When the 2012 Focus goes into production later this year, company executives say it really will be a global car and, they hope, a hot seller worldwide. Approximately 80 percent of its parts will be the same no matter where the vehicle is made. It will feature the same brake and tail lights in South Africa and Singapore, use the same design and engineering standards in Germany and the United States, and be marketed and sold using global processes and pricing data that stay the same in China and the Czech Republic.
"We have to have a strong focus on IT integration to support that new global product," says Smither. Ford employees will be able to build, sell and support the same Ford Focus in the same way despite remaining differences in plants, people and equipment around the world, due in large part to new common IT systems, processes and data.
As the company's manufacturing hubs in Dearborn and Cologne, Germany, prepare to assemble the car, Ford employees are logging in to a global commodity hub, which allows engineers and designers to share information with the company's purchasing agents. Before this hub existed, each region used unique, sometimes ad-hoc, databases. Processes and systems for soliciting quotes and preparing purchase orders from suppliers once varied by part, region, vehicle, even buyer in some cases. Now the WebQuote system connects every corner of the company with its 1,600 suppliers using standard procedures.
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."
Sign up for Computerworld eNewsletters.