When the CTO is also the CMO: Leading the Evolution of The Software-Defined Car
Updated: Dec 14, 2022
There’s a lot of talk about the increasingly important intersection of the corporate CIO and CMO roles. Several years ago, Gartner projected that in 2017 the CMO would outspend the CIO on information technology, and there’s little reason to doubt that projection.
But here’s a scenario you may not have heard of—the combination of the CTO and CMO roles, a joint position I’ve held at my company for the past two years. At first, this may sound like an unusual hybrid. But it actually makes a lot of sense to merge these two functions, at least in the types of companies where the two disciplines are intertwined in the mission of transforming technology into profitable growth.
Movimento is that kind of business. Founded in 2003, Movimento today offers original equipment manufacturers and tier-one suppliers in the automotive industry a secure platform for providing continuous and comprehensive over-the-air (OTA) software updates for millions of vehicles throughout their lifecycle.
As the cars we drive evolve from heavy chunks of hardware into the equivalent of supercomputers on wheels, there is the need to constantly update the software that runs everything from entertainment systems to critical safety features. Furthermore, those updates need to be customized for different locations or even individual vehicles, based on data generated by and collected from those vehicles. (For more information about this transformation of the automobiles we drive, see the sidebar "Understanding the Software-Defined Car.")
Movimento has been a leader in driving this evolution. And integrating the chief technology and marketing roles – combining an understanding of our customers’ particular mindset and the technology that can deliver value-creating solutions – has been an important element in our success.
A Meeting of the Mindsets
The world of business has grown more efficient over the years as we’ve increasingly broken down silos. There are industry silos. Functional silos. Silos in attitudes. Silos in approaches. It’s clear today that these silos slow things down, yet they persist. In longstanding organizations, it can be difficult to eradicate them.
Most companies have separate technology and marketing organizations, which seems like a natural division of expertise. But in a company like ours that separation serves no purpose. Many organizations are eagerly embracing user-centric product design -- and for good reason. Customer experience is the biggest competitive differentiator that technology providers have in an increasingly commoditized space. And if the customer is the center of product development, then it makes sense to conjoin the CTO and CMO roles. The marketers understand the end problem the company is trying to solve for the customer; the technologists are able develop a product to deliver that unique value proposition.
Embodying that approach in a single CTO-CMO position might not work at a Fortune 100 company with its layers of bureaucracy and specialized roles. But at Movimento, we can eliminate the middleman. Instead of one function conveying insights to another function, you have, in effect, a single function. And we don’t have the problems that typically exist when the CTO and CMO organizations operate independently, even if collaboratively: They fight for power and resources, they speak different languages and they slow each other down. Here we all speak one language—I call it “marketecture.” We can talk to and understand our consumers/users while we can also speak in the ones and zeros of the digital world. We can communicate and collaborate internally and externally to drive the business agenda.
It was that blended mindset that led us to come up with Movimento’s core principle of the software-defined car, a term we coined and have trademarked. When I introduced the idea, I got some confused looks because it represented a mind shift for the company, which saw itself as a provider of software update systems. When we started thinking about the product and services we provide as a platform for this larger concept, it opened up possibilities for our engineers and our marketers. They could begin thinking about software-defined radios; investigating software-defined networks; researching software-defined safety and security. We got there by combining our deep automotive industry and engineering knowledge with an understanding of our customers’ needs.
In addition, this mindset helped us look beyond a platform that simply delivered input – software updates – to the vehicle. We saw that the platform could also analyze and diagnose data output from the vehicle. In a classic example of the machine learning feedback mechanism, this data would make future software updates more efficient and impactful.
Bridging the Gap Between Silicon Valley and Detroit
But my dual role isn’t only about merging the functional silos and mindsets of R&D and marketing within our organization. As Chief Marketing Officer, I also need to bridge the gulf between two industries – our own world of high technology and the world of our customers, who make automobiles and related products. Silicon Valley and Detroit speak different languages, have contrasting cultures, and employ very different processes.
We try to span this gap by bringing together the best of both worlds in a way that everyone can embrace. If you are too tech-centric, you’ll lose Detroit. If you get too deep in the automotive weeds, the Silicon Valley folks will tune out.
The concept of the software-defined car was a way to blend these two world views. It helped the carmakers see that their product was becoming the supercomputer on wheels I mentioned earlier, which had an effect on their design and purchasing decisions. The concept also helped focus their attention on the central importance of software security and the need to build it into the product from the beginning – as a networking or telecom company in Silicon Valley would – rather than layer it on after the fact.
Conversely, our Silicon Valley engineers needed to adopt the mindset of Detroit. Just as the carmakers came to understand the importance of software security, the engineers needed to appreciate something that is part of carmakers’ DNA – automotive safety. You can’t simply say to a car buyer, “Here’s your car, it’s connected to the Internet and it does all these cool things.” If you don’t continue to monitor software security, you won’t be able to keep a step ahead of hackers and other threats.
