Cars become 'datacenters on wheels', car makers become software companies

There are 2.5 quintillion bytes of new data a day — where's it all going to go? That's what many organizations are just starting to find out, as explored at IBM's latest conference.

Mobile, social big data, cloud — they are all interrelated, and they all need to work in sync if organizations are going to move into the new digital realm. And this is converting companies of all kinds into digital enterprises.

Cars-2012 Ford Focus Photo from Ford Media Relations
Image: Ford Media Relations

That's the theme coming out of IBM's annual "Impact" conference this week. Interestingly, IBM has adopted a new mantra, "mobile first", which suggests that all connections across the enterprise eventually lead to mobile devices.

IBM VP Robert LeBlanc pointed out that 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are now generated each day. He also pointed out that there are now 9.6 billion devices across the globe.

The huge stream of data is now reshaping even the most industrial companies to rethink their businesses.

Ford Motor Company, for one, no longer considers itself an automobile manufacturer. Ford is now a software company. Vijay Sanakaran, director of application development for Ford, spoke at the IBM event, pointing out that the latest Ford Fusion model has 16 million lines of code, and most cars produced today have 70 microprocessors connected to hundreds of sensors and actuators that have thousands of multiplexer signals. On-board processes supported include customer safety, adaptive cruise control, and parallel parking assist.

If you think about who we are, we're a 100-plus year-old automotive company. And we've really had to change our leadership from automotive engineering to a leadership around software engineering. That's a pretty profound change for us. If you think about the overall ecosystem for the automobile, we really have to think about how we design build software inside the vehicle to the highest degree of quality. If you think about the technology as a user interface, it changes how we think about all the new product design and features ... software has just been a huge change for us.

Interestingly, Sankaran pointed out that Ford sees its mission to employ design to deliver "a mobile digital lifestyle". To achieve this, the company oversees a software supply chain, works to enable collaboration between developers and designers, and build off a plug-and-plug architecture that allows the company to leverage partners' software solutions. 

Disclosure: IBM helped cover Joe McKendrick's expenses to attend Impact. He also moderated a panel discussion with several IBM and customer executives on standardizing and opening up the cloud.