How Škoda’s visionaries plan to move their customers in the future
The light-flooded ŠKODA AUTO DigiLab in Prague, looks like a fledgling start-up: Exposed concrete walls and pipes lend the place a sober industrial charm. In the spacious and open room, young DigiLab employees are sitting at long rows of tables, dreaming up mobility concepts of tomorrow. Others are sitting on black bean bags and gazing contentedly at their screens. The easy and positive vibe is quickly passed on to visitors. In the open kitchen next door, a group of employees has gathered around bistro tables and is engaged in a lively discussion. Some initial ideas are being shown on two large monitors. This is certainly no nine-to-five job! You really sense that the people here want to get things moving: They are concocting mobility concepts that will take both ŠKODA and the brand's customers far in future years.
Digitally on the go
With ŠKODA Connect, the brand already currently offers a broad range of standard online services. These services inform and entertain drivers, while providing them with complex driver assistance systems and facilitating digital remote access to the individual’s own vehicle. But the digital world is evolving faster and faster. In the process, the needs of drivers and customers are changing as well. Therefore, the visionaries at ŠKODA are working today on the mobility concepts and services of tomorrow. Chief Digital Officer, André Wehner, the man who is shaping the brand’s digital strategy, opened a special new location and a new company since the beginning of January: the ŠKODA AUTO DigiLab.
Rethinking the world and acting unconventionally
The Volkswagen Group has already opened 37 Competence centers and IT labs. Jarmila Plachá heads one of them, the workshop for ideas in Prague. The roughly 20 people who work there are experts in the fields of IT, digitalization, business and finance. They are well familiar with Škoda as well as the competitive factors within the automotive industry. But they also share another trait that is far more important: They understand the world of start-ups or actually come from it. Plachá plans to triple the size of her team by the end of the year. Exactly whom is she looking for? “Young people who think outside the box and creatively experiment with new technologies.” She wants to hire inventor types of people who passionately fuel innovation. People who think in terms of solutions that can be used to overcome barriers in unconventional ways. Her team consists of visionaries who are also realists, people who always focus on customers and products of the future. The head of the DigiLab does not select the experts alone. During an assessment, she watches closely to see whether a team has the right chemistry. For this reason, all applicants spend two days working on a specific project in the DigiLab. The point of the test is not just to come up with an interesting result. The path leading to the achieving a result also determines whether a candidate has fit into the team: Did the individual communicate constructively in the team? Did the applicant completely tap the knowledge of the team and of external sources or did he or she rely solely on his or her own ideas? How closely did the individual focus on the needs of future customers?
“Young people who think outside the box and creatively experiment with new technologies.”
Thinking outside the box together
Plachá also stresses the importance of thinking outside of your own box. Her employees conduct an intensive knowledge and technology exchange: They profit from the research results of collaborating universities and the ideas of talented unconventional thinkers and students. They also draw inspiration from the visions of passionate, creative start-ups and start-up centers. Finally, they initiate partnerships with visionaries and experts in IT, financial services and telecommunications. They seek out and develop ideas, test them and design customer-focused products and services from them so that people can drive in a simpler, safer, more efficient and comfortable manner in the future.
Plachá and her team are currently evaluating more than 40 new-mobility ideas at the moment. They are also putting some of them to the test:
“Mobility with Care”
Anyone who has to take care of not just his or her own mobility needs, but also those of a family member has to invest a lot of time: transportation service to the doctor, friends, sports club or school has to be integrated into the person's daily schedule. Ordering a taxi with an anonymous driver is not really a solution. “Mobility with Care” is a platform that trains an individual to be a “driver-caretaker” and then provides services for interested relatives to meet their individual needs.
This mobility service brings together car owners and people who want to cheaply travel from point A to point B and temporarily need a vehicle for this purpose. This group includes commuters who want to take along colleagues to work for a fee and to rent their car to a third party when they do not need it at their work site. The car-sharing service involves intelligently combining data from a range of offers and demands. As a result, it optimally adapts itself to the needs of providers and customers, while continuously altering the service to fulfill these requirements. This is what separates Škoda’s car-sharing service from other, less dynamic options currently available on the market.
