Delphi’s CTO Jeff Owens talked to Martha Heller about his work with engineers and IT pros to deliver a digital lifestyle to the automobile.
Ask 10 people to define “CTO” and you’ll get 20 definitions. What does “CTO” mean at Delphi?
I am responsible for the continued development of over 19,000 global engineers and IT professionals. Tim McCabe, our CIO, is part of my group, which ensures that our IT strategies have the best alignment with our engineering activity.
You’re Delphi’s first CTO. Why now?
We’re finding that some of what you might call “traditional IT” is showing up in cars as we deliver a digital lifestyle to consumers in their car that’s just like what they have in their office and home.
Earlier this year, we announced Delphi Connect, a telematics module that consumers can plug into any car that has been manufactured in the U.S. in the past 16 years. Delphi Connect uses the OBD-II connector, which every newer car has under its dashboard. With a telematics module, we can establish a car-to-cloud connection.
This means you can use your smartphone to track your car’s location, get information on its health, and use geofencing to manage mileage. Delphi Connect is a great example of how IT allows us to deliver an aftermarket product.
Many companies are still trying to figure out where IT stops and engineering begins. What are the keys to achieving this level of productive convergence?
Our IT and engineering people spend a lot of time together. Our CIO has his organization thinking about product needs and how to leverage convergence. He has a group working on IT tools to enhance engineering productivity, and he has a different group dealing with the connected worker, which is critical to global communication and collaboration.
Not only are connected workers more innovative, but our goal is to connect the consumer to the car, so there is a lot of relevance there. The challenge of creating a connected automotive space — providing a digital lifestyle in the cockpit of the car–is very similar to the challenge of using IT to connect our engineers worldwide. We use the same tools and processes.
What is one game-changing technology innovation that Delphi has made a reality in the past 12 months?
Delphi has been a leader in gasoline direct injection (GDI), which is a major lever for lower emissions and better fuel economy. Because GDI operates at high pressure, you end up with injectors that make a loud clicking sound. Our software algorithms help to solve that problem by providing the quietest operation in the industry.
How do you create a culture that encourages innovation?
Our philosophy is that if you never fail, you’re not stretching far enough. We have an Innovation Hall of Fame black-tie event, which is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the best of our intellectual property creators.
What in the world of technology is personally exciting to you?
Over the next 10 to 15 years, we’ll have a much larger number of cars globally, but with enough innovation in the automotive space, we can cut emissions and accidents in half, double fuel economy and provide 1,000 times more computational capability in the vehicle. Much of this will show up in ubiquitous connectivity for the consumer without being a distraction. It will be very exciting to see all this come to pass.
Martha Heller is president of the executive recruiting firm Heller Search Associates and author of The CIO Paradox. Follow her on Twitter: @marthaheller.
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