Ford Motor Company says it considers big data and analytics the next frontier for innovation, competition and productivity.
At Sustainable Brands ’14 San Diego (June 2-5), Carrie Majeske, Ford’s Associate Director of Global Sustainability Integration, will participate in a panel discussion titled: Leveraging Big Data and the Quantified Self Movement to Drive a Sustainable Future.
I caught up with her for a short preview.
Let’s start with the basics. How is Ford tackling data analytics from an organizational standpoint? Is it centralized or decentralized?
It’s decentralized, and that goes back to the company’s history. We’ve been using data on some level for a long time as a manufacturing company. So we have analytics groups in many different functions of the company.
Ford Credit — being a bank, if you will — has its own analytics. Product Development has analytics around the vehicles and connectivity, and of course, Marketing and Sales uses data tremendously. We have data analytics everywhere, and depending on the expertise of the function, getting them together can be pretty powerful.
Was there a moment or event that focused the company on data and analytics?
Historically we look back to the Whiz Kids hired for their statistical prowess by Henry Ford after World War II. The focus on data-driven management probably started then. But in the last five years we’ve come to the realization that there is so much more data out there and coming at us faster than ever before.
One of the big turning points for us was our Global Fuel Economy Planning Model and the development of our long-term fuel economy strategy. Modeling our future fleet emissions to understand the impact of different technologies opened our eyes to possibilities. The science-based analysis led to our Blueprint for Sustainability, which continues as the foundation of our product strategy.
Now we have so much more data available to us than ever before. The data measured within vehicles and about vehicles, and within operations and about operations, is to a level that you can’t ignore it. You might as well start using it.
How did the fuel economy model influence decisions at Ford?
It originally set out to establish how much different technologies can do for CO2 reduction. We also asked: How much does each technology cost, and how much is a customer willing to pay for each? This allows us to model the bigger fleet. If we want to do the biggest CO2 reduction for the least amount of investment — given what customers are willing to pay — we can determine what the fleet will look like.
Within the fleet, we can balance electric vehicles, hybrid vehicles, IC (internal combustion) engines with advanced technologies, CNG and ethanol. We can mix and match powertrains and vehicles to hit a sweet spot for profitability.
So the fuel economy model helped to optimize our strategy. It helped us realize we didn’t need a high volume of electric vehicles in the immediate future. We could start by fully deploying all of the fuel economy benefits from the IC engine and then take a more deliberate route to electrification.
John Viera, Ford’s global director of sustainability and vehicle environmental matters, said the possibilities for the future impact of data are almost endless. So how does the company set priorities?
A framework that helps is our concept of “Great products. Strong Business. Better world.” First and foremost we want to use our tools to make the best products customers want and will pay for, so the analytics follow that as a first priority.
For “strong business,” we’re using the analytics to get cost out and optimize for higher efficiency and profitability. And for “better world,” we can begin to address issues like congestion to continue CO2 reduction — either by design, route guidance, our fleet CO2 calculator, or other analytical means.
That’s how we tackle all the pieces, but with a sense of priority.
Are there other data initiatives around sustainability that you find particularly exciting?
One of our non-environmental projects is what we call Sustainable Urban Mobility with Uncompromised Rural Reach (SUMURR). This used a Ford vehicle and the data it could carry to extend prenatal care to women in remote villages of India.
The project made use of the OpenXC platform in an all-wheel drive Ford Endeavor. We’re continuing to evolve this concept. In this instance, the platform was used to create a local cloud that stored information recorded by nurses with mobile phones. The platform then transmitted the information when connectivity was available, improving communications and record-keeping between doctors and remote nurses in the field.
We're also starting a lot of cool work around the “city of the future.” We’re spending a lot of time looking at data that can help us determine what the new business models will be and what the urban city of the future look like.
We already have congestion and parking problems. We need to integrate some level of mass transit or other transportation into the big picture. The question is: How does Ford adapt our business, while also improving the quality of life in the city — providing people with transport when they want it, affordably, and with the right convenience.
Are you working with specific cities? Are there specific city or technology projects you can give more info on?
Ford is a member company of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), and as such has been contributing to an initiative called the Sustainable Mobility Project 2.0. The project will develop and implement blueprints for mobility in six cities, to improve mobility on the basis of social, environmental and economic indicators over the long term. We’re in early stages of city engagement, but data analytics will play an important role in our work with this initiative.
When you talk about the data being collected by vehicles, are you referring primarily to electric vehicles and hybrids, or do Ford’s IC vehicles collect and report data as well?
The IC vehicles are certainly collecting data. But I don’t think we’re exploiting it for anything now. They record temperature data, speed data, impact — things in the black-box realm of a traditional IC vehicle.
There’s also more data we think we could go get as a result of the sensors in a vehicle. For instance, at one point we talked about monitoring heart rates through a seat so you could know if a child were left in a vehicle. We talked about sensing air quality issues outside a vehicle in order to shutter air intake automatically or turn on a filter, if needed. Those are further out, but there’s a lot you could do with that type of data.
You could even go so far as to switch the vehicle to all-electric mode when passing through areas of a city where air quality is particularly bad to keep from worsening the problem.
From a human resources point of view — are there challenges in building teams around data and sustainability? Or do you find the skill sets and personality types blend well?
We’ve found it to be a natural match. On a diversity basis, you bring together numbers- or data-oriented technical people with the product creation team. The technical people need a problem to solve, or they’re crunching data without a purpose. So when you introduce them to the product developers and explain the hardware capability problem, or a customer dissatisfaction issue, you create a team that finds ways to help each other.
Can you give us an update on the MyEnergi Lifestyle collaboration? Are there specific consumer-facing or industry initiatives coming out of that collaboration with Whirlpool, SunPower and Eaton?
MyEnergi Lifestyle 1.0 was introduced at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show. That was focused on using products customers can already buy in the marketplace and making the most of them with “value charging,” if you will. The project applied time-of-day energy pricing to appliance use and the charging of a Ford electric vehicle. The goal was to get the most efficiency, primarily driven by cost for families.
Now with MyEnergi Lifestyle 2.0, it’s kind of a three- to five-year horizon to the next step. Instead of just charging at a better time, it includes technologies for energy storage for solar power, so that you can use the power you generate whenever you want. It also will integrate more PV solar production into the concept, because that technology is becoming so much more cost effective.
The original concept demonstrated that a typical family could save up to 55 percent on energy costs and related emissions with the combination of appliances, vehicle and time-of-use planning. So anything beyond that is pretty amazing.