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By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

Ford, mobility and keeping your focus

Ford CEO Mark Fields made some interesting remarks during his keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week.

What jumped at me from the reports I read was this quote:

“As a mobility company, we are aiming for innovation with a higher purpose.”

Yes, a car is mobile, but is Ford really a mobility company? Should it be?

It’s no secret that car companies are jamming more and more technology into their vehicles beyond simple hands-free cell phones. There are lane changing and collision avoidance sensors and systems that let cars act as wireless hot spots.

And Field was talking about technology in the context of cars, even autonomous vehicles, for the masses, but a car company CEO calling his company a “mobility company” gives me pause.

On one hand, I applaud his vision. Car manufacturers have to take advantage of emerging technologies to make vehicles safer, more efficient and more convenient. The need for cars to communicate with each other and the roads they travel on will be increasingly important.

But there is a need for some caution here, as well. Ford is car company first and foremost. That’s where it all starts and ends.

Calling yourself a mobility company risks giving the impression that you’ve lost focus, that you’re straying from your core. What exactly are your priorities?

That’s why Fields’ comment is worth paying attention to whether you are a car manufacturer or a government contractor.

Yes, embrace new technology and new business models. Reinvent yourself, by all means, but know your roots. Know what your strength is. That’s what you lead with.

Understand what your guiding principle is, and build from there.

I think back to my interview with retired American Systems Corp. CEO Bill Hoover. He used the president’s oath of office as a guiding principle for his company’s strategy. If what American Systems was doing supported the oath, then he knew they were on the right track.

I’m not sure calling a car manufacturer a mobility company passes that test.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Jan 07, 2015 at 9:34 AM

Reader Comments

Wed, Jan 14, 2015 Bram Whitfield

Yes, yes, of course. But would prudence not dictate that the bulk of what Ford, and trailing car makers, are doing is posing a real safety threat: distracted driving that is killing 6K of us per year, and rising steeply. All these apps thru the dashboard are distracting to a large or little degree, but just enough to cause the driver to go over the curb, hit a pedestrian, or collide with another vehicle. All of this "innovation" needs to be stopped in its tracks by signal-killing devices which are cheap and easily installed. It should be the law, and you can bet that more than one Presidential Candidate will bite the bullet and support this necessary approach.

Thu, Jan 8, 2015 Editor

You make a good point. I think I flashed back to the late 1990s when more than a few government contractors were trying to go commercial in areas outside their expertise. I think one even launched a cable venture if I recall correctly. All failed miserably. I wish I had thought more of the mission angle in the context of Ford. Thanks.

Thu, Jan 8, 2015

(Enterprise Architect hat firmly affixed.) Nick, I would take issue with your analysis. Even in the Gov market we all deliver the most value when we are making "mission" technology. In the context of the automotive vertical the consumer's "mission" isn't always just locomotion from point 'a' to point 'b'. If that were true there would be no demand for XMRadio or heated seats. I would argue that 'mission' to fulfill for consumers via the automotive vertical has to do with building a seamless transition between one life event and another that is located in a separate place. In fulfilling that mission, locomotion is the core element, but so is comfort, safety and yes, "connected-ness". That certainly overlaps our contemporary IT definition of mobility. I applaud Ford for "getting it," and frankly I'm shocked that they do. ;-) [Now somebody tell them that Microsoft Sync wasn't actually bad, just badly implemented, and that REAL leadership courage means correcting the problem(s), not blaming them and throwing them out.]

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