Daimler AG is both a world leader in commercial vehicles and premium cars, and a pioneer in innovative mobility. The work requires processing enormous amounts of confidential, business-critical data, but until recently, the automaker had a problem. Its on-premise data platform, built five years ago, lacked the flexibility and scalability needed for big data projects, while Daimler’s strict security standards – more rigorous than what’s legally required – prevented the company from moving data into the cloud.
To solve the problem, Daimler launched eXtollo, the company’s new cloud platform for big data and advanced analytics. Developed with Microsoft, the platform uses Azure Key Vault, a service that safeguards encryption keys and secrets, including certificates, connection strings and passwords.
The solution paved the way for Daimler to migrate its data lake to the cloud, with eXtollo now serving internal business units around the world, including production, finance, sales, marketing and research. Hosted on Azure, the platform also enables more artificial intelligence (AI) projects that help Daimler accelerate innovation, better serve its customers and shape the future of mobility.
To learn more about eXtollo and Daimler’s work with big data, Transform chatted with Guido Vetter, head of Daimler’s Corporate Center of Excellence Advanced Analytics & Big Data.
TRANSFORM: What challenges did you have with your on-premise data platform?
VETTER: We had a monolithic environment and limited capacity. The requests and demands for service from Daimler’s business units were so massive that we were not able to scale the calculation power to what we needed. We had our units competing for calculation resources and we had to schedule and plan who was calculating when. But with Azure, the big advantage is we scale up, we compute, we pay, we scale down.
TRANSFORM: How did Azure Key Vault help?
VETTER: Azure Key Vault was the lever for us to move into the cloud. The biggest challenge for us internally is that we process confidential data. We don’t want this data to leak anywhere. But with “bring your own key” in Azure Key Vault, we are in control of the data and encryption material. Nobody but us can use the data. Combined with services like Azure Active Directory, it gives us all the data protection and security we need to make sure everything is to our highest standards of security.
TRANSFORM: How long did it take you to develop eXtollo?
VETTER: We launched the idea of eXtollo in workshops with Microsoft in January 2018. Then we went live for Europe in April. It was a three-month exercise and a lot of the time we spent validating concepts. We went live in the U.S. in October and later in Asia. So, we have in nine months of almost-global coverage. It was lightning-fast. Cloud is really bringing us the speed and the flexibility to do that.
TRANSFORM: What are some use cases for eXtollo?
VETTER: We do a lot of forecasting cases. In the past, it took days to calculate forecasts in the finance or production areas, which the algorithms can now do in minutes and seconds. We also do driving behavior analytics and forecasting with AI on what a customer potentially wants to buy and that gives us a better portfolio of sales.
The best use case scenario is error code forecasting for the vehicle. When you take your car to the workshop for a repair, the mechanic can download an error code log from the car and immediately see how to solve the problem. The computer program is based on a machine-learning algorithm that analyzes historical, diagnostic data of cars to give targeted suggestions for faster, better service.
The cloud really enables the potential of AI for all levels of the organization. That’s one of the advantages of Azure – we have all the tools we need, whether we use AI algorithms or normal advanced analytics algorithms.
Daimler and Microsoft
With Microsoft as a strategic partner, Daimler and its brands are world-class digital companies with a long history of cloud- and AI-powered projects. Daimler efficiently manages 400,000 global suppliers with its procurement system on Azure and accelerates software development with Microsoft Azure DevTest Labs.
Daimler Trucks North America built Detroit Connect – its fleet management data analysis program – on Azure for faster innovation and maximum uptime for 200,000 trucks. Similarly, Daimler FleetBoard GmbH and Mercedes-Benz Vans tapped Azure to power new digital products for commercial vehicles.
TRANSFORM: What is Daimler’s approach to big data?
VETTER: Data has become a very important factor in our discussions: Data quality, data culture, data governance. This for us is a totally new topic. In the past, engineers worked on cars manually and physically. Now we can do the work much faster with data. We want to use data to benefit the customer, with improved safety and better services and products, so the customer can get more out of their car. It’s all about quality. As our company founder said, “The best or nothing.” That’s really what we say as well.
TRANSFORM: What is the Center of Excellence?
VETTER: The Center of Excellence department was founded five years ago to bring technology into the organization. We have a huge global team of data scientists and architects working with our business partners to solve problems, multiply the approaches and develop the platform based on global needs. We send our data scientists to conferences to get the latest insights. Some of our data scientists teach at universities, which connects us with academia. We are always up to date on the latest discussions to transform technology for the benefit of the organization.
TRANSFORM: How does the partnership with Microsoft benefit Daimler?
VETTER: The partnership with Microsoft is very valuable. What makes it successful is Microsoft’s key knowledge in technology with a very good understanding of the automobile business, combined with Daimler’s key knowledge of the automobile business with a very good understanding of technology.
It’s not that Microsoft is just a supplier, in that we buy something, we pay and then we are good. It’s a partnership approach. When my team’s architects are discussing solutions with Microsoft’s product owners, we see a lot of willingness at Microsoft to help us solve our problems and we are able to give ideas for new products. We really complement each other and that makes it work.
Top photo: Lineup of Daimler vehicles. (Courtesy of Daimler)