Cars and Computers: Microsoft Develops New Technologies for the Automobile Industry

REDMOND, Wash., Jan. 8, 2001 — The numbers speak for themselves. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, Americans spend more than 500 million
“commuter hours”
per week in their automobiles. More than 650 million cars are registered worldwide, and more than 55 million new cars are sold annually.

Automobiles, the ultimate in mobility, still play a key role in the lives of people around the world — and theyre here to stay.

So are computers. While carburetors and operating systems may seem like strange bedfellows, the bond between high-tech and what began as Henry Fords dream in Detroit is growing stronger and deeper by the day.

Technology is at work when you drive a car, when you buy one, when you interact with a dealer and even at the automotive assembly plant. According to Microsoft, the company is committed to helping consumers, dealers, manufacturers and suppliers save money and time at key points throughout the automobile industry.

Operating Systems and Infrastructures Developed Specifically for the Automobile Industry

“The automobile industry is a very important area of focus for Microsoft,”
says Jeff Brown, marketing manager in Microsofts Automotive Business Unit.

Working in close partnership with companies such as AAA Response, Bosch, Clarion, Delphi, Denso, Siemens and Visteon, Microsoft is developing technologies that will likely alter the very look and feel of the daily commute. While many of these services and devices are still under development, Brown mentions Internet-based information such as news, traffic updates, instant messaging, navigation assistance and back-seat entertainment systems as examples.

And just in case the use of cellular phones and other handheld devices becomes illegal while driving, Brown says that many of the new and emerging technologies are voice activated. Microsoft has developed Speech Application Programming Interface (SAPI) so that drivers hands remain on the wheel and their eyes on the road.

“Were not new to this business,”
Brown says.
“Weve been building operating systems that are truly built for the automotive sector for four years now.”

Microsoft Windows CE for Automotive an operating system Microsoft has developed and fine-tuned to bridge the gap between technology and the industrial revolution is currently in its third version.

Microsoft Windows CE for Automotive is a critical component of the companys recently unveiled Car.NET Framework, an infrastructure that, according to Microsoft, revolutionizes computing and communications in the automobile industry.

“The Car.NET Framework has its origins in the Microsoft .NET initiative,”
Brown says, citing Microsofts vision of making computing available any time, any place and on any device.
“Working with a range of partners, we plan to develop and distribute services that, combined with in-vehicle electronics audio and video, for example, or navigation will empower carmakers, automotive suppliers and service providers to make traveling easier, more entertaining, less stressful and safer.”

Introduced in October 2000, the Car.NET platform applies Microsofts .NET principles to the automotive industry in a number of ways. The platforms framework provides the infrastructure and tools to build and operate services based on eXtensible Markup Language, or XML, which provides a common method for identifying data from multiple sources.

“From the consumers perspective, the key is that this XML-based .NET framework will allow a range of devices to interact seamlessly with a wide range of Web services, which gives the consumer more and better information and entertainment choices in the car,”
Brown says.

Microsofts Mobile Information Server will provide the server platform interface for the wireless delivery of Web services to mobile devices. This server platform will support connection to any Web service, including email servers such as Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Notes. Microsoft says it will work with industry partners to develop new services, including support for synchronized email, email browsing and remote software updates.

“Were definitely on the road,”
Brown says.
“Weve got the operating system, and weve got an experienced team, and were moving. Weve developed Windows CE for Automotive to enable system manufacturers to build next-generation, in-car computing systems that improve safety, communications, information and entertainment.”

The third version of Windows CE for Automotive, according to Brown, includes a number of key updates.

New debugging tools make sure applications work hand-in-hand with the operating system, improving reliability. There is increased flexibility for application programming interfaces (APIs) via an open, or customizable, configuration and platform builder kits.

Other improvements include new video sourcing and enhanced power management.
“Windows CE for Automotive is smart enough to know when the technologys not being used and therefore doesnt suck the juice out of the battery,”
Brown says.

Microsoft also tested extensively the Critical Process Monitor (CPM) to make sure it prevents system crashes and protects the system from viruses. Run-time recovery capabilities are built in to ensure that the system will detect and automatically recover from failures.

Telematics or wireless data delivery is expected to become a $20 billion industry by 2005. By 2006, experts predict that 50 percent of all new cars and 90 percent of the higher-end models will have telematic-capable appliances. Microsoft, in partnership with developers, device manufacturers and service providers, is ready to pave the road.

