CBI Conference: ‘Adopt e-business or perish,’

Ford of Europe chairman Nick Scheele warned fellow company leaders they face extinction if they fail to grasp the new opportunities that e-business offers.

Ford of Europe chairman Nick Scheele warned fellow company leaders they face extinction if they fail to grasp the new opportunities that e-business offers.

He told delegates at the CBI conference that recognising the need for corporate change was the biggest challenge facing businesses and outlined the automotive giant’s drive to ‘e-enable’ itself along its supply chain.

Speaking in a debate on e-business, Scheele said: ‘The issue for large companies is to see the need for change. If they don’t take this realisation seriously, they won’t be around for long. Doing nothing is not an option.’

Ford plans to use wireless and internet technologies to change the way vehicles are manufactured and consumers’ experience of driving them.

Scheele claimed Covisint, the online exchange Ford is setting up with General Motors and DaimlerChrysler, could achieve cost savings of as much as $1,000 per vehicle by eliminating inefficiencies in procurement and manufacturing.

He acknowledged concerns that it would give manufacturers too much power. ‘Many people have said Covisint is anti-trust,’ said Scheele. ‘It’s not. It benefits the whole supply chain by reducing the cost of doing business.’

He said consumers would be the catalysts for the ‘e-enabling’ of Ford. ‘If the consumer doesn’t see change, then what we’ve done hasn’t changed the business.’

Car buyers will expect tangible benefits in time-to-market and investment in areas such as telematics — the wireless delivery of advanced services to vehicles.

Scheele said the potential for remote diagnostics was just one area in which motorists would see huge changes to their driving experience. ‘In two years we will be able to dial your car and tell you to pull off the motorway for a service,’ he said.

E-commerce minister Patricia Hewitt, who shared the CBI platform with Scheele, welcomed Ford’s decision to site its European e-business development headquarters in the UK.

She claimed Europe was making up ground lost to the US in terms of leadership in cutting-edge technologies.

Noting that the next major advances are expected to be in wireless delivery of information, Hewitt said: ‘We have a decades-old industrial and academic strength in wireless technology.’

However, she admitted building the wireless broadband infrastructure to support the rise in demand from business and consumers would be challenging.

‘This will be particularly important if we look at the potential for clusters of excellence in high-tech industries outside London and the south east,’ she said.

‘They won’t be able to grow unless we can give them broadband connectivity.’