The ŠKODA AUTO DigiLab is currently analyzing a special project in which an array of mobility data are used to help drivers find a parking place. The solution was developed by a Czech start-up and is currently being tested. This service is already in commercial use in several European countries.
Passionately developing products
Innovation Directors Slavo Tuleja and Petra Hubačová who promote innovations in the DigiLab and are experienced in working with start-ups, as well as Jan Edelman, the Senior Project Manager, seem restless, just like Jarmila Plachá herself. When they develop a service to the product level, they think about enhancing it a bit as well. After all, the service should be dynamically refined and continuously adapted to customers’ expectations and future needs. They simply burst with energy when talking about mobility concepts, and you get the feeling that you can certainly expect a thing or two from this team in Prague.
„They want it all. And they want it now!”
An interview with André Wehner, the Chief Digital Officer of ŠKODA, and Jarmila Plachá, the head of ŠKODA AUTO DigiLab in Prague since it opened at the beginning of 2017.
Could you sketch out the digitalization roadmap at Škoda for us?
André Wehner: We initially anchored digitalization in our Strategy 2025. Over the past year, we have intensively discussed how we want to tackle the issue of digitalization at Škoda in the future. The results of these discussions were: to implement the new organizational unit “digitalization” in the company by mid-2016 and to initiate the DigiLab at Škoda at the beginning of 2017. Our main focal points include “mobility”: First, “mobility concepts” and “new business models.” Second, “connectivity,” that is, vehicle-related connectedness both in and around the vehicle. Third, an issue that is just as important to me: “company-wide digitalization.” One of my top digitalization priorities is that we introduce networking throughout the company on a cross-departmental basis. That means that projects should be linked together, technologies linked together and data linked together as a way of either creating new customer services or more efficiently designing processes throughout the entire company. This is exactly what we are doing right now.
How would you describe mobility of the future?
André Wehner: It will definitely be simpler and more customer focused than it is today. This is what the DigiLab in Prague is working on. Jarmila Plachá and her DigiLab Team are thinking about every type of mobility that could appeal to customers in the future.
What do you think the customer of the future wants?
Jarmila Plachá: Young people do not necessarily want to own a car. Unlike my parents’ generation, who viewed car ownership as a status symbol, the new customer of tomorrow may not want to save up for a car and tie up money in it. These people may want to jump into a convertible today and head off for a weekend with friends. Tomorrow, they will want a van that they can use to relocate. You need the right services to meet these needs. This means one thing for us: We have to rethink mobility. For this reason, we are looking for unconventional ideas and thinkers, people whom we are primarily finding in the world of start-ups, to develop products that address customers’ new needs for the market.
Do you already have specific products in mind for a new market?
We are even one step further: We have already defined the processes, set up the first platforms and are now testing prototypes. We will continue to invest if the product range interests customers.
Jarmila Plachá: The digital transformation that we are experiencing right now requires us to introduce our digital services to the market much faster than before. Customers of the future will be much less patient: “They want it all. They want it now.” The digital services of some industries have to some extent already made much greater progress.
Which services are you thinking about in particular?
Some online services are already taking a much more direct approach to their customers’ needs. My vision of an ideal customer experience looks like this: When I want to buy a new car, I’ll have something like an Amazon experience: immediate cross-selling or upselling options. The principle would be: “A customer who, like you, bought a white Kodiaq with this steering wheel also ordered these rims.”
Jarmila Plachá: First of all, I must be able to order my future car online, and the order process must include gamification elements that enable me to make easy decisions based on customer experience and data collected about me in the past. Second, I want to be kept up to date from the time I order the vehicle until I actually receive it. I want to receive an e-mail that tells me the story of my car. "Dear Jarmila! The navigation system was just installed in your car. Tomorrow, the next step will be …" This will enable me to develop an emotional relationship with the vehicle as well as the brand. The young, next generation of customers expects things like this if they want to buy a car.