“Were moving from static to smart Web-based devices that can be programmed using XML,”
Brown says.
“Weve programmed Windows CE for automotive, our operating system, to be more flexible and more scalable. In doing so, were committing ourselves to the whole new wireless world.”

Consumers and Dealers

Like all other businesses, the automotive industry, at its core, is about providing customers with the best possible product at the lowest cost, in the manner most convenient and efficient for both the buyer and the seller.

Microsofts solution is Carpoint (, the most visited car-buying site on the Web, according to the company, which helps consumers research and buy new and used cars from a network of more than 5,000 local dealers; and Dealerpoint, an Internet-based network that helps dealers access and manage information from manufacturers and potential customers.

“We developed Carpoint and Dealerpoint to create technology and services that make it easier to buy or sell a car online. By working with the industry to deliver the tools they need to better serve online customers, everyone benefits,”
says Todd Weatherby, director of industry services for Carpoint.
“Its all about providing value to the consumer and value to the dealer.”

As more dealers maintain their own Web sites that welcome informed customers, and as manufacturers develop Internet strategies, more customers will use the Web for information on their next automotive purchase. Microsoft developed Dealerpoint 5.0 to give a dealership one place to manage all of its Internet customers — whether those customers are from Carpoint, the dealers Web site, a manufacturers site, or another online buying service. According to research, this allows dealerships an opportunity to offer customers an online sales experience that results in higher customer satisfaction and increased close rates.

Dealerpoint 5.0 includes several new features. For example, a dealership can now customize the tool to meet its specific needs, including the creation and storage of email templates that ensure a quick and tailored response to a dealerships Internet customers, and an ability to set user access and workflow rules that reflect an Internet departments specific structure.

“Dealerpoint and Carpoint both provide rich and valuable information,”
Weatherby says.
“As our Internet partners grow, we will continue to build on those relationships in an effort to deliver even richer applications for dealers.”


Imagine the time, money and raw materials that would be saved if customers, dealers, suppliers and manufacturers were closely linked together. These efficiencies can be realized, according to Peter Wengert, Microsofts Automotive industry manager for manufacturing.

In fact, at some automotive plants they already have been.

“Over the past four years, Microsoft has spent a significant amount of time filling the gaps between applications within the automotive business enterprise — everything from the diagnostics of a motor on the assembly line all the way up to the ERP system inside an automotive manufacturing plant,”
Wengert says.
“Our next step is to extend from the four walls of manufacturing, known as Windows DNA for Manufacturing, to Microsoft .NET for Manufacturing, which allows for the sharing of real-time information from a manufacturing plant, supplier or customer that is local or on the other side of the world using the full power of the Internet.”

For example, one major automotive manufacturer integrated multiple Web-based sales channels with its mainframe production and order management system. In addition to the manufacturers task of integrating an e-commerce platform with its legacy mainframe facility, the company also needed to integrate its network of independent dealers and manage the logistical complexities of delivering built-to-order vehicles to consumers.

The company enlisted Microsoft Consulting Services (MCS) to develop the systems architecture and messaging infrastructure that comprise the core of the system. The Microsoft BizTalk framework drives the system, using a standard set of XML document definitions that enable the manufacturer to open its internal systems to consumers. The inventory database, built on Microsoft SQL Server 7.0, is updated several times daily from the entire network of dealerships. Orders and requests are initiated through a Web browser interface, allowing customers access to the system through any of several Web sites.

The result? The generation of 28,000 leads per month, processed and delivered to dealers using Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) messaging.

“By providing its partners access to the standardized XML schemas and a common set of application components, this manufacturer allows partners to design Web sites that integrate seamlessly and transparently with its purchasing, ordering and manufacturing systems,”
Wengert says.
“In addition, by creating standard XML documents for orders, vehicle configuration and lead management, the manufacturer is driving standardization not only with its own systems, but also in the entire industry.”

Another case in point is the Delphi Automotive Systems Packard Electric facilities in northeast Ohio, where a human machine interface (HMI) continually receives data from the ordering system and transmits customer orders to the network of presses without a middleman. Parts are taken off the presses by robots, which deliver the parts to their proper shipping channels.

For Delphi, whose more than 1,500 customers include not only all of the worlds major automotive manufacturers, but also major players in aerospace, telecommunications and electronics, continuous improvement is a top priority. For Delphi, the investment in technology has paid off. According to the company, it has realized productivity improvements every time it has networked more of its machine or improved other machine processes using Microsoft technologies.

