Redzic is bringing on board more software developers (Photo: Renault-Nissan)

In January of this year, Ogi Redzic joined the Renault-Nissan alliance as senior vice president, connected vehicles and mobility services. The former Nokia executive was tasked with speeding up the development of connected services, building a team of software developers, expanding partnerships and cultivating more of a startup mindset in the French and Japanese car companies. Nine months into the job, Redzic spoke to automotiveIT at the Paris auto show.

Please give us an update on what you’ve been doing since you joined Renault-Nissan in January 2016.Early in the year we looked at what we could build and we concluded that there are plenty of opportunities to standardize on a common platform. We decided we had to get some software talent in-house because car companies are becoming increasingly reliant on software. It’s becoming a core competency, so we need it in-house. That’s an area I have been focusing on heavily. As we announced, we plan to hire 300 people. We also put a leadership team in place and we acquired Sylpheo, a French software developer. Sylpheo has done a lot of implementations of ERP applications and works very closely with Salesforce. They will help us to build mobile applications. We’re not really looking for help with software in the car, where we have plenty of expertise, but we need help with the mobile phone platform.

Is the strategy to bring enough expertise in-house so you are more or less independent, or will you need to cooperate with high-tech and IT companies?We’re not shy in partnering with technology companies. It’s naïve to think that carmakers can all of a sudden become tech companies. The Renault-Nissan alliance is good at partnering. The two brands work together, we have a partnership with Daimler and we work with lots of other big companies. So why wouldn’t we partner with technology companies? We announced a partnership with Microsoft to jointly develop connected services on the Azure platform. This partnership will help us because it provides the cloud piece, which is a very important part of the connected-car equation. Microsoft will add some features to the platform to make it really automotive-capable and Renault-Nissan-centric.

Please describe the relationship between traditional car brands such as Renault and Nissan and high-tech companies in Silicon Valley and elsewhere.Those relationships are good and getting stronger. Renault just announced the integration of Waze navigation and traffic, which tells you we’re quite open-minded about working with Silicon Valley. I haven no reason to not want to work with Silicon Valley. If they are going to build a car and compete with us, it would of course be a little different, but right now I see that we can benefit from the huge investments these companies have made in servicesthat have already been developed. It’s obvious you cannot ignore the fact that people already use apps and want them in the car. We need to find a way to integrate all that.

Where in the Renault-Nissan organization will the new software developers and the Sylpheo company fit in?The new people we are hiring will all report to me, directly or indirectly. The CEO of Sylpheo will become my chief technical officer, responsible for cloud and mobile. That’s his core expertise.

What about other parts of the digital transformation at Renault and Nissan?I’m building a team that focuses primarily on the connected car and connected-car services. I need to focus on the car and my ambition is to build good new products. You need connectivity for autonomous driving, but our autonomous-driving activities are supervised by Takao Asami, who heads research and advanced engineering for the alliance. We’re not involved in manufacturing or CRM and rely on Renault-Nissan CIO Celso Guiotoko to handle that. He provides APIs and access to backend server systems. The overall digital transformation at Renault is in the hands of Frederic Vincent, who recently joined the company.

As connected services grow in importance, can the traditional automotive architecture handle the new requirements or do you need a whole new platform?We need a modern electrical architecture for a lot of the services we are building. Some of the existing platforms are not built to move huge amounts of data around. That’s definitely the case when we’re talking about autonomous driving. Take sensing, for example, where a lot of data coming from cameras needs to be processed. That data has to be transmitted to a vehicle’s central decision-making systems. Not all the components of the current cars are capable of supporting such data flows. So a new electrical architecture is critical, but you don’t need a whole new platform. You may need a new platform for shared mobility, for example if you envision shared electric vehicles that can accommodate 10 or 15 people. But the Renault Zoe and the Nissan can be used for such purposes already.

You’re involved with some of the most radical changes to the car in more than 100 years. How is the work force at Renault and Nissan responding to this? Is everybody on board?I think so. The trends in the industry are very clear and I am very happy with all the support I am getting in both companies. Of course, we have more mechanical engineers than software developers, which is exactly why I am hiring more of the latter. Part of the reason I’m here is to get more software, analytics and cloud skills into the two companies. That’s how we plan to better position both brands for what is coming. The beauty of the Renault-Nissan alliance is that we don’t have to build two sets of connected services. We build one and it benefits both companies.

And I assume Nissan’s premium brand, Infiniti, also benefits?We need to create solutions for Inifiniti as well. We want to run the same set of services and not fragmentize the platform too much. Buth the Inifiniti platform will have higher specifications and more capabilities, so we will be able to do more in our premium-segment cars.

How do you deal with the growing cybersecurity worries around the connected car? Is that something you want to control yourself or will you rely heavily on specialized partners?The answer is both. We already have a lot of cybersecurity teams dealing with the car itself and we have a sizeable number of cybersecurity experts within our IT organization. But I’m also bringing in more cybersecurity expertise because we are adding complexity. That’s because of the cloud and mobile aspects of connectivity. It’s important and we want more people to focus on cybersecurity.

Every car is now being equipped with increasingly sophisticated connected functions and services. How can you differentiate as a volume brand when your budget for high-tech is limited?What will make the difference in the long run is the user experience. What is key is how pleasant, predictive and connected you can make the user experience. You can obviously only put a limited amount of technology in a 20,000 euro car. Within the same segment, you cannot equip one car with a much bigger screen, put LTE connectivity in and pay for it all. But you can create a beautiful user experience. In the end, I don’t believe people care as much about the technology as they care about the ease of use and having access to the systems they are familiar with at home and in the workplace. Design is also going to matter and, luckily, we have some really cool designers. The other thing that’s going to matter is how quickly we can bring new things to the customer.

And can you quickly implement new technologies in today’s generation of Renaults and Nissan. Eventually we will, but not yet. We are now in this in-between period where we still have a lot of processes that run on automotive cycles, while at the same time there’s a lot of new stuff coming all the time. One of the big challenges is to get that morphed properly.

Over-the-air updates is one of the technologies that will help with this, but it is slow in coming.The ability to update software on the fly is one of the critical things for car companies and nobody has the capability to do it today. Tesla can do it to some extent, but the rest of us will have to acquire that capability very quickly. Today it remains very difficult to do a quick update to fix a bug in a system. That’s mostly because of the architecture of the car, which is being worked on at many automakers. OTA will be a big enabler.

Interview by Arjen Bongard