The industrial future of Seat requires more digitization

The new paradigm of the automotive industry can be summed up in four letters: CASE.

Thomas Osborne
Thomas Osborne
16 July 2022 Saturday 23:13
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The industrial future of Seat requires more digitization

The new paradigm of the automotive industry can be summed up in four letters: CASE. Namely: C for connected, A for autonomous, S for mobility services and E for electrification.

It is the inspiring premise of the changes in strategy that do not escape any manufacturer. Disrupting a business model that has been valid for decades not only calls for a renovation of its factories, its logistics and marketing but, consequently, of its information technologies. "We need to understand what the internet of things, artificial intelligence, the cloud and big data bring us, to get it right in its evolution," explains Iñigo Suárez, director of information technology operations at Seat.

In 2019, Seat already took a turn in its information technologies in order to support the industrial transformation process that the company was addressing at the time in line with the Volkswagen group, its owner. One of the decisions back then was to insource software development, which had been outsourced for many years. "To be as agile and fast as intended, the first condition was that we were in a position to develop the code ourselves."

Meanwhile, the computer infrastructure was revolutionized. Historically, everything resided in the data center, with the three classic layers (computing, storage and networks), but the availability of cloud services precipitated a shift towards the hybrid cloud model and its multicloud corollary. "The beauty of the cloud is that it allows you to put everything where it makes the most sense." He cites two examples: a factory application requires low latency [response time] and stability, but is indifferent to scalability, so it's typically reserved for your own data center. And where the opposite is true, it makes sense to take an application to the cloud.

In fact, Seat has agreements with the three major cloud providers, always respecting one rule. "What we do not do is combine one cloud with another in the same use case or functionality (...) The Digital Production Platform of the entire VW group was born with Amazon Web Services and continues to grow with AWS". The most emblematic projects that Seat –and other VW brands– have contracted with AWS are the aforementioned DPP and Giravolta (see section), but in other use cases it works with Azure (Microsoft) and Google Cloud.

Other projects of Suárez's competence are 5G communications and edge computing, whose interest lies in the fact that they will facilitate relations with the brand's suppliers. "Currently we basically have asynchronous communication, but a public 5G network and its low latency would change that perspective with faster, more transparent and more responsiveness."

What if Spain did as in Germany and released some spectrum frequencies to assign them to private networks for industrial use? Calculated response: "To Seat, like Volkswagen, that concept would seem interesting, but the initiative corresponds exclusively to the authorities." This is precisely what has been suggested by the Spanish Government in recent weeks.

Regarding the edge [computing away from the data center], Suárez affirms that "some very critical processes, such as decision-making in a connected car, would only be possible with very low latency, but we are not close to that point [... ] Instead, within a factory there are a number of processes where having nearby computing is crucial. We are going to get to this little by little.”

The conversation with La Vanguardia leads to a reflection. The corporate message of the Volkswagen group places data as the key element of digitization. “One of the great challenges we have is digital training. We need people with the ability to understand data and discern what is good and what is not (...) Today it is much easier to find someone who manages applications than someone who understands stored data in depth, and the next step is even more difficult, to link that data with business processes.

Seat's firm commitment to electrification implies establishing new business models, and the transformation of the manufacture of the brand's new urban electric car is a greater challenge than the public imagines. "Many production processes are going to change, and it's up to us to guarantee that they all work." Suárez points out that a new need appears in the relationship with the client, the load "which requires its own information technology solutions".

Each letter of the acronym CASE implies a renewal of business processes. From a production point of view, models with more electronics consume more data transmission and, therefore, reliability and stability in bandwidth are required.

Finally, what about the autonomous car that generates so many headlines? According to Iñigo Suárez, “it is not an issue that Seat puts a lot of focus on right now. Our priority is electrification, but we are aware that connectivity will take center stage with the autonomous car… when it arrives”.