>Unmanned Vehicles and Enterprise Architecture

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Cars that drive themselves, fiction or a soon to be reality?

General Motors believe that new technology enabling unmanned vehicles is the key to their business future; so GM is setting their sights on this as their target architecture for their turnaround.

The Wall Street Journal, 7 January 2008, reports that GM’s new target architecture is to develop unmanned vehicles by 2018.

Chairman and Chief Executive of GM, Rick Wagoner’s “vision of he not-too-distant future, vehicles crammed with cameras, sensors, and radar and navigation technology will be able to brake and accelerate on their own, avoid accidents, and spot congestion.”

Larry Burns, Chief Technologist at GM states “we see vehicles going from being largely mechanical o becoming more and more electronic.”

“Pushing the technological envelope is a key element of Mr. Wagoner’s strategy for turning GM around and positioning the company to compete with Toyota Motor Corp. in the long term. He is convinced being the first with game-changing innovations is the solutions to one of GM’s fundamental problems—battered image.”

While GM’s quality problems have mostly been addressed, consumers still perceive GM to be a stodgy company and have not come back to buy.

Mark LaNeve, GM’s U.S. sales and marketing chief said that “GM believes it must challenge Toyota on technology leadership in order to reverse the negative perceptions of GM and to win back customers who have defected to foreign brands…Toyota right now clearly has a leadership position on reputation, financial results, and many other measures.”

Will this new architecture strategy work for GM?

I wouldn’t bet on it for a number of reasons:

  • Toyota is not standing still while GM retools; in fact, Toyota is already on the leading edge with the Prius gas-electic hybrid, and the Lexus luxury sedan that can parallel park itself.
  • If GM doesn’t deliver on this technology promise, they will have shot themselves in the foot; it’s one thing to be perceived as behind the 8 ball and it’s another thing to prove that you can’t deliver on your commitments.
  • GM has not clearly articulated the business requirement for unmanned vehicles in the consumer market; we are not dealing with the need for unmanned aerial vehicles in fighting the enemy in Iraq.
  • GM’s strategy, as presented, is not coherent; they talk about getting ahead with technology, but have not addressed their inferior position on other issues such as financial results and other measures that GM’s Mark LaNeve acknowledged.

From a User-centric EA perspective, GM has still not caught on to the essence of the Japanese concept of Kaizen—continuous improvement and user-centricity. GM is looking at trying to steal the technology mantle from Toyota instead of incremental and evolutionary improvement time and time again. It’s a philosophy you live by, not one that you steal.

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