Meanwhile, IT is rolling out a suite of 20 order-to-delivery applications that track a car order from the sale at the dealership through production to shipping and delivery to the customer. The suite incorporates the best features from applications used by different regions. It will be used first in India to introduce the newest Figo, a top-selling subcompact on the subcontinent that Ford thinks could succeed elsewhere in Asia and in Africa.
IT has also unveiled a suite of Digital Worker tools to improve employee communication and collaboration across continents. These include unified communications, WebEx videoconferencing and SharePoint-based social networking. The company is expanding access to e-mail on personal devices and experimenting with emerging social media tools such as the microblogging service Yammer.
One day soon, we'll approach car shopping the way we do choosing a new cell phone, says Gartner's Koslowski. The decision won't be based solely on the product's core functionality--making calls or getting us from point A to point B--but also on the high-tech bells and whistles baked into it.
At Ford, the key to developing those IT-based features is having a high-level technology executive located with every business and functional unit of the company. "The idea of placing senior IT executives in the business isn't new," Koslowski says. "But Ford demonstrated how successful this strategy can be if you prove that IT is a credible resource and make it clear to the business how they can benefit from it."
For example, in product development, IT is contributing directly to the top line. Smither's In-Vehicle Systems team is performing advanced proof-of-concept work with product-development engineers on the next generation of IT for Ford drivers.
The highest profile project to come out of this IT-business collaboration is Sync, Ford's award-winning in-car communications and entertainment system. Introduced in 2007, Sync enables drivers to control stereos, smartphones, seat controls and much more with a voice command-operated system. The company is now developing Sync application programming interfaces for Google Maps, Stitcher smart radio and the Twitter client OpenBeak.