Ford puts innovation eggs into data science and analytics basket

Posted on 16 Dec 2014 by Tim Brown

US car-maker Ford has this week appointed Paul Ballew, as executive director and chief data and analytics officer, to help better understand consumer behavior and speed up innovations in mobility, connectivity and autonomous driving.

According to a statement from Ford, the company is accelerating its investment and research into data science and analytics as the foundation of its focus on innovation. The goal is to better anticipate customers’ wants and needs as Ford implements its ‘Blueprint for Mobility’ and its ‘One Ford’ plan for profitable growth.

The One Ford plan was devised by Ford Motor Company CEO, Alan Mulally, and covers product quality, fuel efficiency, manufacturing production, corporate culture and the company balance sheet. According to Jim Henry of, ‘in many ways, One Ford is simply Mulally’s Boeing strategy transferred to a related transportation industry’, which helped turn Boeing around from its $2.6bn loss in 1997.

But it is Ford’s Mobility and improvement plans that will probably decide if Ford can deliver on its promise of innovation coupled with reliability.

“We are committed to making people’s lives better through innovations on mobility, connectivity, autonomous vehicles, performance and the customer experience,” said Ford President and CEO Mark Fields. “Taking big data and analytics to the next level inside Ford connects all of this work and is a key part of our drive for innovation in every part of our business.”

Ford already has an award-winning analytics team. Last year, Ford was awarded the prestigious INFORMS Prize from the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences for using data science and predictive analytics to improve overall operations and performance in areas including research, product development, manufacturing, supply chain, marketing and sales, finance, purchasing, information technology and human resources functions.

Ford believes that autonomous cars are still some way off and that the route from existing automobiles to fully autonomous vehicles will travel via ‘smart’ cars that assist the driver while not taking control.

Despite this Ford, in conjuction with the University of Michigan and State Farm, released its first autonomous prototype 12 months ago with the debut of its Automated Fusion Hybrid Research Vehicle.

“With the automated Ford Fusion Hybrid research project, our goal is to test the limits of full automation and determine the appropriate levels for near- and mid-term deployment,” says Ford’s VP of global product development, Raj Nair.

Since then Ford has partnered with with MIT and Stanford to research a number of technical challenges surrounding automated driving.

Ford has already made some innovations including the introduction of its Sync 3 radio and multimedia system which is designed for hands-free control, with what Ford calls “more conversational voice recognition.” For example, users can tell the system to play a certain song, album or artist, and can switch between radio stations with simple voice instructions.

And the company looks set for further innovations in 2015 as its R&D focus looks to deliver on its promise of a better user-experience, something that many of its detractors would say has been missing from Ford over the last decade.