Greater China CIO Marc Lampe (Photo: Daimler)

Marc Lampe moved to Beijing as regional CIO of Daimler’s operations in September of 2013. Before taking charge of the carmaker’s IT operations in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, he was responsible for IT in the German company’s vans segment. Lampe’s primary job in China is to support the growth of Daimler and its Mercedes-Benz passenger-car division in the world’s biggest auto market. One of his core responsibilities is the rollout and further development of a new Salesforce-based CRM system designed to meet the needs of the fast-growing market. Earlier this year, Lampe spoke to automotiveIT by telephone about CRM, the opportunities in China and the goals for the next few years. The interview was first published in the February edition of automotiveIT International magazine.

Please tell us how your first 18 months in China have been?

To summarize in one sentence: For IT people this is the place to be. The dynamism, the speed of change and the flexibility you witness here are breathtaking. This atmosphere of change is fascinating and challenging.

How does this fast-changing environment affect your day-to-day operations?

In many areas we abide by a global template that applies to China as well. We’re bringing many of our global solutions to China and without such templates and such standardization, we would never have been able to move so quickly with some of our projects. Of course, things change extremely fast here and the ecosystem is totally different. Just look at the big three internet companies: Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent. Or take the Chinese firewall, which means Google Maps is not available. In this case, we have to use Baidu apps, which hasn’t been a problem whatsoever. The Chinese companies have been as professional, quick and flexible as US companies.Some have even been faster and they support us across the board.

What priorities did your bosses in Stuttgart set for you when you went to China?

In China the priority is growth. The Chinese market is very important for Daimler and we’re having massive growth here. IT is there to support that growth and we have significant targets in production, sales, after-sales and financial services. In the IT area we have about 80 projects planned for 2015.

And other priorities in your day-to-day business?

We also look at the Chinese market as a driver of innovation.There are thousands of startups here and some of the issues are different from those in Europe. Look at smartphones. There’s a whole generation of young people here that has grown up with only smartphones.They have skipped the laptop or desktop computing phase. That’s important for application development,where we need to have a mobile-first strategy for China. I still have problems working on a spreadsheet on a mobile phone. The question is whether you need a spreadsheet. For example, in China the Wechat communication platform is used for everything. You can send a PDF, book a taxi, make a micro-payment. And with more than half a billion users, it’s an application we need to deal with. In our financial services we will integrate Wechat and this is an example of our mobile-first strategy.

One of your biggest projects has been the rollout of a new cloud-based CRM platform based on Salesforce software. How has the system functioned since you introduced it in 2013?

The new platform is a crucial part of our approach to customers.We moved very quickly and went live November11, 2013 with our Salesforce solution. It covers wholesalers and dealerships in China and our call centers.The functionality is focused on campaign planning and management. We also cover complaint management,contract management and all call center applications.We don’t yet use Salesforce for lead generation.

Why not?

We’ve integrated lead management at the retailer in ourCRM and will expand the Salesforce CRM solution in future.We’ve had no big problems with the cloud-based implementation. The only functional challenge is tha tthe Salesforce product isn’t yet applicable to all business areas for the Chinese market, for example in social media integration. Salesforce needs to also integrate Chinese social media. Integration of WeChat and otherChinese social media ”“ is a crucial issue for China and a key success factor for a functioning CRM solution. The online-to-offline model is one of the most important inChina. When a customer asks a question using WeChat, this should be part of the CRM application. The customer expects to be recognized by the system.

Can you mention any other functionality issues you are discussing with Salesforce as you move forward?

One other area we are working on with Salesforce is the data storage concept. Currently, Salesforce differentiates between full-license users and community-license users. The latter have significantly less cloud storage at their disposal. From the point of view of functionality your dealerships are community-license users, while the wholesalers are full-license users. Considering the growth in telematics and retail data that we expect, the current Salesforce storage concept needs to be reviewed in order to avoid a potential shortage of cloud storage for Daimler in China.

Does Cloud-based storage work in China from a connectivity point of view?

We access the cloud quite normally via the internet and have enough bandwidth and stability. It’s different for the call centers, where we need to be reachable for our customers 24-by-7 without interruptions. For this, we have a dedicated line into Salesforce to make sure we can offer this stability.

And you’re confident your customers can have access to cloud-based telematics services everywhere in China?

China is three times the size of Europe and there are major regional differences. The tier 1 cities have made immense investments in 4G communications technology so they have an excellent infrastructure. That is not the case in faraway regions. The question is where our customers are. We sell most of our cars in the big cities and the infrastructure is absolutely good enough there.

Where are the data actually stored and isn’t there a Chinese requirement to store data locally in the country?

They are in Japan. There’s regulation in China that customer data in the financial services area can only be hosted in China, but at the moment that’s not a requirement for telematics or CRM data. If that changes, we will also have to host those data in China.

How does your China CRM differ from Daimler’s systems elsewhere in the world? And will you roll out your solution in other countries?

We opted for a regional approach in our CRM strategy because regional requirements differ. In China, we have somewhat of a pioneering role. We have a competence center based in Singapore, which has responsibility for the whole Asia region. Australia, Japan and Korea are discussing whether our solution can be adopted therewith modifications. The Salesforce implementation in China was always conceived as a kind of regional template for Asia.

And what about the use of big data analytics?

We face an increasing volume of data generated by customer interactions, connected devices and production facilities. Data from operational CRM helps us improve customer experience. Large quantities of data derived from our products and manufacturing help us to improve products and production processes. All of these aspects generate value for Daimler and for our customers.Big data and predictive analytics are therefore a key part of our IT strategy and have the highest management attention.

How does your big-data center in Stuttgart work?

The Center of Excellence Big Data (CoE Big Data) provides centralized shared services, which enables our business units to fully exploit the potential of big data right away. Its services comprise infrastructure as well as people, so that business units can focus on business solutions rather than coping with technical challenges.

And what does this mean for China?

We believe that the capability to exploit big data will be one of the critical success factors for Daimler, in particular in China. In the area of analytical CRM, the topic big data will become more important in 2015 in China as we start analyzing larger amounts of customer data. We’re planning a big data project for our Beijing IT InnovationLab and we’re looking to cooperate with Chinese partner companies in this area.

With such heavy focus on data security everywhere, how do you assure data integrity when working with joint-venture partners in China?

We have production joint-venture partners for passenger cars as well as trucks. Data security is the responsibility of the joint ventures. For Daimler, data security has highest priority and we have contractually obligated the joint ventures to implement and abide by our guidelines and policies. We conduct regular audits and have our own information security officers to check on this.The contracts and audits are key pillars of our strategy to achieve 100 percent data security.

How is the Mercedes me rollout going in China?

Mercedes me is global but China is one of the pilot markets.It’s arguably even more important here because we have the world’s biggest online population and familiarity with online services and the use of them is bigger and broader than elsewhere. There’s been extremely high demand for the telematics service we’ve been rolling out as part of Mercedes me and we’re expanding this. We plan to launch our car2go car sharing service in China against the backdrop of continuing urbanization, ever growing population density and extreme traffic pollution. So theMove me part of the strategy has high significance for us here. Mercedes me as a whole will be a critical success factor in our battle for the Chinese market.