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The automobile of the future is self-driving, fully connected, emission-free, and always up-to-date due to continuous software updates and upgrades … what the industry calls the “Smartphone on wheels”.

What was a utopian dream a few years ago is now being brought to life more and more with rapid innovations in hardware and especially software.

Joachim Franz, Automotive Industry Lead at Microsoft knows the industry well. He started his career more than 20 years ago at Accenture, the global management consulting company where he worked with Automotive companies in Europe, Asia, and in the US and in all areas of the automotive value chain.

Driving Innovation

In his current role Franz is responsible for the global business of Microsoft at German automotive manufacturers and suppliers, which means he has a broad perspective of the industry and is aware of its major challenges. For him, five major challenges are dominating the industry agenda:

  1. How can an agile supply chain be managed for efficiency and effectiveness in times of geopolitical uncertainty and volatile supply markets?
  2. How can production processes be optimized with the help of digital twins and by applying AI technologies in a way to minimize the ecological production footprint while at the same time ensuring the best possible product quality?
  3. How can the customer experience be optimized by software and AI along all stages of the customer lifecycle?
  4. How can engineering and product development processes be digitally accelerated and the “Software defined vehicle” become reality?
  5. How does the issue of sustainability impact on all of the above?

From Microsoft’s perspective Data, Software, and AI provide the answers to the questions posed above.

The most recent example of this is the Mercedes-Benz Cars Operations 360 (MO360) Data Platform – a combined software solution hosted on Microsoft Azure – which Mercedes-Benz is using to successively optimize production at all of its 30+ plants worldwide.

Franz particularly appreciates Mercedes-Benz’s willingness to innovate, not only in IT but also on the operational level. But at the same time he underlines: “The focus is on direct benefits for the employee and the business. It’s not just about trying out a great technical solution, but clearly about creating business benefits”, he explains.

The MO360 Data Platform therefore is much more than an IT solution – it’s also a project to democratize data and increase productivity while at the same time minimizing the environmental footprint in Mercedes-Benz production globally.

MO360 makes use of existing Microsoft solutions: Data is visualized using Power BI. Power Platform is used to optimize workflows and bring about process innovation. GitHub and Azure DevOps help managing software requirements and the rapid provisioning of software code and implementation of released software.

Mercedes-Benz relies on Microsoft Azure, not only as a secure cloud solution for MO360 but also, with Azure DataLake and Microsoft Purview, for handling and analyzing big data and using AI.

Smarter with AI

According to Franz, AI is the trending topic for the automotive industry. Application scenarios and use cases are already available for the development of autonomous driving functions, the simulation and optimization of supply chains and production processes, and many areas more.

Administrative tasks that today are still predominantly manual and sometimes repetitive – such as the regular creation of sales reports – can be automated to the greatest possible extent through AI.

Thanks to Microsoft 365 Copilot, employees can focus on value-adding creative tasks. The AI makes a suggestion, and the employee reviews and approves.

For Franz, it is clear that software in particular will continue to drive developments in the automotive industry and that the competitiveness of automotive manufacturers and suppliers depends on it.

Microsoft is a strong and reliable partner for many manufacturers and suppliers and its Azure Cloud offers a comprehensive, secure, and scalable solution environment for the industry.

This is one of the reasons why Franz switched from an Automotive Manufacturer to Microsoft a year-and-a-half ago: “To drive the digital transformation of the automotive industry at full speed,” he explains.

To learn more about how Microsoft solutions in manufacturing also support the aviation industry, read our portrait of Patrick Marous, Global CEO at thyssenkrupp Aerospace.

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