Product Thinking in Digital Automotive

Managing Director Valtech Germany

May 31, 2016

The term digital transformation has been omnipresent in the IT business ever since MIT Center for Digital Business and Capgemini published their first report on digital transformation in 2011. Digitalization has percolated through every social and economic area of our everyday existence.

Digital agencies, such as Valtech, have made it their mission to escort companies on this path of change – and therefore we offer services for all enterprise digital touch points. Our portfolio encompasses the entire range, from eCommerce and digital experience solutions to UX and service design to digital strategy consulting.

While digital transformation is dealing with changes in the value creation chain of the company, the Internet of Things (IoT) focuses on the networking of the physical products themselves. The idea behind the Internet of Things has been around for a while already and the term IoT itself was coined as early as the turn of the millennium by the Auto-ID Center of MIT. The more puzzling, however, is it that to date, no standardized IoT infrastructure across businesses has emerged.

Valtech has accumulated many years of solid experience in the area of networked vehicles. For more than 15 years, we have been accompanying the connect programs of various carmakers. As a strategic partner, we collaborate with one of the three biggest OEMs on its central backend platform for managing the connectivity of the vehicles with the outside world on a global level.

What happens next?

Digital change is on full throttle and even seems to be accelerating. More and more areas of application are being identified and the integration points of products with their outside world are steadily on the rise. Today, I expect that my car is able to couple with my smart phone to unlock it, to put a service call to the car repair shop of my choice and to help me to make an appointment, if the need arises. I also want to be able to access my social media accounts while driving without being distracted too much. I’d also like for my car to show me the shortest way to a vacant parking spot and, ideally, reserve it for me. Furthermore, it should also inform me about accidents and danger points on my route.

The sky is the limit if it comes to imagining what else hybrid products (half physical, half digital) could be capable of! However, this also comes at a price! The complexity of it all is daunting and the use of the products, in particular their configuring, is often neither easy nor intuitive. As is well known, Apple responded to that problem with its Genius Bar rather early in the game. This successful concept was adopted by BMW with the introduction of its Product Genius in 2014.

The primary challenge, though, still remains: to design the products of the digital world to be easier and more intuitive to use. Service design, user design and product design should not be worked on separately – they need to mesh.

Ever since the Bauhaus design movement – dating from the first half of the 20th century – we have had here a long tradition of combining industrial products with an aesthetic, practical and timeless design derived from the intended purpose of the product. The ten tenets for good product design by Dieter Ram still hold true to this day, and can be applied to today’s hybrid products.

Today’s objective is to transfer these design principles into the digital world and think of solutions that are close to the product and serve their purpose. Good design is always simple.