by Deepak Seth

The CIO and the driverless car

Jun 26, 2017
CIODigital TransformationIT Leadership

Are you ready for the Transportation as a Service (TaaS) revolution?

Driverless cars shift into mobile offices during commute
Credit: Volkswagen

Well, not many of us have seen one yet (The closest I have come to one is the Tesla with its many autonomous driving features). But it could very well be a “platform disrupter,” which throws us off track if we don’t prepare for it.

In my comments published in the Harvard Business Review I had opined that failure to recognize platform disrupters (and the self-driving car is one) can be very detrimental to corporate health and existence. (“……by focusing on the downstream disrupters and failing to recognize these Platform Disrupters, companies are missing the woods for the trees.”)

Are you kidding?

That’s what some of you may ask.  

How can an autonomous car or driverless car or self-driving car or whatchamacallit impact my company and above all disrupt IT?

Combine facets of the “sharing economy” with it (think Uber, Lyft) and you have a veritable TaaS (Transportation as a Service). And that can be a game changer.

For starters, the study: Rethinking Transportation 2020–2030 (from RethinkX, an independent think tank that analyzes and forecasts the speed and scale of technology-driven disruption and its implications across society) highlights the impact Transportation as a Service (TaaS) is likely to have on entertainment, work and other opportunities: 

Americans spend around 140 billion hours in cars every year, a number that will increase by 2030. The TaaS disruption will free up time otherwise spent driving to engage in other activities: working, studying, leisure options and sleeping. 

This will act as an increase in productivity and provide a boost to GDP (see Part 3.5). From the TaaS provider perspective, additional services could be offered, such as entertainment (movies, virtual reality), work services (offices on wheels) and food and beverage (Starbucks Coffee on wheels). 

Providers could act as distributors, earning revenues via a range of business models, including a percentage of sales generated on their platform (as in the Amazon and Apple stores), advertising revenues from onboard entertainment (similar to the Facebook and Google AdWords models), or the as-yet undeveloped business innovations that are likely to arise from the TaaS disruption. 

The Mercedes Benz Concept Car for 2030 envisages:

  • Car being so comfortable that people spend more time in it rather than less
  • Think of it as workplace of the future: work in there, pay bills etc.
  • Touch screens all around (“immersive”); 

This space is evolving very fast. Ford has appointed a new CEO who had just recently been brought in to head up its “smart mobility” operations. An indication that the big players are acknowledging the direction the industry is heading. Cars are no longer transportation but part of a larger “smart mobility” initiative.

It is this “offices on wheels”/“smart mobility” premise which should get companies thinking. 

Our cars of the future may be evolving as an extension of the workplace/office.

Do all the auto manufacturers see that yet — perhaps not, they suspect it, but do not seem to be sure how to factor it into their designs. That’s where other players could step up, take the lead and create/define a market.

All TaaS cars may not be offices but in big cities customers in the future perhaps could request a ride in a vehicle equipped with office capabilities. The jury may still be out on Uber’s Pittsburgh driverless car experiment, but it does show the shape of things to come.

What does this mean for the CIO?

As employees start treating the car as extension of their offices IT infrastructure teams would need to figure out best ways of implementing “telepresence” in cars assuring seamless connectivity. The autonomous car could also very well be the epitome of IoT/Edge Computing.

There would be major implications for information security as well. The driverless car with its ubiquitous connectivity with the external environment and other vehicles on the road multiplies manifold the threat vectors compared to the current physically static office environment.

The question you may need to answer in the near future: is your business ready for Transportation as a Service? And what can IT do to facilitate that?

A few thoughts:

  • For the business leaders, especially if you are in a business sector even remotely involved with the “office”:
    • Preliminary assessment of demand potential for office capabilities in driverless vehicles.
    • Engage with vehicle manufacturers – Ford, Toyota, Tesla, Navistar, etc.; Driverless capability service providers – Uber, Lyft, Google etc.; Automobile accessory companies – Harmon-Kardon, Pioneer etc.
      • To understand their vision of the “office package” for the driverless vehicle of the future.
      • To “sell” them the need to include office capability as part of their “office package” offerings
  • For the CIO
    • Engage with business stakeholders to ascertain where the “driverless car” or TaaS fits in their business plans/vision for the future and associated timelines thereof.
    • Ascertain the requirements and gaps from an infrastructure and security perspective for extending the office to the car.

Get ready for the ride. It will be arriving at your doorsteps soon.