We want to own technology around customer experience: FCA's Mamatha Chamarthi

Global automotive major Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is developing a global technology hub in Hyderabad by investing $150 million, or about Rs 1,100 crore, to develop proprietary technology for its vehicles. At a time when many of its rivals are relying more on outsourcing to save costs, Fiat Chrysler (FCA)wants to have its core technologies in-house to improve the speed-to-market for its products. Mamatha Chamarthi, chief information officer, North America and Asia Pacific, at FCA tells ET’s Nehal Chaliawala and Ketan Thakkar in an exclusive interview why agility is so important for automakers today. Edited excerpts:

Q. What was the idea behind investing in a global technology hub in Hyderabad?
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is one of the largest automakers in the world and now we are expanding our digital capabilities by creating a global digital hub in Hyderabad. We chose India for the talent available here. The car is increasingly becoming software-defined enabled by hardware. So we need a large pool of talent today as a software company, as a technology company that’s in the mobility business, to help deliver features and applications at the speed of customers’ expectations.

Our customer today is a connected customer. And what they expect, comes from their expectations from the smartphone that they carry with them. On the smartphone, they get very regular updates of their operating system and features and apps. And the content is personalized to them based on their usage. And then they move to their connected car as another device in their lifestyle and the same expectations carry to the car.

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By collecting the data as our customers not just drive the product, but shop for our product. Then go and get it financed, and then, own it. So throughout their lifecycle engagement with us, connected car opens that door or becomes that gateway for us to engage with the customer, to increase their stickiness to our brands. And that’s why it is significant to focus on this. And it is significant to focus on moving at speed, because speed is creating that competitive differentiation. We are looking at the agility and speed of decision making from the top floor to the shop floor and transparency to the customer. So that’s why we have we have decided to invest $150 million and create initially 1000 jobs in Hyderabad in addition to 200 jobs in Chennai focused on digital technologies.

Q. At a time when automakers globally are trying to cut costs and get off-the-shelf solutions, it seems counterintuitive what you are doing by developing all these technologies yourself. What’s the rationale?
Everything that falls under the domain expertise of automotive and where software drives a differentiating experience for our customer, we would like to own the entire experience of the customer. Even if we partner with technology companies, we will become the integrating partner that drives the experience to the customer because we own it. And that’s why you were seeing that significant investment we are making in software competency.

That being said, our strategic partnerships based on expertise will continue with technology companies. But we are trying to insource and bring in house all of the software competency that’s required to deliver the best captivating experience for our customers.

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Q. Do you see tech companies as future competitors?
I always say that technology companies have the audacity to come into the automotive world and become automotive players, and I feel like the automotive companies need to have equal audacity to become a technology company to drive that customer differentiation. In automotive industry we have hundreds of years of experience in building the car. And when we move, we move at scale.

Q. Are there any quantifiable metrics which having this tech centre helps you improve?
There are a few KPIs or metrics that we are tracking for ourselves. One is speed to market. We developed a new app for our Ram brand in three months. Delivering something like this would have taken us at least a couple of years to deliver without this kind of in-house software competency. So, a couple of years to three months – that’s unheard of in the auto industry.

We can no longer say that we are an auto company, our life cycles are five to seven years long, and we will come up with all software features seven years later. Because by then the customer would have already moved on with his or her expectations. So speed to market is our primary metric. The agility with which we respond to a customer’s expectation is another critical metric for us. You know, when did the customer express an interest in this kind of a feature and when did we really go to market with it.


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