Dirk Seiferth (Photo: Kienbaum)

Non-traditional players are increasingly moving into the automotive space and, to counter this competitive threat, carmakers will, to some extent, have to become more like IT companies. Dirk Seiferth, partner at Kienbaum Management Consultants talks to automotiveIT about data labs, time-to-market and the impact of the Silicon Valley culture.

automotiveIT: Mr Seiferth, many car companies are establishing data labs. Why can't the auto industry achieve the same degree of innovation through traditional IT and R&D operations?Seiferth: Complex issues require a standalone organizational structure. That's why data labs make sense. To meet tomorrow's challenges, capabilities are needed that go beyond regular day-to-day business. A new kind of employee who is different from staff in traditional IT may also be needed. The companies need to find future-oriented solutions outside of the established context.

Consumer electronics companies, which in some areas compete with the auto industry, have much shorter development cycles. What must carmakers do to make IT innovations available with a shorter time-to-market?In a connected-car study we are conducting at the moment, we are finding that organizational structures and processes in car development have to become more dynamic. That's essential to meet the challenges of digitalization. Dynamic and agile processes will become important in car development because of the shorter development cycles.

The Silicon Valley mentality and the startup culture there are things you don't see in Germany. What's needed to change that?Company culture is key. Openness, an absence of fear and relatively little hierarchy in the organization are the guarantee for cretivity and agility. A cooperative management style is needed. Mistakes should become part of the learning process, which goes against the prevailing zero-failure-tolerance approach of the traditional auto industry. And the adaptive organizational structure of the Silicon Valley approach is radically different from the traditional matrix structure of the car industry. An agile culture requires openness toward new issues and new technologies. In addition, shorter product lifecycles mean trends need to be recognized and assessed early. The automotive industry needs culture change if it is to cooperate successfully with software developers.