“We want to become part of the digital world”

Digitization is taking the car industry and is confronting it with new challenges. In this interview, Dieter May, Senior Vice President Digital Services and Business Models at BMW, explains how he wants to guide the company into the digital future.

Cars can take over more and more driving functions thanks to digitization.  How do you want to save the “pleasure of driving” in the future?

For us, digitization means making the car a central part of the digital world of our customers. People spend a lot of time in it, which we can use more sensibly in the future thanks to autonomous driving. The car is becoming a habitat that offers plenty of possibilities for digital customer experiences that have an added value for the customer but are also fun.

What exactly should we understand by it?

In the future it will be possible, for instance, to digitally activate classic functions of a vehicle. One will be able to book an additional 50 PS or test seat heating which one can then buy later in the digital shop. This type of thing keeps a car alive and up to date. But the user experience should also go beyond the vehicle. Our vision is for customers to experience BMW across the most diverse digital platforms and interact with our brands, be it on the cell phone, the smartwatch or in the car. The digital experience will always fit the context and be personalized.

Why is personalization so important in your eyes?

We want to simplify the lives of our customers. Thanks to digitization, we have a completely new customer understanding and we want to make optimal use of that. We want to give the impression that BMW is thinking along: When I enter a car, I get addressed personally through a display, the navigator already knows where I want to go. The interior will also get customized. The more we can learn about our customer, the more we can target our offers.

How do you make this technically possible?

With BMW Connect based on our Open Mobility Cloud (OMC), we have created an intelligent platform that enables the entire car to keep learning. That way, we can offer relevant and exciting digital experiences. This platform is customer-focused, meaning that it will be possible in the future to take over personalized settings when changing cars. This is similar to a smartphone where you can transfer your profile onto other devices. For example, if I change from my own BMW to a DriveNow vehicle, the car will know my seat adjustment and my preferred internal temperature. It does not matter whether you own the car or are just using it temporarily as long as it is a BMW, you will always feel at home.

Source: BMW

Source: BMW

You want to make stronger advances into the digital world of customers and so do other big technology companies. How do you handle the potential competition?

We count on cooperation. We have a partnership with Microsoft, for instance, and also work with Amazon. From the end of this year, our customers will be able to control their BMW by voice from the comfort of their own homes with the smart speaker Amazon Echo. Simultaneously, we have access to a variety of exclusive vehicle information. We can use them to create more individual experiences.

How do car manufacturers have to change in order not to be left behind during digitization?

The core product, the car, is being highly digitized, shifting the value. Companies have to reflect that in their structures, processes and of course also in their competences. For BMW that means promoting software developers and user experience designers. We are building up our cloud expertise. We are also adjusting our development processes in order to be able to act faster, more agile and more interactively, as usual with digital products.

Don’t two worlds collide here? Up until now, you delivered finished products to your customers which were not touched again.

That is the challenge. We put a strong emphasis on only delivering high-quality software to our customers. We cannot publish something that is not fully developed. We do not only have our reputation to lose. The protection and safety of our customer is always at the forefront. That is the highest priority of the BMW Group and the prerequisite of all connected services and functions. That is why there are certain coordination cycles that are also relevant for the software. We classify the services according to safety significance to still be able to act quickly. But it is true: In the future, the vehicles that leave our factories will further develop with the customers in order to enable better and better experiences.