Software

Think Science, not Art

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Speed and stability

Product development cycles for automotive have been shrinking for a while now; companies have to introduce new vehicle lines or just as importantly new features, even faster, even though there is a continuous stream of new components to deal with, which may have different properties and behaviours. The pace of technology sometimes moves faster than automotive companies can easily digest, because it is not just a question of adopting new components and technologies; it is also the time and cost of integrating and validating them.

Drivers are keeping their cars for just as long, but they have become used to the speed that consumer devices improve at, with annual updates and frequent releases of new apps. There is a demand for the same pace of improvements to the cars they buy, either as new features in the vehicle or to support new accessories. And regulatory changes may also mean that you have to continue development on a vehicle long after launch.

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Treating development as a science and an engineering discipline is the only way to cope with this combination of increasing complexity, increasing pressure for cost efficiency and increasing pace. That requires software engineering practices that follow rigorous, structured processes.

If you can close the loop so you move seamlessly through gathering requirements, building, testing and validating code against those requirements and generally improving repeatability in development, you can improve productivity, efficiency and accountability.

The automotive industry is moving towards standardisation, through the growing number of ISO specifications that cover safety, ergonomics, performance, environmental issues and test methods, and through partnerships like AUTOSAR (the AUTOmotive Open Systems Architecture). To be sure you are complying with those standards, you need to put certified software development processes in place.

The right tools and techniques can reduce costs that would otherwise rise as software becomes an ever more significant part of the development process, by increasing efficiency and accuracy. They can help present the requirements, specifications and even the code in ways that are easier for software engineers working on them to read and understand. They are also key to commoditising some of the software development load, by allowing reuse of software components.

In theory, reusing software components between vehicles and vehicle platforms, and even across engineering domains within a vehicle, should reduce costs and development time and increase quality. In practice, it is more complicated because making those components suitable for reuse in all those different scenarios means more development up front, more dependencies to deal with and more testing and validation to be done. But software re-use is another key part of the new approach the automotive industry has to take.

Digitize, design, disrupt – or die

Most of the vehicles on the road today grew up from the power train out, but the world is coming at vehicles from the outside in now; that means the way vehicle design is done has to change to fit this new world, which is only going to get more demanding. There is no room for ad hoc, one-off coding. Instead, you need an integrated approach to end-to-end system design, where software development is another engineering discipline to master, and you need tools that handle the complexity of embedding software in hardware products.

When automotive companies think of themselves as mobility and consumer experience companies, what it really means is that they have to be professional software companies as well. That demands integrated product design and development systems that cover the entire product lifecycle, both mechanical and digital, from idea, to design, to manufacturing, to maintenance and repair, to on-going updates and improvements, flowing information forward for efficiency and productivity and backwards for accountability and traceability.

The increasing pace of disruptive change—in both technology and business models—demands tools that support these new and more agile ways of working, as delivering new business value becomes the only way to keep any competitive advantage. Indeed, when entire markets can disappear with a single innovation, improving business and technical agility can be the only way to survive. Ever more products are neither purely hardware nor software but a hybrid of both, and as they get smaller, smarter, more reliant on embedded software and microprocessors, as well as more interconnected, product complexity is increasing massively. At the same time, customers expect individualized products, ordered online, delivered in next to no time. If you cannot do that for your customer, someone else will.

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