Dr Rene Deis, chief information officer and digital transformation leader at Faurecia, explains how the fundamental role of IT and software development in the automotive industry is changing.

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Faurecia CIO Rene Deist say partner management is crucial in today’s IT world  (Photo: Sam Diephuis)

Rene Deist joined Faurecia from Robert Bosch in April 2017. As CIO of the French automotive supplier, he has overall responsibility for all matters involving information technology. That includes the digital transformation of the company, its path toward faster product development and its strategic move into digital services. Deist, whose LinkedIn profile identifies him as “CIO and digital transformer,” has degrees in mathematics, computer science and economics. Last month, he was a featured speaker at the automotiveIT International conference in Atlanta. 

How has IT changed in recent years?

Yesterday, IT was there to implement best-in-class processes. IT was an integrator of software. You either used that as a differentiator or you went for a standard product if no differentiation was necessary. Today, it’s all about partner management. We focus on platforms and try to combine innovation, knowhow, and the power of startups, universities and other companies. You aim to create value out of data and it’s not so much about integrating software into processes. That’s still important, but it’s more important to foster outside innovation. That’s why we have changed our organization to introduce partner management.

And what do you focus on at Faurecia today?

We want to help drive revenues by creating value out of data. At Faurecia, we have a tremendous opportunity because we build complete car interiors. We can get a common understanding of the people in the car, which is why we are moving into health and wellness at high speed. We use artificial intelligence (AI) to learn which kinds of digital services we should offer people in a particular situation. We’re building a platform on the basis of data and AI.

Faurecia has been around for a long time as a maker of seats and other interior systems. How is the cultural shift toward digital services going?

You’re right that we are still a very mechnically driven company. Most people still have a mechnical engineering background. But with our recent investments in connected-car specialist Parrot Automotive and [Chinese infotainment company] Jiangxi Coagent Electronics, the digital understanding is growing. We have launched a digital services factory and are now also more directly involved in software. When I joined Faurecia a year ago I predicted that everyone will work in IT in this company a few years from now. I’m convinced that in three to five years everyone will work in IT. We’re teaching people to work with software and we offer platforms for this. We also have our own university, which offers training in new technologies such as blockchain. But this digital transformation journey will not be over until we have the next generation of people.

Still, you’re dealing with the need to speed up development today.

The car development cycle is still seven years and in seven years the IT world will have changed. That’s why you need agile methodology. And you need to focus on what the digital world can offer and what people need. The car is like a universe and it serves as an integrator. IT is very fast in reacting to new trends. We introduced the concept of business architecture at Faurecia. IT looks at how it can make offers to the business that we can combine like Lego bricks.

You’re convinced that software will define all products, including cars.

Look at ECUs (electronic control units). I think ECUs will go away and become virtual. In future, we will have a different network architecture. We talk about the software defined local area network. You can also envision a software defined data center. And we will have a software defined car. Call me a software nerd.