Ford CIO Marcy Klevorn will speak at the automotiveIT Kongress March 17 (Photo: Ford)

It’s been little more than a year since CEO Mark Fields formally announced that Ford Motor was making some fundamental changes to its tried-and-tested business model. “We are driving innovation in every part of our business to be both a product and mobility company,” Fields said in a keynote address at the 2015 CES consumer electronics show. The carmaker needed to get ready for “an all-new model of transportation and mobility within the next 10 years and beyond,” he added. Since then, the company has been committing more resources to new mobility and has announced a number of new initiatives. Among them: The launch last year of of 25 new mobility experiments, all aimed at moving the carmaker into areas that go beyond the mere production and sales of automobiles.

Marcy Klevorn, a longtime Ford employee, became the carmaker’s global CIO January 1, 2015. Both Fields and Executive Chairman Bill Ford asked Klevorn to play a big part in the company’s quest to become more of a technology and software company and Klevorn has been heavily involved in all aspects of the transformation. In an interview with automotiveIT, Klevorn, who will be a featured speaker at the March 17 automotiveIT Congress in Hanover, reflected on her first year in office and the role of IT in the new Ford.

Cyber security, the development of a new technology platform, car connectivity and big data all feature prominently on Klevorn’s agenda. She obviously needs to keep Ford IT running but her top priority is to help the carmaker position itself for the new-mobility era.

“I spend most of my time on issues like ”˜do we invest in a new company?’ or ”˜how do we progress our big data operation?” or ”˜how the latest technology could benefit our customers,’” she said. Other key parts of the job involve deciding how to work with particular suppliers, if a new technology should be made available to all Ford employees worldwide or whether, on the commercial side, the fruits of a particular partnership are ripe for production. Ford, like Daimler, is working with Silicon Valley software specialist Pivotal to speed up the rollout of connected-vehicle technologies.

As Ford adapts to a world where car systems need to be developed faster, it is changing some long-held basic beliefs. One of them is that all systems need to be 100 pc perfect and that it can take a long time to develop them. It’s not just about speed, Klevorn said, but also about how much risk-taking is acceptable. “In our manufacturing plants we obviously tolerate little risk, but in emerging spaces we can experiment more.”

Ford’s 11,000 strong IT organization still needs to keep car-manufacturing operations running so they can build 2.6 million cars and trucks each year. But as the new-mobility part of the company gets bigger, new IT specialists are needed as well. Klevorn was slightly worried earlier that many IT staff would want to move to what she calls “the emerging side.” But that hasn’t happened. “Many people are proud to work in our core area and they are comfortable and have the skills to work there; they are very happy with their contributions there,” she said. “In new technologies, you often need a different person who is comfortable with ambiguity and not everybody is.”

-By Arjen Bongard