Breakthrough Insights

Automotive Disruption on Many Levels


Andrew Byers will be speaking about changes in the surrounding processes for the automotive industry at the IESF conference in Detroit on June 1

As an engineer, one of the most heroic and ideal programs I’ve ever studied is Apollo. The sheer effort, creativity, and fundamentals required to execute the various missions should be studied and appreciated by all types of engineers and program managers. The Apollo program kicked off a new era in technology acceleration in the US and by extension the world. It was disruptive in its own way.

In our lifetimes we’ve seen computers migrate from the backrooms to our desks to our laps to our wrists. We’ve seen phone move from the wall to our pockets to our … wrists. Now we are seeing all the same forces that fuel this computing/software technology boom coming to change automotive. Actually, already changing.

This blog entry is not about the changes to the automobile as they are covered in different articles every day. Connected cars, heads up displays, autonomous vehicles. You’ve seen the news – it’ll be here sooner than we think.
This blog entry is more about the changes to the surrounding processes.
Think about traffic lights – will we need them with smart, connected cars?
Think about insurance. Will we be insuring drivers or warrantying products?
Think about offices. Will you drive to your eye appointment doctor’s office, or will it drive to you?

Now, if you are an automotive engineer, think about the hyper-convergence that is happening in your own world. You have a product that is increasingly defined by software, not hardware. You are designing a platform that will be updated and changed in the field via 5G Wi-Fi. You will need to communicate with SW Coders, DevOps, UX teams in a way you never have before. This will be an exhilarating and scary time for many engineers. But ultimately the automotive industry will emerge stronger and more flexible.

These rapid changes in technology integration will cause subsequent changes in product development processes. Gone will be long development cycles and once-a-year releases driven by Gant charts. Software-born terms like “Agile” or “Scaled Agile” will infiltrate the lexicon. This will also force an evolution in the tools that program managers and architects use to adapt to these cross-pollinated concepts.
When we think of tools, we think of things that sometimes replace humans. Ironically, the tools needed to deal with the convergence of disciplines should enable more human discussion instead of automation. This is because the intersection of hardware engineers, software designers, and firmware programmers is too complex to allow a “smart tool” to handle. It will be a rich, nuanced discussion between human beings. The context and purpose of this discussion needs to be supported and captured in order for a product to be built. This is a disruption of our thinking on how to manage projects.

My colleague Derwyn Harris recently reminded me of a great scene in the Apollo 13 movie where Houston needs to figure out how to fit a square scrubber into a round hole to save the astronauts on the ship. They end up dumping all the same objects that are on the spacecraft onto a table and say “we have to come through.” Needless to say, they succeed by working together, creatively and urgently.

There is no doubt that engineers, people, can come together under pressure to disrupt industries and pull together different elements in novel, ingenious ways. We are seeing it in the Automotive industry today. Those of us who are designing tools for you need to remember this and deliver platforms that enable this type of collaboration. The disruption in automotive being experienced today has far-reaching waves and I’m looking forward to what things look like as we come out the other side.