Get Virtual

I recently attended an automotive e-commerce conference put on by the Center for Professional Development (CPD) at the University of Michigan's College of Engineering.

I recently attended an automotive e-commerce conference put on by the Center for Professional Development (CPD) at the University of Michigan's College of Engineering. What stood out to me was that now that the industry appears to have gotten beyond the hype of e-commerce, there appears to a world of opportunity. Presenters spoke, not of great hand waving concepts, but of real-world implementations and challenges associated with the move to the life at the speed of E.

Among the most informative was John Waraniak, Director of E-business Speed at Johnson Controls. He presented an interesting approach to e-collaboration and the need to move beyond the simplistic exchange model. John highlighted the move from the simplistic real-time purchasing procurement exchange, to the collaborative product process development, and then the push to a fully networked, enterprise value chain. According Waraniak, the networked enterprise value chain—including real-time visibility across the value chain, collaborative supply-demand chain execution build-to-order module and vehicle configuration, and an optimized inventory management and distribution system—offers the potential to greatly reduce waste.

Waraniak also paraphrased the legendary manager Yogi Berra, saying that if you don't want to collaborate, ain't nobody going to make you, but you are going to go out of business, because, in his words, there is no one rich enough, or smart enough, to go it alone. Waraniak made it clear that JCI intends to be a leader in the move to develop virtual partnerships. Expect some interesting e-initiatives—specifically involving activity on fully sourced interiors for future GM products—from the company in the coming months.

Susan Unger, CIO of DaimlerChrysler, did a good job of updating implementation of their corporate wide e-commerce strategy. Unger said DCX averages 20 million hits per day on its Internet sites, 1 million hits per day on its Intranet sites, and 1.5 million internal e-mails. While such measures do not suggest a sophistication of use, Unger highlighted the current DCX projects to move them into the e-world.

Another value added presentation came from SupplySolutions. The company, whose software recently became a tool element in Covisint's toolbox, was further evidence that there are e-products on the market that can provide a quick return on investment.

Given the good content of the program, it was bothersome that there were not more people in the audience. I have heard several reports of conferences that have not met expectations—either in terms of content or attendance—over the past year. Many, but not all, of these have been e-commerce oriented, and not all were held after industry sales went south. The less than outstanding attendance raised some questions about the future of conferences in my mind.

Is it possible that, for many of the same reasons identified by the e-commerce conferences themselves, many within the industry don't have the time to attend conferences? As this industry increasingly moves at the speed of E, the idea of taking two or three days away from the office to attend a conference, no matter how good the content, is hard to imagine. Maybe the e-commerce conference organizers of the future will do as their presenters suggest: Get virtual.