Betting big on mobility

How Ford is transforming itself into the world’s most trusted mobility company

Simon Sinek famously said that to understand what drives a company, you need to know why it does what it does. This is even more important than what the company does. Ford Motor Company makes cars and trucks. That’s what it does. But you won’t really understand Ford unless you understand why it makes cars and trucks. It's “why” is to help people get where they need to go as efficiently and enjoyably as possible. At its heart, Ford is a mobility company.

As new technologies emerge that are changing the way people get around, Ford too is transforming itself. It’s still a mobility company that makes cars and trucks, but thanks to the company’s decision to embrace new ways of building software and using digital technology to serve its customers, it is developing innovative new ways to achieve its mission.

“I'm very excited about the possibilities that this whole revolution around mobility technology,” said Jeff Lemmer, COO of IT at Ford. “And I'm really excited about how IT can play a role to really help transform the company. It's not about the IT organization being this back office function, but now being front and center to really help the company be successful and really support our customers going forward.”

I'm really excited about how IT can play a role to really help transform the company. It's not about the IT organization being this back office function, but now being front and center.”
Jeff Lemmer, COO of IT, Ford Motor Company
It takes teamwork

One of the emerging technology areas already impacting the auto industry is the Internet of Things (IoT) and Ford is leading the charge. The company is investing heavily in its connected car initiative, with an ambitious goal to have 90% of all vehicles that roll off its assembly lines connected by 2019, including 100% of its US fleet.

As an emerging technology area, new use cases for connected cars are developing all the time. Ford recognized it needed to adopt a new way of building software that allowed it to quickly experiment with new IoT ideas, get them to market fast, and iterate on them based on user feedback.

“The pace of change that we're seeing is unprecedented,” said Lemmer. “The types of solutions that we develop today versus what we developed five or ten years ago are very different, and so we have to go through an internal transformation of teams from both a technology perspective and cultural perspective.”

What this means is the old days of months and sometimes years long software development projects with multiple handoffs between siloed teams are on the way out. In its place, Lemmer is reorganizing the IT department into small, autonomous teams of developers and engineers, each focused on and responsible for specific software products, from development and testing to production and operations.

These teams adopt a very customer centric mindset, developing software in small, iterative batches based on constant user and customer feedback.

Ford teamwork

FordPass and VMware Tanzu Platform

One of the first software products to emerge from the new approach is FordPass. The mobile application lets users interact with their connected vehicle and perform tasks such as viewing diagnostic data and remotely locking/unlocking and starting the vehicle. Users, who don’t need to even necessarily own a Ford vehicle, can also reserve parking spaces and find and compare gas prices in the area.

In the past, it would have taken Ford developers months to get an application like FordPass to market, if it even attempted such a feat at all. With its new approach to software development and the help of VMware Tanzu Labs, Ford brought FordPass to market in record time for the company and developers are constantly testing new ideas and eliciting user feedback. Tanzu Labs works side by side with Ford developers, helping them learn agile tenets and other important processes like continuous integration/continuous delivery.

“Over time [VMware Tanzu] enabled Ford IT to ultimately learn these skills and continue to add more features, more capability, continue to improve the cycle of how we release FordPass to our customers,” said Aaron Rajda, IT Director at Ford. “The FordPass team now is on a regular cadence of releasing regular updates. Pretty much every month there are updates coming in, versus only once or twice a year in the past. This idea of delivering value frequently, we're seeing that. We're seeing regular releases now, the team is doing great job of releasing software.”

Ford app user Ford app screenshot

The partnership has been so successful that Ford has modeled its development teams and supporting environment on the Tanzu Labs approach. They even call the team FordLabs. “We set out for Ford IT to adopt the [Tanzu Labs] approach to practices, teams, skills, and methods of modern software development. We are now in position to build on the successful partnership and continue to build great software for our customers,” Rajda said.

Supporting this agile approach is Tanzu Platform. The cloud native product is designed to enhance developer productivity by abstracting away the underlying complexity of the infrastructure and by automating development and release pipelines. This allows developers to focus on what they do best—writing great software—and gives them the autonomy to push new releases to production in a self-service way.

Another key benefit of Tanzu Platform is cloud portability. The platform runs on all the major public cloud providers as well as on VMware, meaning operations teams can move it and associated applications between environments with little to no code changes. This flexibility allows enterprises to take advantage of the different strong suits of the various cloud providers and reduces the risk of cloud lock-in.

“Over the last couple of years we have moved more and more of our applications to the cloud,” Lemmer said. “[VMware] and the whole [VMware Tanzu] stack has really been key in helping us run applications both on-premises and off-premises and be able to move seamlessly across different environments.”

We need to create this learning culture and see that grow organically and continue to thrive across the company and we'll set the example for it. And [VMware] is an important part of our learning process.”
Aaron Rajda, IT Director, Ford Motor Company

Driving into the future

With success, of course, comes challenges. Adopting a new way of building software requires developers and operators to question some long held assumptions, which is never easy in any discipline. Having VMware on-hand to guide the team, Lemmer said, was critical.

“One of the challenges that the team had was falling back to traditional development practices,” Lemmer said. “The [VMware] team really helped us develop a mindset of continuous development. It was okay to potentially deploy software that had some issues, for example, because you were actually able to rapidly resolve them and iterate your way through changes. Once the team really understood the power of [VMware]’s approach, they were off to the races.”

Added Rajda: “The way we build software now is very different than what we've ever done before. Today, we experiment our way through software development with rapid build-measure-learn cycles, which is a hallmark of how [Tanzu Labs] works.”

Ford is in the process of expanding this approach to development to more teams throughout the company, Rajda said. Tanzu Labs plays a critical role.

Ford team meeting.

“We've been doing lunch and learns across Ford for years. But the first one I saw where [VMware] was up there talking about a topic with our Ford Labs team, it was a deep learning topic,” Rajda said. “It wasn't just a bunch of PowerPoint slides that teams were looking at. It was an engaged learning session with great dialogue, great questions and it was a great teaching experience.

“We need to create this learning culture and see that grow organically and continue to thrive across the company and we'll set the example for it. And [VMware] is an important part of our learning process.

As Ford looks to the future, Lemmer knows maintaining a spirit of innovation and keeping the focus squarely on the customer is paramount.

“For Ford today, it's really all about how do we create a seamless experience for our customers in terms of how they move through the world. That’s why we do what we do,” Lemmer said. “With the help of [VMware], Ford is already creating and delivering that experience and we’re not slowing down anytime soon.”