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Leveraging Data in the Automotive UX

Data is becoming a crucial part of the overall automotive UX, yet many industry players don’t actually have access to the required data. Therefore, data strategy must start with the UI, not with the backend.

Interview with Vaino Leskinen, Senior Vice President, Siili_Auto

Vaino Leskinen, Siili_Auto

What is your role at Siili? What is the business that you run?

I run Siili_Auto, an industry vertical tailoring services for OEMs, mobility service providers, and Tier 1s. Our services are centered around design, development, and data work for digital instrument clusters and other HMIs.

Like a lot of people in Finland, you have a long background in mobile. Now that cars are getting bigger screens, more processing power, and more connected, there are many apparent parallels between automotive and where mobile was in the early 2000s. What can the automotive industry learn from the mobile industry?

There are many things, but perhaps the most critical is to realize the importance of what we call “creative technology” in getting the product right. As value moves from hardware to software, the fundamental value proposition remains the same (more revenue, lower cost, increased safety and convenience, making a social statement, etc.), but how we deliver it changes. In a traditional hardware business, engineering competence come later, but now it is needed right up front. It’s a key part of product ideation.

The only way to figure out if a product could be a winner is to engineer it and see if it works, to see if it really creates a differentiating user experience. Building creative technology starts with developing high-fidelity prototypes on target hardware with widely accepted toolchains, such as Kanzi. High-level PowerPoint cannot be tested, but high-fidelity prototypes can. I do believe in lean & agile models, but creating prototypes is about real craftsmanship; it conveys meaning and nuance. There is a role for artful craftsmanship, in building one’s way to a masterful UI. Amazing experiences emerge in the details.

What about the growing role of data in the automotive UX? Cars generate more data than ever, they are equipped with more and more sensors, and they are connected to real-time information services. How can we harness all this data to deliver a better user experience?

The industry seems to be approaching data backwards. It’s easy to say the objective is to create a data-driven UI, but that requires actionable data. In many cases, auto industry players don’t actually have access to such data. Therefore, the data strategy must start with the UI, not with the backend.

In the future, the key to a differentiated UX will lie in giving drivers a reason to opt in and share their usage data. Gone are the days when you could just collect everything or have people fill in long surveys. People understand their data has value and they want to protect it. You need to give them an immediate incentive to share their data with the brand and do that following responsible data collection manners.

The first step is to do a great job visualizing data you already have access to. Then, by delivering a few mobility-centric applications benefitting from user data, you can start to show the value of sharing data. For example, with location information, the temperature indicator can become an intelligent display of weather conditions. The final step in getting the user to share more UI and sensor data is to demonstrate that you are using it in a useful way. This means making the most of data enrichment and analytics capabilities, usually in the cloud, to build a loop that keeps on giving.

Typically, all this starts on the other end: you think about the data platform in the cloud, and then, almost as a secondary thought, you think you should do something on the vehicle side. But really, we need to think about the user and the UI first, and only then, the data platform. These are all interrelated: a great UI, great visualization, and great data capture.

What do you see as the most important keys for differentiation in the automotive UX in the near to medium term, and how can we in the supply chain enable that?

We can already celebrate that fully digital UIs are becoming very convenient. If you look at a modern automotive UI, the experience is much closer to using a modern smartphone than it was just a couple generations ago.

One thing I’m eager to see is software-driven brand affinity. For decades, automakers have done a great job with brand identification, tailoring the brand to represent emotional and cultural aspects of the owner. We could do a much better job of designing UIs to be more emotional and to have similar differentiating factors.

Another key for differentiation will be putting data to work in personalization and customization. With more and more data, it will become more important to display only what’s relevant in any given situation.

For those of us in the supply chain, we need to recognize that the required competences to build a modern cockpit are almost getting out of control. We need to design and engineer platforms as end-to-end solutions, with the HMI tightly connected to cloud platforms.

Who will deliver these complex solutions?

There is a certain lack of software and digital service development competence, which is the reason Siili_Auto has been invited into this traditionally closed supply chain.

This again takes me back to data. I’m not sure the OEMs actually need to have the software production or creation capabilities in-house. What is imperative for them long-term is direct access to, or ownership of, first-party user data.

In the near term, it may look like the only way to get access to data is not to get left behind by a dominant platform. For this reason, many OEMs are looking to develop some of the software layers themselves.

However, these are two different things: in the short term, you are building parts of the software to get access to the data; in the long term, you are developing the first-party customer relationship and getting ownership of the data.

Finally, Rightware and Siili have had a successful partnership for quite some years now. To what do you attribute the success of your Kanzi business?

We’ve been lucky to have partnered with Rightware at so many levels: directly with mutual clients, and also working on the platform and software development side. With Kanzi, we’ve been able to work with and learn from some of the best OEMs on the planet.