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Top 10 lessons learned from more than a decade in automotive

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Guest post by John Wall, vice president of QNX engineering and services

Ten years ago, software accounted for about 20 to 30 percent of the effort that went into an infotainment system. Today, some would argue that it’s upwards of 90 percent. This makes sense if you ask yourself, “Where are all the red, burning issues?” They’re not on hardware, they’re on software. “Where is all the money being spent?” Software.

A big challenge in today’s automotive industry is acquiring the knowledge and experience to manage the complexity, cost, and risk of this dramatic change.

We at QNX have had the good fortune to work closely with tier one suppliers and their OEM customers since 1999. We've had their development teams live with us for months at a time — sometimes years. And we've lived with them, working as integrated teams. The end result is our customers have learned a lot about the value we offer and we have learned a great deal about addressing their requirements.

Drawing from this experience, here are my ten biggest takeaways:

1. Commitment
Not delivering is not acceptable. You get only one chance, and there’s no margin for failure. If development of an infotainment system fails meet start-of-production deadlines, the car has to ship with a hole in the dash — or not at all. And if the system performs poorly, the OEM may end up having to use it. But you can be sure that the supplier won’t be invited back.

2. Trust
Trust is a huge part of the business. People need to trust that you will do what you say and that their car line is going to ship. They need to know that you take their business seriously.

3. Realism
You need to be realistic. It isn’t worth being too optimistic. In fact, you’ll do damage with overly optimistic dates that you don’t hit.

4. Investment
There’s a ‘show me’ attitude in automotive. You have to be prepared to invest up front. We know a lot of tier ones that are building prototypes on their own dime. This is especially true if you’re courting a new customer; you’ve got to put skin in the game.

5. Reputation
It’s a small world — another important lesson. The auto industry is a tight-knit community. People move around a lot. It’s not unusual to go to a tier one supplier and see people you met six months earlier at their competitor’s. So maintaining your reputation is very important; it follows you everywhere.

6. Reliability
You can’t rest on your laurels. You need to repeatedly and consistently help customers successfully cross the finish line.

7. Honesty
You have to be honest. Often, a customer will say, “I want X” and you have to say, “Well, you can’t have X”. And you have to provide a good explanation why.

8. Relevancy
Ultimately it’s the market that decides. You can have champions within a customer's organization — even the guy who makes all the decisions — but ultimately the company has to build what consumers want. They’re a business; they will go with what sells. Your job is to anticipate market demands and offer products that are relevant to the consumer.

9. Flexibility
The market is evolving — quickly. Customers have to track moving targets, like integration with the newest smartphone models, and still get a reliable product out on time. Your products and services must give them the flexibility and adaptability they need.

10. Passion
If you don’t have it, you don’t belong in this market. Automotive is complex, it’s fast moving, and it’s too deep for anyone who thinks they can simply test the waters. Succeeding in automotive demands a phenomenal level of discipline and commitment. But if you love it, the rewards are worth it.

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