Embarking on a never-ending digital transformation journey

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Digital transformation: Technologists talk about it. A lot of companies think about it. But how many enterprises are really making it happen?  In Japan, one of the world’s biggest and oldest commercial automakers is doing just that – and fast.

Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corporation (MFTBC) has been building vehicles and exporting them around the world for 85 years.  Now, this big traditional manufacturer has given itself just two years to become a “100% digital operation” – complete with cloud-based capabilities in Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), and Mixed Reality (MR).

“Digital transformation is never-ending. To stay ahead, we need to redefine ourselves and be disruptive all the time,” says Lutz Beck, MFTBC’s Chief Information Officer. “Our trucks and buses have kept the world moving for decades. But technology is changing and we must as well.”

Beck regards digital transformation as key to the company’s future competitiveness and applauds the ambitious two-year deadline. “If we don’t do it, someone else will,” he says. “We will be different. Having a different business model will help us in the current environment and also give us opportunities.”

As an early adopter of information technologies, MFTBC has embarked on “Connected X” – an embracing program of change. Launched in partnership with Microsoft Japan, it consists of business models and services that enhance customer relations, boosts employee productivity, and overhauls business operations across more than160 countries.

“We have recently begun working alongside Microsoft, with its cutting-edge technologies and experience, to create new value in trucks and logistics by adopting a business model, capable of diverse economic conditions,” says Beck. “We believe an environment, which utilizes new technologies and allows employees to show their full potential, is vital to achieving innovation.”

Three key components of Connected X are now being put in place:

Firstly, the company has created its own AI-powered chatbot so its 10,000 employees can access the information and assistance they need every day faster and more consistently. The same technology will soon enhance customer services, productivity, and maintenance quality across the whole company. It will power customer helpdesks. And, it will put drivers on the road and mechanics in touch with one another, saving time and boosting efficiency for MFTBC’s customers.

Secondly, MFTBC has just launched its Truckonnect operation management system, which keeps vehicle dispatch centers in constant touch with their fleets. “Entering an age in which all types of goods are connected via IoT, we also have a vision of connectivity that incorporates trucks and buses,” says Beck.

Through the Microsoft Azure IoT Hub, the system connects data from trucks and buses to the cloud so that the location of all vehicles as well as their fuel and mechanical status are constantly monitored. The aim is to prevent potential operational problems and to enable smooth vehicle maintenance by detecting malfunctions in realtime.

Thirdly, the company plans to start using Microsoft HoloLens – the world’s first self-contained Windows 10-powered holographic computer – for its design and maintenance work by the end of 2017. MFTBC wants to revolutionize conventional vehicle design and development, preventive maintenance and other processes by enabling clients, engineers, and designers to share visualized 3-D data simultaneously.

HoloLens will unlock new possibilities for digital experiences, collaboration, and workstyle. The MR technology in Hololens headsets overlays holograms, which are 3-D virtual objects, on the real world for users alone or in collaborative groups. This MR experience opens possibilities for “initiatives that previously would be unimaginable,” says Beck.

Takuya Hirano, President, Microsoft Japan says MFBTC’s digital transformation is “leading-edge and comprehensive initiative for overall management.

“We are extremely honored that we are a trusted partner who can help utilize state-of-the-art technologies – such as AI, IoT, and MR – to drive their business transformation. Microsoft will continue to strongly support MFBTC’s to digital transformation and cooperate fully to realize their digitization strategy – Connected X.”