How analytics helped Ford turn its fortunes

Ford is using big data to drive virtually every aspect of its global turnaround.

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"We largely figured things out over various experiments and applications in this area over many years, but much of it was not enabled until the last few years because of the increase in computational power," Goodman says. "We have 20,000 compute cores in the building next door at our disposal. We have computers with 1.5TB of RAM. It's those sorts of resources that have enabled us to synthesize this kind of data."

All around, SIMS is acknowledged as a pivotal factor in Ford's turnaround and the overall success of Mulally's global "One Ford" strategy.

"As we globalize and leverage products from around the world, it means new complexity management challenges," says Goodman. Before, "if any feature was desired in any market, we'd engineer it and make it available. When you get into different roof heights, different interiors, different wheels and so on, we can offer an astronomically large number of combinations. Imagine 300 billion and then multiply it by itself again. Customers get overwhelmed by too many choices." Instead, Goodman says, "we want to match customers' wants with our global supply chain. It's a challenge throughout the industry, but there's huge value in getting it right." This requires knowing customers' key preferences, then tailoring the bulk of the company's production to those preferences, rather than building a very wide range of models with many combinations of features. It comes down to building cars that most customers want most of the time.

This is where SIMS has really paid off. Assembly plant schedules and parts forecasts have both significantly improved because "we can run those schedules with better algorithms," says Goodman. "In 2007, we could do it but it would take two to three weeks, and assemblers needed answers in 20 minutes or less. Today, we can do it in two minutes."

Ford dealerships, which are independent franchises, also have benefitted. Some 3,500 dealerships receive the weekly reports. Those that subscribe to SIMS recommendations say that they are selling cars at higher prices and more quickly, says Ginder.

Down the Road

Yet Ford's analytics experts say they have only just begun to scratch the surface with big data. The next big frontier is data that streams from vehicles themselves.

"The volume of data generated by vehicles is huge," says Ginder. Ford's Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid car gets the equivalent of 108 miles per gallon. It also generates 25GB of data per hour.

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