Call in-car control and entertainment system. But Volvo has big plans to roll the service out much further, says Bendrik, bringing in a host of other retailers in different regions and countries.
“This is the kind of modern, connected experience that customers will increasingly expect, and it’s a huge opportunity. So we’re very proud to be the world’s first automotive company to deliver it,” he says.
The three partners involved in the initial launch were chosen for their shared vision, and followed a 2014 pilot of the service. “They’ve shown that they’re interested and willing to push themselves further in exploring the future of retail with us,” he says. Most importantly, they were willing to do the work involved on the IT integration needed to give customers of the service a seamless experience.
It took the best part of six months for his team to fine-tune the cross-partner systems integration so that it was ready for the launch in time for the Christmas rush. “But the technical integration wasn’t the biggest or most complex aspect,” he says. “It was making sure that the business workflows and verifications were all in place so that we could fulfill customer demand for convenience and ease of use.”
In other words, you don’t roll out a service like this without rock-solid guarantees that it will work and that customers will find it compelling. One thing that has helped, he says, is the cloud infrastructure that sits at the back end of On Call, which makes it easier to roll out new services and applications to vehicles equipped with the system as these become available. That means that integration is not only achievable through fairly standard APIs, it also means that in-car delivery can be made available to drivers of two-year-old Volvo XC60s, as well as those driving this year’s newly redesigned XC90 model. And that is alongside services such as in-car music streaming and applications for identifying and paying for parking spots and locating restaurants close to the driver’s destination.
The guiding principle here is that any new technologies that are introduced should enhance the driver’s experience of owning a Volvo car — ensuring services are aligned to the region in which the car was purchased and the way the owner wants to use it. “Technology used in a human-centric way has always been important to Volvo and it’s still what guides us in our rollout of new services,” says Bendrik. In effect, the On Call system provides a platform for a global company like Volvo Cars to offer and integrate new applications and services on a market-by-market basis, according to the needs of a particular regional audience.
All that makes this a “fantastic” time to be working in IT at an automotive manufacturer, says Bendrik. “All the technologies that we have seen change the world in the past few decades — digital commerce, cloud services, mobile connectivity — are now transforming this industry rapidly. So the job of CIO for a company like Volvo is changing too.”
IT’s guiding role
Bendrik and his team are very much in charge of all the technologies used to design and manufacture cars. And, naturally, they’re responsible for keeping the back-end systems that support the sales process running smoothly — applications such as finance and supply chain. But increasingly members of the IT department are working closely with their colleagues in R&D and contributing to the development of what has become an information-rich customer experience.
And they’re also playing a far greater role in the company’s strategic direction — something that is seen as vital following company’s resurgence after its 2010 acquisition from Ford by Chinese multinational automotive manufacturing Geely and an $11 billion investment from the new owner.
Says Bendrik, who sits on Volvo Car’s executive management team and reports directly to CEO Håkan Samuelsson: “[In IT], we’re playing a big part in how the company asks vital questions about its business. When can we launch the next model? How do we bring in the next wave of sales? How do we decide on the services and capabilities that our customers will expect in future? What does our journey as a company look like?”
One development that will certainly inform the answers to such questions is the rise of autonomous vehicles. Volvo is already hard at work on a self-driving car, having announced plans earlier this year to test its autonomous driving system, Drive Me, with 100 vehicles on the streets of Gothenburg in 2017.
Since Drive Me uses a combination of cameras, lasers and radar to keep track of a vehicle’s surroundings, and live flows of big data to and from cars, there’s plenty here for Bendrik and his team to get their teeth into.
“Autonomous driving is all about connectivity — but it’s also about customization. You should be able to choose between enjoying the experience of driving on a favorite route yourself and then switching to autonomous mode when it’s less fun — when you’re in a congested area, for example. That means you can use that time to check email, book a restaurant or some other activity.”
With that in mind, Bendrik is looking forward to a period of intense innovation. “There’s still a big gap between where we are now and a future where totally connected, autonomous cars are rolled out on a wide scale. But the incremental steps we’re taking are closing the gaps, while already delivering important value to drivers today.”