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Last week we concluded the second annual Best Practices for Automotive Conference in Detroit, hosted by General Motors, Eventful Conferences and SAP. It hardly seems possible that a year has gone by since the inaugural conference. This year the conference continued to draw increasing crowds, attendance was up 20% and sponsors were up by 64%. Clearly this is both a successful and a relevant event for automotive companies.

In 2015, our theme was “Driving Digital, On the Road to Transformation”. This year we were “Accelerating Business in the Digital Age". Faster and faster…and that means everything from processes, to customer expectations, to competition, to disruption risk, to technology and connectivity, to security, to business networks and infrastructure. Today, if you want to get anywhere, you have to run twice as fast; to paraphrase a quote from Lewis Carroll.

How do we accelerate? This year our customers requested track sessions focused on insight and customer journeys in the areas of Finance, Manufacturing and Engineering, Supply Chain, Sales and Service and Change and People. Customers delivered 88% of those insightful sessions along these tracks. Each and every one of these track sessions contained urgency and success in accomplishing business demands in an increasingly demanding environment.

The real highlight of our conference, however, had to be the keynote presentations. After hearing from Heiko Flohr discuss the SAP Discrete Industries development roadmap and Dr. Stephan Brand describe the power of Vehicle Insights during our jumpstart sessions on Monday, Discrete Industries General Manager Stefan Krauss kicked off the conference keynotes with a stiring welcome combined with the announcement of two new SAP partnerships; CAP Gemini as the Discrete Industries Digital Transformation partner and Proaxia as our new global Dealer Business Management partner.

Dave Andrea from the Center for Automotive Research previewed the “Disintermediated Value Chain”, from dealerships, manufacturers, suppliers, services and even fueling infrastructure, highlighting customer choice and mobility services. He concluded with a provocative question, “Is the automotive industry ready to be a ‘Utility’?” This horizon may be fast approaching.

SAP Executive Vice President Christoph Behrendt highlighted innovative trends and motivation to re-imagine your business at all levels. Christoph explained SAP’s innovation strategy, focused on enabling digital transformation based on the digital core, platform approach, networks, and cloud applications supported by concrete examples including the relevance of S/4 HANA in this context. Customers were deeply engaged in this presentation and with the ability to transform business at a much accelerated pace.


Dr. Rene Deist from Bosch took us on a journey through the “Opportunities and Challenges” of digital transformation and highlighted the key success factors for building a comprehensive IoT eco-system to support business transformation and new business opportunities. In the end it was clear that there are risks but these are far outweighed by the value of opportunity!


Next we heard from a real automotive disruptor, David Woessner from Local Motors. David made the point that even with enormous technology advances in recent years there has been little fundamental change in the automotive business. David suggested that by employing a network of micro factories and relying on the power of the “crowd” the traditional automotive business model could be turned on its head, creating innovation aligned with the pace of technology. His position was, “…it’s bigger than just making cars…we are here to reinvent them and everything around them.”


And then the sky darkened. Time seemed to come to a halt, completely disrupting the headlong rush to change that technology enables for automotive companies. Mark Weatherford, formerly Deputy Under Secretary for Cybersecurity at Department of Homeland Security and currently SVP and Chief Cybersecurity Strategist at vArmour confronted us with security risks, not only in vehicles but in life and within the extended vehicle infrastructure and eco-system. And to put an exclamation point on that risk, Chris Valasek, Security Lead, UBER Advanced Technology Center; renowned “White Hat” hacker lauded for remote hack of 2014 Jeep Cherokee (multiple times), showed us just how easy it was to hack that Jeep. He also explained the resulting recall from Fiat Chrysler to close that access point, 1.4 million vehicles, but that was only a start. The sky may not be falling but we all should be aware that we do indeed live in challenging times…The presentation ended with the recognition that the benefits, safety and opportunities of connectivity, smart infrastructures, connected and autonomous vehicles far outweighed the risks…time accelerated again!


Ok, time is back to fast pace, and with that “stress” is way up. Joe Burton, founder and CEO of Whil Concepts pointed out that recent research has indicated that the number of employees that felt “extremely stressed on the job increased from 18% in 2014 to 24% in 2016 and is expected to reach 49% in 2031. Ahh, the pace of transformation and maybe the risk of disruption is at play.  Joe said, connectivity, make that smart phones and tablets, are a major contributor! Competitive advantage, and a reduction in costs, especially those resulting from workplace accidents can only be achieved by exchanging stress for calm! Unfortunately as I walked out of the keynote hall…I looked left and right, and smart phones were in everyone’s hands, the pace of business won again!


We got on the road, we accelerated and looking forward to next year’s conference, September 18-20, 2017 in Detroit at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino, we can look to “outcomes”. We hope to see you there in 2017!