Porsche's digital transformation mission

Stefan Zerweck walks onto the stage in a hoody and jeans, looking happy and relaxed. He’s being interviewed by Katia Moskvitch of Wired magazine about his role as COO of Porsche Digital.

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Outside, people are still entering the festival-like atmosphere of The Next Web conference, Amsterdam, but inside this arena there’s a crowd of serious-looking people waiting to hear what Porsche is doing in the digital space.

He briefly describes some of the products they are working on but it’s hard to pick up exact details - further research after the talk turns up a ‘lifestyle assistant’, carbon offsetting tool and an app to plan your next road trip.

Their stated vision is to “foster new ideas, services and experiences that integrate the Porsche lifestyle into [customers] daily lifes(sic). Intelligent, aspirational and exciting.”

What isn’t entirely obvious is why a car manufacturer would be in this space, but you get the feeling that the threat of Tesla and other tech-savvy start-ups is looming large.

Overcoming preconceptions

On display outside is the stunning E-Porsche, Taycan that gets many admiring glances from passers-by, some of whom go on to ride the Porsche-sponsored Ferris wheel sat behind it - perhaps the top advertising space at this iconic tech event.

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Some of those riding the wheel may go on to take up a role in one of Porsche’s new digital centres in Berlin or Silicon Valley, or even pitch their next startup to them.

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It’s clear that they have recognised they need to do ‘something digital’ to counter the growing threat on the horizon and are putting some serious money behind it. They’re collaborating, looking for talent and thinking and talking about digital in all the right ways.

There’s a big obstacle to overcome though. Stefan talks about some of the challenges involved, one of which is crossing silos at Porsche. This challenge will be familiar to anyone working in a large organisation that isn’t digitally native. Their vision follows:

“Everything is possible and only one thing is for sure: A Porsche will always remain a Porsche.”

That everything is possible seems clear from the wide brief for innovators on their website. This is the right approach, but at some point the ‘everything’ needs to converge into ‘something’ irresistible to a modern consumer and that may not be a Porsche as Porsche is now.

That a Porsche will always remain a Porsche seems both a blessing and a curse. Tesla shows what can happen when you start without a history. They aren’t successful because they have a lifestyle app that goes alongside the car, but because they’ve designed the company from the ground up in the digital age and are unhindered in their attempts to exploit that.

Remodelling the ecosystem

Porsche needs to retrofit a whole ecosystem from connected cars, mobility services and infrastructure to automated driving as well as take on sales and marketing and its own workplaces, just to stay in step.

If you had to pick a corner between traditionally brilliant and digitally inexperienced vs digitally brilliant and inexperienced over the past twenty years, you’d be foolish to back traditional unquestioningly.

It feels like their stable of ‘lifestyle’ apps and parking space, ticketing and smart home start-up investments place digital firmly in the periphery of the actual product. They seem somehow disconnected, as if the cars themselves are untouchable and, I imagine, fiercely defended.

It’s a great start, but Porsche needs to overcome the challenge of silos, disconnected products and getting digital right to the heart of the physical product and organisation.


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