Mercedes-AMG’s Dirk Zeller: IT As A Source Of Industry-Disruptive Performance And Transformation

Verena Wiszinski

Operating under the guiding principle “Driving Performance,” Mercedes-AMG provides a customer experience like no one else. The sports car and performance brand from Mercedes-Benz has a decades-long reputation for awe-inspiring presence and beauty, sheer performance power, and international praise. But to ensure a significant lead in the race for customers’ hearts and minds, the brand is placing its bets on digital technology to turbocharge industry disruption at every turn.

According to Dirk Zeller, head of IT Consulting, Mercedes-AMG, the wealth of business data available today has the potential to disrupt the automotive industry on a continuous basis. By investing directly and pushing information towards something that wasn’t possible a few years ago, Zeller’s organization is making Mercedes-AMG more competitive from an operations perspective.

Watch how Mercedes applied design thinking and agile software development

I was very fortunate to sit down with Zeller to discuss how IT can bring together diverse decision makers and organizations and offer them a better way to collaborate and work in a way that wasn’t imaginable a few years ago.

Why are many organizations starting to develop digital transformation strategies? How can they successfully undergo such a change?

Digital technology is viewed very differently today. All partners and lines of business are on the move and looking to improve their future possibilities by going digital. It’s no longer just the IT support team that addresses and services the business function as a perennial main focus. Every area is linked. You can’t forget about production and pay attention solely to the customer experience. The whole company needs to work together in a connected manner.

For Mercedes-AMG, digital transformation is about rearranging and redefining the way we do business – whether it’s enhancing current processes or becoming more agile. We think about digital transformation in terms of respecting the entire company. By uniting loosely connected processes into a much stronger, connected, and interactive unit, the business can yield more chances than years ago to develop customer relationships as well as grow sales revenue and improve production outcomes.

I am convinced that successful digital transformation starts with the board of management or a very high-level leadership role. From there, IT can disseminate strategies and information across the business.

To what degree should IT be involved in digital transformation strategies?

IT should participate in the ideation stage of creating a digital strategy and initiating partnerships. Large companies, like Mercedes-AMG, are highly tied to the digital information world. To deliver solutions that are complete, simple, and easy to use, IT needs to thoroughly understand the needs of the partner. Plus, solution delivery must be fast. No one is willing to wait a year for technology that is valuable to consumers and partners right now. In the end, IT must deliver value quickly and connect all the dots between the needs of the business and its partners and, ultimately, the consumer.

By internalizing these requirements, IT can determine which workloads are best run in the cloud or on premise. For us, there’s a wide variety of factors that influences this decision. Personally, I believe in a cloud-first strategy because these solutions enable the ability to focus on the business-process side while the cloud providers maintain the day-to-day operation of the technology. At the same time, some of our most critical applications are on premise because we prefer to support them ourselves.

However, this is not what differentiates our brand from the competition. It’s our ability to establish close relationships with our cloud and on-premise technology providers and innovate new ways to operate. It can start with an on-premise Internet of Things solution used to track internal production operations, and we may later choose to move it to the cloud so we can monetize data across our product lines. It’s all about giving the freedom of choice to the business.

What are the three most important things enterprises should consider before taking that first step in their digital transformation journey?

To digitally transform how information is captured and applied to every area of the business, the IT organization must pay attention to three critical aspects.

Understand and empathize with the business. Intimate knowledge of the entire value chain – including needs, challenges, and future direction – is essential. Such understanding allows IT to find the best way to help the company navigate digital transformation. It is also critical to make sure there are ideas that require digital transformation to bring additional value to the business and customers.

Be close to the consumer. All too often, IT regards the line of business as its customer. But really, the focus should be on the consumer. From there, IT can connect the dots from the consumer back to the line of business. Honestly, it makes sense. Every company exists to serve the consumer. And thanks to digital technology, there are many great opportunities to address customer needs and demands.

Pay strict attention to network security. The more information you capture, access, distribute, and monetize; the greater the risk. For the auto industry, this is extremely fundamental. Not only do we have to make sure that our data is secure internally, we must also be vigilant against potential hacks and viruses that could disrupt the operation of our cars.

By doing your homework to make sure each of these items are addressed in your digital strategy, you will find competitive advantages that will likely disrupt your competitors and reshape the customer experience. And thanks to the marvels of our digitally connected world, every outstanding customer experience will be communicated in an instant all over the world.

For more on how technology is transforming the automative industry, see Autonomous Vehicles: Accelerating Into The Mainstream.

Verena Wiszinski

About Verena Wiszinski

Verena Wiszinski is a Senior Integrated Marketing Specialist within the Global IT Audience Marketing team at SAP. She enjoys staying connected with customers and thought leaders and talking first hand with them about their experiences, thoughts, and needs within business transformation.