It’s happened to all of us. You’re driving down the road and the “check engine” light appears on your dashboard. It could be something simple, like time for an oil change, or it could be something bigger. What do you do? Lose your car for a day while you take it to a service station? Keep on driving and hope for the best?
If you’re a commercial truck driver, the stakes are higher. An unplanned repair visit means losing a day of revenue, and potentially hurting your delivery schedule, for a condition that might be very minor. But if you decide to keep driving, you risk something far worse happening to your engine – and your livelihood.
This kind of uncertainty is a fact of life for many drivers. But Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) is using the Internet of Things to resolve the uncertainty. DTNA is the largest heavy-duty truck manufacturer in North America, selling trucks under brands such as Freightliner, Western Star, Thomas Built, and Detroit Diesel through more than 1,300 dealers. In 2013, the company released a service called Virtual Technician to help existing drivers while also enabling new business models and revenue streams.
According to CIO Dieter Haban, whose team identified the idea and led product development, “the innovation combines telematics, mobility, central mission control, big data analytics, and a seamless process from the truck to the driver, fleet manager, and ultimately to an authorized service outlet.”
DTNA’s engines continuously record performance data and send it to their Detroit Diesel Customer Support Center (CSC). When a fault occurs, a team of CSC Technicians examine the data in real time and offer a recommendation. If it’s just a routine repair, technicians can help the driver schedule a service appointment for some convenient time and location. But if it’s a more severe condition, they might say “You need to bring your truck in for service right away. There’s a service station 75 miles down the road. When you get there, we’ll have a service bay open and all of the parts we need on hand. You should be in and out in two hours.”
This kind of service is more than just convenience. It brings certainty to a situation where uncertainty can drive tension into the driver/manufacturer relationship.
By capturing information that formerly was available only from an in-person diagnostic test, Daimler Trucks North America creates customer loyalty and reduces risk for commercial drivers.
Haban described the savings: “From the time a fault is realized, ordering parts, to getting the truck in the shop and repaired, we eliminated all wasteful steps. This cuts down the time tremendously.” But the savings go beyond efficiency. The service gives drivers confidence, and that’s important for a driver who operates alone, often hundreds of miles from home. Drivers are willing to pay for that certainty.
DTNA’s new service offers a number of important lessons for delivering IoT solutions, and digital transformation in general:
- Look beyond the limits of the pre-digital age. Why is repair service so maddening? It’s because technicians can only diagnose and recommend services when your vehicle is actually in the shop. Daimler Trucks North America executives saw how IoT technology could fix this fundamental flaw in the design of the repair process, making the process smoother and more efficient for drivers and technicians alike.
- Build and share a transformative vision. To the senior leadership team, this wasn’t just about telematics or new revenue. Putting a virtual technician on board each truck was just the start of a much broader process of changing the relationship between drivers or fleet operators and the company. DTNA leaders created this vision, communicated it widely inside the company, and then listened to ideas that could extend the vision.
- Lead from the top. Digital transformation often crosses organizational silos, meeting many types of inertia and conflict along the way. It takesstrong top-down leadership — a combination of persuasion, incentives, mandates, and examples — to make this kind of change happen. Virtual Technician touches many parts of DTNA, from IT to engineering to customer centers to dealers. Building the service required decisive leadership to invest in the innovation, negotiate across boundaries, address issues, and engage hundreds of people in making the vision real.
- Ensure that you have a strong digital platform. DTNA executives had to build a platform that connected engines on the road, engineers and technicians in the control center, and systems in the dealers into a unified process. Failing to connect a link in the chain would lead to service failures and unwanted delays. For example, if dealer service systems were not part of the solution, a driver might arrive for service only to have to wait for a bay to open, or for parts to arrive. Building a platform that spans different organizational units, and even beyond the boundaries of DTNA, is challenging, but it is the foundation for everything else.
- Foster close collaboration between IT and business leaders. In Daimler Trucks North America, the CIO is responsible for innovation, not just for IT. Business and IT leaders work closely together to identify and implement ideas. According to Haban, digital transformation is “a joint effort of IT and business. Nobody says ‘I’m the digital guy.’” This is important; neither IT nor business can do it alone.
- Stay attuned to new possibilities. The Virtual Technician capability is becoming the centerpiece for new service offerings. For example, fleet managers are willing to pay for a service that lets them know, in real-time, where every truck is, how well it’s working, and when it will next need repairs. The data can also help DTNA understand how to improve its engines, help customers choose the right equipment configurations, or optimize inventory management. And management is paying attention to many other opportunities.
To date, more than 100,000 trucks have activated the Virtual Technician service. More than 85% of users have already received a notification of needed services, and 98% were satisfied with the notification process. Customers report higher satisfaction and higher uptime on their vehicles equipped with Virtual Technician.
DTNA’s new capabilities make many other services possible for the company and its corporate family. Daimler could offer these services to commercial drivers and fleet managers in other parts of the world. It could extend its engine-focused service to other parts of the truck, like wheels or suspensions. And who knows – Mercedes drivers may someday get the same type of service for their passenger cars.
The internet of things is enabling new possibilities for digital transformation in every industry. It is creating new opportunities that were only dreams a decade ago. Take a look at your business. What can you do that you couldn’t do before? Start to do it now, before someone else does.
This blog first appeared in Harvard Business Review on November 4 here.
George Westerman is a research scientist at MIT’s Center for Digital Business. He is co-author of the new book, Leading Digital: Turning Technology into Business Transformation.