Wehner: The main issue in digitization is speed (Photo: Claus Dick)

More automakers are creating the position of chief digital officer as a central point of contact for digitization issues. Someone who is sure to understand how the role is different from that of the CIO is Skoda CDO Andre Wehner. Until he assumed his current position last summer, he was the head of IT at the Czech car brand. In an interview with automotiveIT, he talks about the independence of the brand and future mobility concepts. Excerpts:

Mr. Wehner, let’s start with a fallback question: For 25 years, Skoda has been part of the Volkswagen Group, and it is a revenue star today with annual production of more than a million vehicles and revenue of about 12 billion euros. What share of the credit can IT take for this success?It is no accident that Skoda is again one of the most successful brands in the auto industry today. It is the result of hard work and outstanding team performance. IT has made a contribution to this ”“ just like many other areas of the company. Skoda today is one of the fastest growing automotive brands in Europe. In just 25 years, the company has developed from a regional vehicle manufacturer into a global high-volume producer. IT has guided this rapid development and supported the operating departments intensively In all the processes required for this growth.

Can you give us an example?In the early 90s, from a technical standpoint, Skoda IT was only competitive in limited ways after years in a planned economy. To actually develop, manufacture and ultimately sell new vehicles, the entire brand had to be raised to a new level from a standing start ”“ and this included IT. Step-by-step, the appropriate applications had to be built to create an integrated IT landscape. The right decisions on standard software were made. The key word here is SAP. We first had to create a basis in order to actually make more progress.

How independent is Skoda IT from the VW Group, which is based in Wolfsburg, Germany?IT collaborates very well across brands within the group. And Skoda naturally exploits synergies wherever possible and necessary ”“ and wherever it makes sense. That is the great advantage of the Volkswagen Group. But we definitely have the option of moving in a separate direction wherever special made-to-order solutions are needed. Ralf Brunken, Skoda’s IT chief, can discuss things openly with Martin Hofmann, the Volkswagen Group’s CIO. There is a series of issues that must be handled with a brand orientation, including those in sales and marketing. In turn, as a brand, Skoda is definitely being integrated into the VW Group in the information technology arena. I will give you an example: In recent years, we’ve established an SAP competence center. Here Skoda supports projects and runs SAP solutions for the entire Group.

Skoda CEO Bernhard Maier says digitization will change car manufacturing significantly. What can we expect from Skoda as a company along these lines and where exactly are you starting?New business models and competitors are continually emerging due to digitization. This is happening at an incredible speed. This is something new for the auto industry. And they now have to make adjustments in the shortest possible time. This naturally applies to Skoda, too. That’s why we made the decision at midyear to intensify our efforts in digitization and consolidate our expertise in one special department. Our digitization strategy has three main thrusts. First of all, there is the digitization of our vehicles. The buzzword here is the connected car. The second direction is companywide digitization. And, third, we are working on future mobility concepts and digital business models.

Do you have free rein in your decision-making when it comes to the connected car or mobility concepts? Or does Johann Jungwirth, the VW Group’s CDO, set the direction of these issues?Johann Jungwirth is someone who assembles the ideas and creativity of everyone involved. This produces very good cooperation. It is also essential. With these digital models, there is one main issue: speed. The offerings must reach the market as quickly as possible. And anyone in the company who can contribute sensible and interesting ideas on behalf of the customer is welcome to do so.

In the age of digitization, whoever has the platform seems to be best positioned to win. Can automakers actually play this game?As I see it, the issue won’t be ”˜either-or’ in the digitization field. Instead, things are moving strongly toward cooperative projects with companies that have interesting services for our customers in their portfolios. There is naturally a question here: Who has the platform? At that point we have to look at it very closely. Our focus is completely on the trust of our customers. That also means data security.

Interview by Pascal Nagel and Hilmar Dunker

Read the full interview in the March issue of automotiveIT International magazine. To subscribe to the digital edition free of charge, please go to: www.automotiveIT.com/subscribe.