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The Automotive 72-Hour Chat Room

“A gargantuan chat room.” That’s how Doug Gross, IBM Automotive Sector general manager, described the three-day “Automotive Supplier Jam” that was organized by IBM (www.ibm.com) and the Original Equipment Suppliers Association (OESA; www.oesa.org) and held March 7 to 10.

“A gargantuan chat room.” That’s how Doug Gross, IBM Automotive Sector general manager, described the three-day “Automotive Supplier Jam” that was organized by IBM (www.ibm.com) and the Original Equipment Suppliers Association (OESA; www.oesa.org) and held March 7 to 10. That’s right, there was a chat room open for 72 straight hours, facilitated with IBM technology to allow people from throughout the auto industry to openly collaborate with one another. While the specifics of the discussion were closed to those who were not registered participants (i.e., AD&P was not allowed to witness what was happening in real time), Gross said there were four areas of focus:

  • Driving growth. Subjects included addressing top-line growth through innovation, flexibility, improved product development, and enabling disruptive technologies.
  • Profitable prosperity. Here it is about bottom line growth, with subjects including the supplier profit squeeze, the value chain, warranty cost, parts commonality, and structural costs.
  • Collaboration. Improving relationships between suppliers/consumers/other industries/government/academia.
  • The future. As in everything from alternative business models to addressing the forthcoming skills gap to designing for the environment.

Gross said that this isn’t the first time there has been such a “jam.” IBM has been holding them for the past several years to help leverage ideas about what the company should be—and, presumably, should not be—doing. Last July, for example, IBM CEO Samuel J. Palmisano held a similar event that included input from not only IBM employees, but clients, consultants and even family members. Some 100,000 people participated in that on-line event. Gross said that Palmisano took money out of IBM’s R&D budget and targeted it toward ideas that were generated by that jam.

“Good ideas and innovations are title-less,” Gross said, explaining that “it won’t matter if you are a senior executive or an entry engineer.” Because of the fundamentally anonymous nature of the jam—people were required to register, but their actual identities and employers were not identified when they’d post their comments—he believes that it is possible to elevate good ideas that might otherwise not get recognized within an organization.

To help move the conversations forward, “jam champions” were selected for each of the main areas of discussion. Various supplier company executives served on an advisory committee to help create the event. One of the advisors is Matt Matsushita, president and CEO of Denso International America (www.densocorp-na.com). Asked about the event, he responded, “Currently the U.S. auto industry is going through the toughest of all times, with sharp restructuring by the Big Three OEMs. In these difficult times, automotive suppliers have many common issues. This event is a good step forward in working together for the best and strongest solutions to make the supply base better. For these reasons, Denso is happy to be involved.”

So why did IBM orchestrate this? “The industry needs it. Automotive is an important industry for all of us. It’s a big industry for IBM. We’re one of the loudest proponents of innovation—one of our values as a company is ‘Innovation that matters, for our company and for the world.’” He continued, “This is another way to bring our expertise and knowledge of innovation to help the industry—and by helping the industry, we’re going to help all of ourselves.”

Gross added, “As the general manager of Automotive, I think there will also be some good ideas that will come out of it that we can pursue.”—GSV