Its name says it all: “One Ford.” The strategy that Ford wants to use to boost its presence in global markets is based on the idea of the “global customer.” And IT is playing a big role in making the plan work.

The background: customers’ desires and demands are becoming more and more similar worldwide. Nearly all drivers want to drive economically and ecologically. At the same time, design ideas are converging globally. And, of course, building just one car for the world gives a company such as Ford the economies of scale it needs to be commercially successful.

One example is the third-generation Ford Focus, which will be Ford’s first global car. Recently introduced in the US, it was developed in Europe but it is intended for global markets. Americans will drive it, and so will Europeans, Asians and people anywhere else in the world.

IT has delivered the crucial foundation for globalization with its worldwide information network.

Ford used to run production and development regionally. But now the American carmaker is rapidly bundling its resources and products globally.

IT ensures the best possible communication and safeguards the information flow between employees and deciders in facilities on four continents.

Ford needs one IT strategy

To begin with, Ford needs a one-IT strategy to help achieve its One Ford goals. That’s no easy task with a total of 6,500 IT employees, 800 of them in Europe.

The ambitious part of the plan: virtually turning three regions (North/ South America, Europe/Africa/Russia, and Asia/Pacific) into one.

And not just on the strategic level. An example: So far there have been three corporate computing centers. Soon there will be just one in the US. The Asian computing center in Singapore has already been disbanded. In this way, the company is achieving a global network capability.

Uniform applications and support processes are also basic requirements for the strategy, even if local centers for local applications remain in existence at least temporarily.

The synergy effects are clear: Three versions of processes were at work around the world. Now just one has to emerge.

Hans Joachim Heister, IT department manager at Ford of Europe in Cologne, calls the one-IT strategy “the greatest possible challenge.” For example, a department head in Germany can have employees in India, Mexico and the US.

Heister sees different cultural backgrounds as more of an opportunity than a problem: “The theme of diversity has been very important in Ford’s company culture for a long time,” he said.

“People from 50 countries work at the Cologne location alone,” he added. “The company’s experience has shown that teams composed of different cultures often pursue more creative approaches and achieve better results.”

The Americans and Europeans held workshops with their colleagues in India and the US.,for example, especially at the start of the intensive collaboration.

“Naturally it is up to all of us to familiarize ourselves with our colleagues in other regions and their culture to avoid misunderstandings,” Heister said.

Foreign service assignments have long been normal in this area, independent of the current strategy, as they have been for the entire company. They are rotations of employees to other countries and continents.

There are regular meetings in all departments, mostly held as audio or data conferences.

The Digital Worker IT initiative

The Digital Worker IT initiative is very important for communication. Numerous tools are implemented within it, for video and data conferences, data sharing, telephone over computer networks (VoIP) and softphones.

When necessary, suppliers and partners can also be brought into these tools. Even the “more for less” principle can be pursued if different global cost levels are exploited optimally - in IT as well as development and production.

Despite cost pressures, the scope of IT tasks in car production keeps increasing. For example, smart vehicles require strong IT support for the development of applications as well as operating and other systems, so that customers can use their own players and smart phones in their car.

Ford has developed a good position for itself — with moderate success initially. Ford Sync, the current centralized information system in the cockpit, is an example.

Young Americans, in particular, use its features - reading SMS, transmitting diagnoses and emergency calls, navigating or looking for the least expensive gas stations.

Now Ford wants to introduce it in Europe. A robust delivery network is needed for that. “IT plays a leading role in putting it together,” Heister said.

And, of course, IT expertise is needed and used to bring production facilities for the new services into existence.

Driver assistance systems and - last but not least - electric mobility are fields that already exist at Ford. But they can be strongly expanded. In these areas, IT support for development and production is becoming more and more important.

By Gert Reiling

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