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game changer

Carlo van de Weijer


Carlo van de Weijer graduated as a mechanical engineer from the Eindhoven University of Technology in 1990. In that same year, he joined TNO Automotive in Delft to build the Electrical and Hybrid Powertrains Research Program. He completed his PhD in 1997 at Graz University of Technology in Austria. In 2001, Carlo moved to Siemens VDO to head the research unit for navigation systems in Eindhoven. This unit transferred to TomTom in 2007, where Carlo has worked ever since. Recently, he also accepted the lead in his alma mater's research cluster, “Smart Mobility,” where the university clusters the strengths of the faculty's research groups that excel in relevant fields for the automotive logistics sectors.

No more roadmaps

“It’s not only in my field of expertise," Carlo van de Weijer explains, "that the half-life of products rapidly diminishes. We, therefore, need to take a fresh look at the organization of our R&D, both in terms of the generation of concepts and new ideas and of the time to market. The time of coherent and well-wrought technical roadmaps is over; they are relicts of the past. Today, we need agile routines to generate concepts and develop our software and rapid prototyping to quickly understand if an idea works and if it can be produced effectively."

Reinventing the company

It is a fact that large companies find it difficult to adapt to changing circumstances and reinvent themselves. There are exceptions to this rule, but all great new entrepreneurial initiatives—for example, Google, Facebook, WhatsApp—are created by new kids on the block.

Carlo: “TomTom incorporates some of the basics to be able to shift gears rapidly. Initially, it focused its devices on the consumer market. Later on, it became clear that car producers would incorporate this technology in their models. The focus then shifted to consumers and businesses. A new shift emerged once we understood the importance of the aggregation of the data collected and processed from all of the individual users: the emergence of mobility services. Where navigation devices used to be almost 100% of TomTom’s revenue, now, more than half of revenue comes from other products and services.”

Carlo compares modern agile companies with jet fighters. He claims that unlike other planes, a jet fighter is inherently unstable. The pilot, with the support of a lot of technology, needs to correct the aircraft every second. This takes energy, but the trade off is the plane’s enormous maneuverability. The key ingredients for agility at TomTom are a strict focus on marketing, product development, and product management. Production is outsourced to third parties all over the world, so there is little legacy. To redirect the company, a highly skilled and flexible workforce is extremely important, and communication has to be direct. The management structure is flat, and decision-making is relatively easy while systems of checks and balances to manage risks remain in place.

The Brabant automotive eco-system on automotive

In Carlo’s view, "Part of successful adaptations resides in regional interrelations between companies, universities, and supportive infrastructure in areas like the provision of labor, culture, and sports. The relations may cause the fruitful crossovers that bring new ideas and initiatives. I fully support the observations of Mathieu Weggeman."

With its Employeneurs TMC adds to the flexibility of the highly skilled workforce that I regard as one of the key elements to the success of this region.

Unsurprisingly, both TomTom and the Eindhoven University of Technology are closely involved in the public-private High Tech Automotive Systems (HTAS) program. Carlo is a strong advocate for this cooperation between industry and knowledge institutes on important challenges in the field of mobility with the intention to mutually strengthen the competitive positions of its participants. Brabant is strongly represented, which is underlined by the development of the High Tech Automotive Campus in Helmond and the Dinalog Campus in Breda.

Trust

Building and maintaining communication with family, friends, and peers the provision of tailor-made services, traffic support, and talent management: many new initiatives imply big data based on the collection and processing of data from individuals.

"Here, we touch upon a paradox we need to solve," Carlo states. "Most people don't want to be traced while driving, but everybody would like the information to smoothly travel to a destination.

Beyond the quality of the service, it is absolutely mandatory that we maintain a high level of trust for the user that personal data are treated properly and fairly. This issue will be the bottleneck in making value from big data. Companies are not able to solve this privacy matter individually. The topic is rightfully being addressed in the US and in Europe at the highest levels of government. Big data will make life better and safer, but I do not see a bright future for humanity if we lose the illusion that it’s possible to break the law and get away with it."


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