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Ford's Use Of Big Data

Ford's CEO Mark Fields used CES to discuss the company's data

22Jan

Ford are a company with history. After creating the first mass produced car in 1908, they have created numerous innovation within motoring.

At CES 2015, their CEO, Mark Fields, gave us an insight into how the company will be utilizing data in the future in order to make even more.

They will be harvesting data from the millions of cars they have on the road in order to build better business models and potentially new businesses around it. It may come from the way that cars are insured, how cars are shared or simply improving the quality of the cars and their components.

This is not new, we have seen the companies like Jaguar Land Rover have done this before, but for a company with such a mass appeal and readily available cars, this is a first.

The plan is to not just look at what they are doing within their own cars and how they can improve their business though. They will also be looking at the ways that they can improve the infrastructure around their vehicles, this will include roads, cities and overall smarter cars.

To start this process, Ford is studying the driving habits of 200 employees with in-vehicle sensors. The idea behind this is to track what is happening within the cars, how they are being driven and see which metrics and tracking works best. From this initial experiment it will be possible to identify the areas where this is likely to be the most effective and where is unlikely to work amongst the wider customer base.

Their aim with this overall data strategy goes well beyond what other car companies have tried. They are essentially become a completely data driven company, which for automobiles is going to be difficult.

Most data gathering techniques today occur online, where people do not have the same emotional connection. A car for many is more than four wheels that get you from one place to the other. It is a place where you are warm during a cold day, where you experience angry reactions and a sense of safety.

These are metrics that are always difficult to map through data. However, through experimentation, Ford are starting in the correct way. Trying out the sensors and data gathering through a limited data set means that this is more likely to work in the long run on a larger customer base.

The difficulty that Ford are likely to have is the actual implementation of many of the insights that they find. Having this much data filtered back to Ford will require a monumental amount of firstly data processing power and secondly skills to find the patterns and trends that will truly have the impact they want.

It will require an almost complete overhaul of how the company works and the mindset of their workers. They must need to be able to adapt to what the data says not necessarily what they have done up to that point. Essentially, Ford are looking to do what Apple and Google did to user experience, but in an industry that is over 100 years old.

Will it work?

It is a huge step for a company like Ford to take, but if they get it right then it could revolutionize how people look at their cars. If this kind of work had been undertaken by a startup, you would have to argue that it would fail, simply because the level of effect it would have on the industry would be minimal.

With Ford taking on such a mammoth task, with their market standing and considerable financial clout, it has a chance of working. 

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