Now celebrating its 20th year, SBD Automotive recently opened a new office in Dusseldorf, Germany. We sit down with Andrea Sroczynski, formerly the head of segment strategy in Automotive & Transportation at Telenor Connexion, who has been appointed Managing Director.
Tell us about your background, what you did before becoming Managing Director of SBD Automotive’s new Germany office?
Andrea: I’m one of the early IT nerds! I started in an IT subsidiary of Mannesmann, and had the chance to join a “start-up” in 1996, way before we were calling them that. It was set up by a few visionaries from Mannesmann who believed that connected cars were the future in preventing long traffic jams. I’ve loved cars since I was a child, so joining the telematics sector was a perfect match for me. I then pioneered the first traffic database implementation, now called HERE, designing and managing the first Telematics Service in Europe. I worked with customers like BMW, helping them to connect their first car, and to then roll this out globally. In particular, I was responsible for strategy and vision in bringing these services to a new level.
For decades, I worked within the Telematics Service sector, before deciding to change and join the Telecom industry in an M2M space. Working for Telenor Connexion (a pioneer in connected cars) enlarged my knowledge of connected cars to explore the new world of IoT (Internet of Things) and what you can do when you start connecting “things”. Within Telenor, I led the strategy for “all on wheels” and evaluated innovation in our offerings to customers, to ensure it was always fresh and up-to-date.
Working in both the telecom and automotive sectors for many years, what do you feel are the differences in how each industry innovates?
Andrea: Both industries are very large, and move very slowly. However, they have different product focuses; telecom focuses on the service view, whereas automotive on the product. That naturally brings different product life cycles, and, therefore, innovation approaches with it. The auto industry has a lot of innovations around the product itself, new designs, faster, cheaper, cleaner. They have internal R&D departments with engineering knowledge and processes. Also, the whole “Industry 4.0/IoT” now comes into the game.
The telecom industry comes from services and has the benefit of being local rather than a global. You don’t need to consider all the global requirement and restrictions, you follow the market needs or trends, and you can test them much quicker within the market.
The auto industry noticed that they need to be quicker. You now see CDOs trying to overcome hurdles created by their old thinking and patterns of work., but this can only be an intermediate step – it needs to be changed in the culture and the approach, but without losing control. This will take a while and needs to be good.
IoT creates a whole new world of opportunities when it comes to innovation. How do you recommend that car makers explore and exploit these opportunities?
Andrea: In general, the cars need to be open to allow quicker service integration and trial out. The space of consumer electronics and telecom of IoT is fast paced, but not always automotive grade quality.
Looking at what the consumer needs are in different markets, what apps are hip, what’s the acceptance rate of the connected home? All of these are hints to design a system that is open enough to evolve throughout the life-cycle of the vehicle, flexible enough to fulfill the different market needs but still secure enough to be the base of new innovations to trial. You cannot push a beta release to 1000 cars on the road for testing if the safety is not ensured. Easier said than done, I know, cross-industry cooperation is needed for sure.
German car makers have played a leading role in deploying new in-car technologies. Now we’re also seeing a huge growth of grassroots innovation through startups in places like Berlin. Is there anything different about how innovation is managed in Germany compared to other countries you have worked in?
Andrea: Hmm, what should I say?... maybe it is more organized! Germans have been very good with a lot of inventions in the past, but the pace we have to deal with nowadays is a struggle. We feel very comfortable making a decision after we have thought through all the pro and cons. But the new startup world needs a new risky approach. This is where the US is much better equipped due to their mindset. Trial, error, change – this is not the way Germans think, but to find the answers, trial and error is the best approach!
Silo mentality (a lack of sharing of information) can be a problem. Germans should not over organize or build silos again – in no other culture have I experienced so much “expert silo” thinking – you see this clearly in the themes of special events and magazines. There should not be car OEM start-ups vs. the industrial start-ups. There benefits in bringing all of them together, an open exchange.
Innovation in Germany is also always received a bit skeptically. The employee wants a creative workplace but is not accepting of change. OEMs want innovation from their supplier (Tier1), but no surprises in quality and costs. A Scandinavian mindset is much more open to new change, and it brings a general benefit. However, their approach is quite slow. They aim for consensus, which is good, but it could take a while before the direction is found.
Lastly – imagine you’re buying a car in five years’ time. How do you hope that cars will have changed by then?
Andrea: Will I still need to buy a car in 5 years? Don’t I just have access to any means of transport that I may need in my life?
No, I don’t think the ownership topic will change that quickly – certainly not for me and my generation, but I hope the car will make my life much easier. I love driving, so I cannot say I eagerly await self-driving-vehicles, but I do look forward to it being an integrated part of my life. I don’t want to have to think about what time I need to leave to meet my ETA, or if I need to fuel/charge up. Will I still need to book a service/tire change, or will that just happen? All of this is organized for me, and I have all my settings instantly, whenever I enter any car. Oh, and I don’t have to think how I pair my phone ever again – it just happens!