Creating a Global Marketplace

The automobile industry is facing an unprecedented opportunity, says Ray Gage, Microsofts Detroit-based business development manager in the U.S. Business-to-Business e-Marketplace division.

Covisint, the planned automotive e-business trading exchange supported by General Motors, Ford and DaimlerChrysler and joined by Renault/Nissan, has been designed to allow OEMs and suppliers to reduce cost in their respective supply chains and bring efficiencies to their business operations. Covisint runs servers on a Microsoft Windows platform. Microsoft also provides the Microsoft E-Business Acceleration solution, a means by which suppliers can connect via Covisint.

“Our objective is to deliver a range of solutions that help automotive trading partners suppliers and buyers, big and small seamlessly connect their business systems and take full advantage of Covisint services to become more efficient and effective in the marketplace,”
Gage says.
“Our value proposition is that we are delivering standards-based solutions at a low cost that can scale to meet the demands of any business in the automotive supply chain.”

In the automotive industry, Gage explains, there are very few buyers and lots of sellers. He estimates that there are tens of thousands of tier-two and tier-three suppliers — suppliers who do partial assembly on a part, for example, and then pass it on. Traditionally, the auto manufacturers only deal with the tier-one suppliers, limiting their visibility and knowledge about whats happening down the line.

“A lot of the waste is because of inefficiencies along the supply chain, not just between the auto manufacturers and their tier-one suppliers but all along the food chain,”
Gage says.
“The feeling was that to improve we had to provide a ubiquitous knowledge platform across the entire automotive supply chain to ring out the inefficiencies and waste that often come from a lack of information or simply poor processes. We needed to bring everyone onto a common platform with common standards and tools so that everything from design collaboration to procurement to logistical and transportation were accessible, affordable and easy to use.”

The Internet, Gage says, offered a perfect vehicle. The technology solutions are now available from companies like Microsoft that can enable the automakers, suppliers, dealers and the after market to all participate. Depending on the trading partners IT expertise, budget and business needs, Gage says a solution can be fitted and implemented quickly. An auto manufacturer can easily access detailed and up-to-the-minute information on the availability of a particular make and model of car seat. At the same time, the supplier of that make and model of car seat can access data to calculate the future supply and demand.

“The Microsoft E-Business Acceleration suite runs in a Windows 2000 Server environment and leverages the Microsoft BizTalk Server, Microsoft Commerce Server and Microsoft SQL Server to perform the necessary functions,”
Gage says.
“Front-end connectors have been developed to ease the integration with Covisints business systems and back-end adapters are available to integrate the trading partners back-end business systems. Its really all about business systems talking to business systems. The E-Business Accelerator Suite from Microsoft has been Covisint tested and certified and can be implemented by a number of professional service organizations, including Microsoft Consulting Services.”

The result? According to Gage, a projected savings of about $3,000 per automobile, accumulated throughout the manufacturing process from design to procurement to supply-chain activities.

Gage says he is pleased with the relationships Microsoft has fostered all along the supply chain.

“I see Microsoft being a company that will play a key role in enabling businesses of all sizes to be able to participate in business-to-business commerce,”
he says.
“Were in the process right now of reaching out to suppliers, and so far theyve been pretty open to it. Suppliers want guidance from the auto industry, but they dont want to feel squeezed, so were focusing on communication and collaboration. Its a great role for Microsoft.”

Bridging The Gap Between Technology and the Industrial Revolution

In many ways, the merging of technology and the automobile industry is in its infancy. As manufacturers rethink processes from design to assembly, Microsoft continues to develop and implement technologies specifically for the manufacturing arena by following its .NET strategy a vision that calls for computing to be possible at any time, any place and on any device.

In the automotive industry, this means not only new devices, but old ones as well. A stamping press, for example, can be retrofitted so that it can receive and transmit information to and from the Internet in a secure manner.
“This machine would have cost millions of dollars to replace,”
Wengert says.
“Its important that we continue to develop means of connecting to networks of legacy systems without having to replace the hardware.”

In the future, Wengert says, he pictures the automotive industry as a more agile one.

“I think long design times, long delivery times and increased recalls will become a thing of the past,”
he says.
“Microsoft is working hard to develop technologies that allow manufacturers, suppliers, consumers and dealers to take full advantage of improving lead times, collaborating with one another and lowering costs.”

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