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Why You Should Treat Your Business Like a Robot-Car: 4 Keys to Surviving Radical Change It might be accurate to call the car of the future a cognitive mobility capsule. The term wouldn't be out of line for your future business, either.

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The internet of things is becoming a vital part of how we live and work. And automobiles are on the leading edge of this transformation.

Related: Ford Made a Robot Butt to Test Its Car Seats, and It Has an Amazing Name

Not so coincidentally, there are lessons all industries can learn from how the automotive industry is evolving and adapting. We say this as industry insiders: We work on ways to enhance cars of the future with data and cognitive intelligence.

In fact, the entirety of what we think of as a "car" is rapidly shifting -- from wholly new iterations of products and services to different concepts of use and consumer experience, Already, cars are becoming self-driving. Within 10 to 15 years, they will also diagnose their own problems and learn the behaviors and needs of their passengers to configure a better user experience.

This future experience will not be one of "driving," but rather the experience of being a passenger and a user.

It might be more accurate, in fact, to call the car of the future a cognitive mobility capsule. For companies in the automotive industry, from original equipment manufacturing companies (OEMS) to suppliers, this vision of the future represents a sea change. Accordingly, they have to find ways to adapt, or be left behind. The user of the future is going to have an entirely different set of wants and needs than today's, and successful companies will need to learn how to meet those expectations.

How does any industry weather such a massive disruption to the status quo of its product or service? From Uber, Car2Go and Ford, to Samsung and Amazon, companies of all kinds -- not just those in the automotive category -- are already setting new priorities to stay competitive in their industries. Here are the key categories your company needs to pay attention to, to survive:

Related: Domino's and Ford Partner Up to Test Self-Driving Delivery Cars


With the internet of things, everything is connected. Similarly, companies need to find ways to offer connectivity to their consumers, linking them to the company and outside networks. The data generated should then be harnessed to drive more improvements.

Connectivity was originally added to automobiles as a safety measure: Makers added internet and wireless access to connect with emergency services when an airbag deployed. But some automakers saw further possibilities here -- involving a total ecosystem that would keep customer, business and product linked.

Consider the example of commercial agriculture giant John Deere, which now offers Precision Ag Technology, networking farmers together remotely and enabling them to share data on soil and seed needs, among other things.

The wildly popular FitBit is another example: It uses Bluetooth to connect to your smartphone and track your fitness prowess. Home devices, meanwhile, use wifi to connect to a smart home system, such as the kind made by Apple, Google or Amazon. From your home's refrigerator to its lights, security cameras and smart plugs, your home as a whole and most of the devices in it are on their way to being connected.

If you're a small business owner, look at every service you offer and every touch point and exchange where you have customers and clients. Build connectivity into these -- whether it's back to your website or to a customer-service portal. Then make sure you have a system in place to collect the data generated, so you can learn from each and every interaction to continue to improve your offering.

Customer experience

Don't think about services or products first; think about how you can provide the best customer experience. One telling example: GPS systems are now a fundamental part of cars.

But the original GPS features installed by makers were cumbersome and hard to use. Enter Garmin, which was already providing GPS systems for sports and recreation and saw an opportunity to provide a better customer experience. The company developed an after-market GPS for cars that was far superior -- and it turned into a great success. Its navigational system, Garmin Drive, features touch screens, voice commands and an ever-improving design that's the essence of a good customer experience.

In the future, it's not going to just be a car's look that speaks to customers, but the experience it offers. We'll want a car that remembers to pick us up at 5 p.m. after ordering us a drive-through latte in advance -- and then taking us to the kids' weekly soccer practice. Businesses that understand this distinction will be the ones that succeed, while those that lack such capabilities will simply be left out of the equation.

The small business of the future will almost certainly have more agility when it comes to tailoring its customer experience. Whatever your own business offers, define your customer experience; then look for ways to improve on that connection.

Digital evolution

Another thing to focus on are the digital functions related to your business, and how well they link together your business, product and customers. What appeals to consumers may not be the car at all, but the quality of its digital functions. FordPass, for instance, was developed by a legacy car manufacturer (Ford) but it's not actually a car.

It's a mobile app that doesn't require that you even own a car, let alone own a Ford, in order to reap its benefits. In essence, FordPass is a digital mobility assistant with tools for navigating, finding transportation, paying for parking or tickets in advance and more. This is a case where a brand known for being a car-maker is pushing its value proposition far beyond four physical wheels.

Similarly, there's Nest, a thermostat with brains. This digital transformation turned the most basic device into a smart device with remote connectivity, basic learning features and a simple user interface -- all for $300. One of the first IoT devices, debuting even before Alexa, Nest's success was evidence that customers would pay a lot more for a connected device: $300 versus $30.

Small businesses understandably usually offer a smaller range of products and services. But consider how you could add a digital version to your product array. Then find ways to keep customers connected and coming back -- with upgrades, subscriptions, scannable deals and coupons and social media campaigns.

Daily life

Consider how to make your product or service an integral part of daily life. Alexa has inserted erself very quickly into users' daily lives. That's absolutely the intention: to extend a product's usefulness from a moment's action to a whole set of behaviors, so it's indispensable to how we live, no matter what we're doing or what we need.

With that in mind, imagine a car that not only drives itself and knows its own mechanical status, but also scans its passenger for his or her mood, knows what music to put on to suit that mood and is always trying to get better at finding the right match.

Now, imagine that same car connecting with traffic networks to stay on the best route, setting up the news to watch or dialing into a work videoconference.

These are the things that will happen when we step inside a car in the future. As the machine moves us through space, it will also provide us with a customized, personal experience, because it knows us that well. Eventually some of us will even plan our days according to what we can get done in the car: work, shopping, entertainment, family time, and more.

Small businesses need to prepare for this future; they need to imagine how they can insert their product or service into a customer's everyday life. How can your business provide services that help customers and extend beyond a product's or application's traditional functions?

How can you make your offering indispensable? The answer may be far simpler than you think. Consider how pens have evolved into smartpens that record data; or how restaurants now offer websites and can aggregate feedback and ordering histories into customized suggestions; or how some clothing stores now offer digital sizing and style assistance.

It all boils down to a cognitive life, in which everything is infused with personalized and connected services, customized experiences and machines that learn how to better help us all the time. Cognitive products and services will be part of the basic fabric of anyone's life.

Relating: Google Wants Its Self-Driving Cars to Operate More Like People

Closer to home for us, the automotive industry is already changing radically, with ride-sharing, car-sharing, electric vehicles, transportation and mobility options expanding constantly. The automotive company of the past will be the digital company of the future. The same will happen in your industry. We guarantee that.

If you don't want to be left behind, now is the time to make the shift.

Stephen Perun and Sebastian Wedeniwski

Management Lead for Automotive Vehicles; Chief Technology Strategist

Stephen Perun is offering management lead for automotive and connected Vehicles for IBM's Watson IoT Business Unit and has worked with automotive and electronics clients for 25-plus years. Sebastian Wedeniwski is a chief technology strategist at Standard Chartered Bank in Singapore and was an IBM distinguished engineer and chief technology officer for IBM's Global Industrial Sector, and part of the IBM Research & Development Laboratory in Germany. He is a trained mathematician and scientist. Their new book is My Cognitive autoMOBILE Life: Digital Divorce from a Cognitive Personal Assistant.

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