The networking types in Silicon Valley don’t typically deal with software reliability and security that is a matter of life and death. They are likely to approach automotive development the way they do, say, mobile app development. While some Silicon Valley techies might think of the modern cars as a “mobile phone on wheels,” this omits a key difference between regular apps and vehicle software. If a banking app goes down, people may get angry and revenue may be lost – but no one dies.
When people’s lives are at stake, safety and security move to the front of the line for engineers. For example, once our developers started pondering the software-connected car, they began thinking like Detroit when it develops a brake system. They not only had to design an effective product, it had to be as close to 100% safe and secure as possible. If you’re developing the software for an autonomous car, you need that system to stop when it encounters a living thing in its path every single time. Silicon Valley understood “enterprise grade,” but they had to learn “automotive grade” – an even higher standard for performance.
By combining the worlds of Silicon Valley and Detroit through the concept of the software-connected car, each side began to better understand the other. Although it was a foreign concept at the start, now the two disciplines represented by our engineers and our customers have come to appreciate each other.
And that appreciation – that respect – for one another’s knowledge and mindset isn’t only crucial in bringing together the two industry worlds of software and automotive. It also is necessary to bridge the two functional worlds of marketing and technology. In both cases, this mutual respect enables the building of new platforms that will support the future.
*** Understanding the Software-Defined Car
In the future, car makers won’t simply sell you, say, a 2020 Toyota Prius or Cadillac Escalade. They’ll sell you a version of the vehicle that will be continually updated and improved via wireless software releases. That will require a completely different mindset from the sell-it-and-forget-about-it approach that, warranties notwithstanding, is the way people generally think about cars today. The automaker will be along for the ride with the customer during the entire product lifecycle, continuously improving the product through software updates – because, as anyone in Silicon Valley knows, software is always evolving.
Servicing the software-defined car will involve much more than a regular oil change. Although providing over-the-air software updates for automobiles may sound relatively simple – we get software updates for our cell phones all the time – it’s actually quite complex.
On the road, even vehicles of the same make, model and year may have different software and hardware components, depending on what’s happened to them over time. Maybe the car was repaired and given new parts. Perhaps new software was added. Today, there are roughly 7,200 microprocessors in the average car, from a wide variety of vendors. The cars being designed today will benefit from improved software available by the time they hit the road in 2018. Bits and bytes have become as important as pistons and powertrains.
When a vehicle is ready for a software update, you have to first understand its current makeup. Over-the-air software companies like Movimento collect the VIN number in order to first build an accurate picture of all the systems in the automobile. While some service providers may be able to update certain on-board systems, we are able to collect data and update software from numerous suppliers for the entire vehicle, which we view as one big system.
Understanding the makeup of each vehicle is just the beginning. Auto industry followers may recall Tesla’s announcement early last year that it could shave .1 seconds off the already speedy Tesla P85D’s zero-to-60 acceleration via an over-the-air software update. We are working to enable that type of capability for automakers that don’t currently have the “supercomputer on wheels” architecture that Tesla does.
Drivers will be able to customize infotainment apps and diagnose mechanical problems without putting their vehicles in drive. They’ll be able to make improvements to their vehicles – for example, modifications that boost gas mileage or control emissions to meet new state-specific regulations – without having to take their car into a dealer. They won’t wait for next year’s model to get the improved product; they’ll wait for the next software update. But updates sent to millions of cars are only half the story. Every time a software-connected car hits a pothole on a New York City street or travels through the Texas Hill Country, a vast amount of data will be collected and stored. This creates a bi-directional data flow, in which a data agent in our platform gathers vehicle diagnostics and other information and sends it back in the other direction. This capability lets us deliver detailed analytics about vehicle performance and status to our OEM customers.
With this data, car makers can react in real time in order to make their vehicles better serve drivers. Examining this diagnostic info, manufacturers can see how their cars are being used, which can feed a continual improvement process to develop new features that customers want. Examining this data over time will also allow automakers to build better vehicles, as well as refine the software delivered to all existing vehicles in subsequent updates. Ultimately, the feedback will enable customization of software for an individual vehicle based on its use – the geography, climate, and road conditions in which it is driven, or even the skill and individual driving style of its owner.
The integration of the Chief Technology Officer and Chief Marketing Officer roles, while an unusual hybrid, can be surprisingly effective, combining in a single position an understanding of customer problems and the technology that can create solutions to them.
Functional silos, which grew up to reflect a natural division of expertise, today usually breed inefficiency and slow response time.
A CTO/CMO can help bridge the crucial gap between the mindset and attitudes of a technology company and its customers in other industries.