The long view

Folks started arriving early to hear the day 2 customer keynote speaker, Alfred Katzenbach from Daimler AG.


Herr Katzenbach is the Director, Information Technology at Daimler.  He started his presentation with a video of some of the coolest cars on the road today – all of them wearing three pointed stars.


Commenting at the close of the video, he said:

Such emotional products can only be developed with IT that helps us get to the emotion.

Now then for the meat of the presentation.  It was pretty clear from the start that Daimler takes a long term view of things.  In order to really decide where you need to go over the long term, you have to understand the fundamental drivers, not just what’s on the surface.  One of the main drivers Daimler is trying to adapt to is growing product complexity.  Herr Katzenbach relayed a surprising (to me anyway) fact:  The current S-class Mercedes has as many ECUs as the Airbus A-380!  Additionally the radio and nav system have over 20M lines of code.  This is all on top of one of the most advanced powertrain and suspension systems on the road today.  Clearly the modern car is complex.  At the same time though, the modern driver expects everything to just work easily – one of many pairs of opposing force that Daimler is faced with today.

Others are centered on the systems used to develop these compelx products that are simple to use.  Those systems need to handle growing complexity but remain integrated.  They need to follow standards but also be flexible.
All of these challenges pull in opposite directions so it is very exciting when you find a solution that actually can meet these needs.

So what is Daimler doing to address these challenges?  Investing in new projects of course! 

The first project mentioned has the codename “Request” (N.B. it seems clear from this conference that one key success factor for all engineering projects is that they have code names.  Logos are extra credit!) which is focused at the requirements engineering process.  In the past all requirements were at best captured in a series of word documents.  Now, Daimler has a standard system to capture requirements.  One interesting aspect of this project is that Herr Katzenbach doesn’t really consider it an IT project. It was more focused on the need to educate people and get them to change the way they work.  If more ‘IT’ projects were scoped out that way, I think they’d have a better chance to succeed.

The next project is codenamed “Duke” and is a system that will provide the basis for comprehensive testing.  The project started with by setting the standard definition of a test: definition, planing, execution, and interpretation of results.  Regardless of whether its physical or virtual, mechanical, electronic or software the process is always the same.  From this basis a tool set was develop to help the engineers of each discipline work through and document each phase.

Another project mentioned was something that is still in development: “caEdm” will provide a platform for CAE data management.  Over the past 7 years Daimler has seen a 42% increase in simulation projects,  resulting in increased data results to manage, interpret and share.  The goal behind this project is to have one base model for all simulation engines that is connected to Daimler’s central geometry store.  Requirements are defined and they are looking at potential partners now.  A decision is expected by the end of the calendar year – I hope it’s good news for us wink

No IT presentation would be complete without at least some discussion of SOA. Daimler is taking a very pragmatic approach linking SOA adoption directly with business need.  Specifically Herr Katzenbach sees SOA as the way to solve all of those pairs of opposing forces.  Daimlers basic approach has been to develop a common view of the development process and then create role based workplaces.  This workplace requires a common engineering client that is based on standards and can pull and combine data from all the backend services and data stores. 

A common engineering client prototype was developed with packaging engineering as the primary role this year.  The prototype is being enhanced and will be rolled out at the first of the year.    Every existing and all new systems that Daimler brings in will use this common environment as its UI.  It sounds like the hype of a portal for every pocket and purpose is finally getting close to reality.

The common engineering workplace and the specific projects that Daimler is investing in will certainly give it an edge.  Other companies dealing with complexity and while trying to build products with real emotion would do well to follow their example.
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