Supportability comes up a lot for Speicher, the Hughes Telematics CIO. Mercedes-Benz is incorporating various sensing technologies from Hughes into its luxury cars.
The system, called mbrace, includes features such as the ability for the owner to call up a map on his smartphone so he can find his Mercedes SLR McLaren Roadster on a crowded street. (As if anyone would misplace that $450,000 beauty. Well, if so, mbrace also includes a stolen-vehicle identification system to help police track it down.)
Plans call for mbrace to allow owners to choose among applications to download, as you would with an iPhone, Speicher says. Hughes Telematics and Mercedes are working with auto-parts suppliers to create hardware that can support in-car databases to add even more complicated software to the vehicle. He talks about applications that store and read local news and weather to you as you drive and ones that tag songs on satellite radio to replay, purchase or share with connected friends.
Support, Speicher says, gets complicated. Internally, he uses tools built with IBM to integrate mbrace's underlying software and communications technology. As for supporting car owners, today that's mainly done at the dealership. Just as companies shouldn't overspend on technology, the cost of long-term support must be factored into decisions about how, and even whether, to build technology-based products, he says.
Ultimately, automakers and perhaps dealerships, too, should be able to upgrade software in a vehicle remotely, which costs less than having each customer return to the dealership. To the company, each car will be just another node on the corporate network, he says.
That network should be owned by the CIO, adds Mirchandani. Any separate infrastructure that grows up around a technology-enabled product will only have to be integrated by IT later, he says. A familiar trial, no? A company that envelopes its smart products with its existing CRM and analytics systems puts itself ahead, he says, by giving customers one seamless experience and the CEO new insights from all that data.
Keeping Up With Friends
Part of what makes support a pressing issue is that consumer technology changes faster than corporate IT. With faster product cycles and fickle buyers, "delays and mistakes are magnified," says Ray Rivera, CIO of Taser International.
Taser has recently started to offer digital video archiving and retrieval services-a completely new line of business for the $105 million maker of stun guns and other law-enforcement equipment. Taser's Axon hardware records what officers see and hear; the video is uploaded to Taser's private cloud, Evidence.com, for storage and searching during investigations.
The company is also preparing to launch Protector.com, a set of software, hardware and Web services aimed at parents who want to monitor and limit their children's mobile phone use and, later, driving habits. A parent installs a single dashboard on a smartphone, computer or TV with Internet access. The software alerts the parent when it detects a dangerous condition, such as when a teenager's car is on and her BlackBerry, Windows Mobile or Android phone is being used for texting.
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