Ford on apps: ‘We are making the car more accessible – like it used to be back in the day’

Security may be important but it should not become a deterrent for businesses to open APIs to developers, says a researcher at Ford’s technology lab.

Ford began operating an open-source platform in 2013. This followed the unprecedented decision to offer its Sync AppLink to external partners, which could include manufacturing rivals, at no charge.

By trading off its data assets, Ford hopes it will facilitate an abundance of new services available across the automotive industry. Ford believes that enriching the developer community has sown a seed to the creation of useful apps for consumers – which will ultimately benefit the company in the future.

But the decision to part with data assets is not easy, and is something companies are getting to grips with. With big data and efficient APIs to open up portals to information, cultural changes across the company may be more of an obstacle than the technical challenges.

When before it may have seemed incomprehensible to lay all the cards on the table, innovative businesses are realising how opening the gates to their information is a necessary risk in terms of growth.

Speaking at the Apigee I love APIs conference in San Francisco last week, Ford’s Silicon Valley lab researcher Sudipto Aich said: “What comes out of this is a by-product which could be disruptive to our own individual business, but I think over time that is exactly what we want to see."

Ford is still in the early stages of its platform Aich says, but some highlights include an app to suggest radio channels or songs based on the speed of the car – to match the tempo.

Security may be a concern for companies thinking about external API programmes. But Aich says: “Security is definitely important, but at the same time, it should not be a deterrent to stay open. Our platform is completely open source. It is a big term commitment from a 100-year-old automotive company.

“Whatever we do, our entire platform and our entire API is for the world to see in full disclosure.”

Aich says that this transparency would benefit Ford in the future in terms of improved customer service and products which will transfer to revenue.

“If you look at traditional innovation in automotive sector it has been inbred, in-house and very secular. By creating a platform you can get to this vision of open innovation."

Ford may decide to close its APIs “in two years’ time”, says Aich; but for now the Ford innovation hub can put its focus on making applications and services for customers while IT can support it.

“Consumers are dictating this kind of movement - and that is a good thing” he says.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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