Behind the Wheel with Mercedes-Benz.io
Born to transform. That’s the mission of the Mercedes-Benz.io tribe, who’s working hard to create exceptional digital experiences. We had the privilege of speaking with Mercedes-Benz.io CEO and Managing Director Sophie Seiwald about all things digital in the drive to change how people shop, buy and experience their cars.
How did Mercedez-Benz.io begin?
Six or seven years ago, no one really talked about digital. Especially what it meant to start from the customer and go backwards to building a solution. So the four of us started to learn what digitization truly meant. That led to a Mercedes-Benz historical first—the hiring of tech talent directly into the company.
It was quite a big change, yet Mercedes-Benz understood the value of doing things differently from the start. So, we created a joint venture between an agency and Mercedes-Benz to attract talent that could build our website, online channels, customer touch points and the like. Our organization brought in talent and gave those people the liberty to work in new and agile ways.
Today, we are in three locations with over 400 people. And we are building the Mercedes-Benz website globally and our online commerce platform, as well as parts of our Mercedes-Benz ecosystem.
Can you talk more about customer touchpoints and demand for digital innovation in the car buying, leasing, owning and driving experience?
Although much has and continues to change, one thing remains the same: Cars are an investment. Anytime someone spends a lot of money for an object, that person wants a thorough exploration of it. Our online platform had to become a place to explore our cars and help better inform consumers. And if we were successful in providing more of the right information, we believed people would spend less time on the retail transaction part.
Ten years ago, all of the details were only available in brochures from dealers. Now, catalogs and specification sheets are digitized as the only source of product information.
But we’ve gone way beyond that—shifting to online commerce where, because the product is already so authentic in a digital world, people are willing to buy it online. That's a big step, and what we are learning now is this: How to present a complex product like a car online in a way that customers feel confident completing the full transaction online.
Sophie Seiwald, CEO and Managing Director, Mercedes-Benz.io
Would you tell us about an online experience that your team built?
Our car configurator is the most visited section on our website. People sign in to build the car of their dreams. Configuring how a G-Wagen, for example, looks in a particular color and with specific features. Our internal stakeholders were skeptical. They said it was nice on the technology front-end, but too complex on the backend and would take years of engineering and documentation to deliver.
We weren’t dissuaded. We combined talent from the business about products with our world of technology and customer inputs. We were able to deliver different prototypes until we got to an extremely simplified car configurator. Now, it’s a great experience for exploring our cars.
Ultimately, we’re now able to extend the passion that people show for our brand by providing a luxurious and premium experience online.
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How did you use, manage and optimize data during that process?
Everyone talks about data today. You hear people saying data is the new oil. But data is only effective if everyone can use it. Our industry has a long heritage of data—20 years of sales data and engineering data—to clean up because building on bad data can damage brand reputations.
A few years ago, I asked some of our engineers to provide insights about their products. Most said it was too difficult because they had to ask somebody else for the data. That got me moving on a data journey to democratize data in our organization.
Now, we have data analysts actively working together with engineers to design and implement points where we collect only the data we need. And we’re empowering all of our people—not just data engineers and data scientists—to deal with that data. That’s critical to how we design our applications because when you start pulling data, you need to do something with it to create the right stories and insights.
Data to actionable insights is a long journey. And we’re still working on it because we want to use data in smart ways to provide insights, create algorithms and more.
Is there another project—like the car configurator—underway that excites you?
We’re working on a number of exciting projects around online car sales and apps. We now have Bertha, an app that’s a bit outside of our traditional space. Bertha helps people find cheap fuel stations nearby and pay for fuel at the pump through contactless transactions. It’s ideal for Europe, where people still have to go inside the shop to pay after fueling their cars.
The value of apps like this one is our ability to experiment and test outside of our core brand areas.
Sophie Seiwald, CEO and Managing Director, Mercedes-Benz.io
Is all car buying moving online?
It really depends on where you live. In China, for example, yes, it’s pretty normal. People know they’re buying the same car they see every day on the street. The whole process is digitized. In Europe or U.S., it’s different. Shoppers can go online and configure a car, see the price, reserve the car and get it delivered to them, but they still typically go into a dealership for leasing contracts and the final transaction paperwork. I see that changing worldwide though as people get more comfortable doing complete transactions online.
How has Mercedes-Benz.io partnered with VMware on your digital transformation journey?
Pivotal and now VMware have been part of our journey for more than five years. That expertise in cloud-native development as a guiding principle—how we are applying Kubernetes, our development model, and where we check code—has helped us scale our software with a common standard and mindset, while providing some liberties as to how we’re approaching technology. The people we work are extremely reliable, and we have a really good relationship working together to solve problems.
The biggest benefit of teaming with VMware is helping us adopt new technologies fast enough, while making sure that our developer journey is as smooth as possible—and always ensuring we are adding value.
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What are your thoughts on security and privacy in our digital-first world?
Thanks for bringing it up. Security is a big part of our development process from the very beginning. We don’t believe you can effectively add it once development is completed. What we’ve done is hire amazing security architects, who work together with our teams from the very beginning to design software in a secure way, including training and having a security mindset. Our lead over this effort reminds us all the time that “security must be in our DNA and that the word security doesn’t exist anymore in our language.”
Everyone needs to be aware. For us security, like cloud or cloud-native development, is built into the philosophy and design upfront, so everyone knows what we mean. The checking doesn’t take place after code is written, which is what happens in 90% of the applications in the corporate world using external developers. A good example are our continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipeline and development processes. Security is built in.
Any final thoughts?
I’m really pleased that we have a tribe here at Mercedes-Benz.io that is passionate about Mercedes-Benz and technology. Digital is changing everything we do. It’s now core to the automotive business. That means we have understand all of it—from tech principles to technologies to engineering culture and more. I believe technology is a gamechanger for the future.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.