Daimler Trucks' top IT exec hires a mix of 'Einsteins' and 'Edisons'

Dieter Haban led the team that developed a real-time, factory-installed remote diagnostic system found on more than 70,000 Daimler Freightliner trucks.

Dieter Haban's work as CIO at Daimler Trucks North America extends from the factory floor all the way to drivers. Haban led the team that developed the company's Detroit Virtual Technician, a real-time, factory-installed remote diagnostic system found on more than 70,000 Freightliner trucks. Virtual Technician is part of the Detroit Connect suite of integrated telematics solutions, introduced in 2013.

Haban, a finalist for the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium 2014 CIO Leadership Award, says IT has a responsibility to bring such innovations to its organization. Here he shares his ideas on what it takes to fulfill that responsibility.

"Innovation" is an IT buzzword. How do you define it? For me, it means to improve a business process and to create a new revenue stream by applying efficient solutions. A new technology can sit out there a long time before it's an innovation. Invention means you have to spend money to create; innovation, to me, means you make money. That's a big difference. It can be a process visible to a customer out in the market, or it can improve internal processes.

How do you identify what areas or processes could benefit from innovation? We go over areas with the teams; we listen to the voices of our customers, our dealers and our internal business. We look at all this, and then we take a lot of creative, innovative people who think outside the box and challenge existing processes and ask, "Why can't we apply this idea from other industries?" We also scan technologies and trends: We're in contact with tech companies, and we have innovation workshops. We invite those creative minds and people who know the business process, and we have one- or two-day workshops, or even a series of workshops over several weeks, and together design a vision and a plan on how to get there. We do these workshops as a cross-functional team. They have been very successful. You can't organize creativity, but how we look at where we can improve something is organized.

Where does your company stand on the Internet of Things? We have some great successful examples. One example is the Detroit Virtual Technician we use in all of our trucks. When you have a fault in the truck, your engine light goes on, and the driver doesn't know what to do. But a device in our trucks captures all the data, and we send the data to our call center before or during the event, and the call center advises the driver of the appropriate actions we propose. We check with our service points and our parts provider, and at the same time we inform the dealer that there's a problem with the truck and please be prepared, and we equip the truck with RFID, so the dealer can pull all the data -- from the warranty, the customer data, the Virtual Technician -- to provide a pleasant experience. This is where we connect all the dots.

What's your biggest technology project right now? We combine mobile, RFID, big data and the Internet of Things for the best customer experience and a very efficient process. It is very big, so we want to achieve this in smaller steps by connecting all the dots and in the creation of onboard, off-board and back-office IT solutions. [For example, we] created an app for dealers where all the information is at their fingertips. That's connected to our back office and our Virtual Technician. It's a big initiative that changes the service experience at the dealership.

What's the big challenge with that project? The greatest challenge is implementing those innovative solutions quickly, and the second [biggest] is to make them as easy to use as an app you download from an app store. So you need to make it easy for people to use and figure out. Those are the major things: Make it happen quickly, do small steps so you have quick successes, and make it easy to use for the users.

You've talked about hiring Einsteins and Edisons. How do you recruit for those types of people? I know in an interview if I am talking to an Einstein or an Edison. It's part of you, and just by talking to this person, I just know it. Edisons like to perfect a system, improve processes. And Einsteins are creative -- they need the out-of-the-box thinking. If you have only out-of-the-box thinking, it would be chaos. It's the right mix of the people you need.

What question do you ask to determine who's who? "If there's a need, would you change a process even if you get in trouble?" An Edison would stick to the process, and an Einstein would challenge the process.

How do you lead these people? The Einsteins need a creative and supportive environment; do not overwhelm them with too many processes and non-value-added work. Edisons love to deal with processes and guidelines and make things happen. So you have to know them and put them in the right environment where people feel comfortable and productive. That's the job of a leader, to identify that and provide them with the right environment.

What's your strategy for building partnerships with other leaders? The perception of IT should not be PCs, printers, servers and mobile devices. How do you do that? The commodity -- the electrical and the plumbing -- must work. If you overcome that commodity hurdle, everything works -- you can show and prove that you run the operation 24/7 smoothly and there are no issues within the budget. Then you overcome that commodity hurdle, and then you can talk business because you're a trusted partner. And [you can] show the value of IT in terms of business outcomes and business improvements.

You also have academic experiences. What's the biggest lesson you learned as a researcher that helps you be a better executive? As a good leader, I want to listen to the ideas of my employees because they're a great source on how to improve a process. If you don't listen to your employees, they don't come back a second time with ideas. Ideas are good for innovation and for improvement.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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