Digital services at smart: How they are created and what moves us about them

I joined the Business Development unit at the smart lab in order to help shape the future of smart through new innovations and developments in the area of vehicle connectivity. As a Service Owner, I’m responsible for supporting digital “ready to” services, from the initial idea all the way to the market launch.

As a result, two services — “theft recovery” and “ready to spot” — have been on the market since June 2018. But what is a digital service, and what are the tasks of a Service Owner?

It all begins in the smart lab

My workplace is the smart lab – Here I work in a “swarm” that consists of colleagues from Daimler Mobility Services and smart. Our common goal is to relieve our customers of time-consuming daily tasks by means of the „ready to“ services , and thus to give them back some valuable time. This is also the team’s vision of the future, which defines our daily work.

Our areas of responsibility have been clearly defined. The Service Owner (on the business side) cooperates with a Product Owner (on the IT side) to develop a service and supports this service throughout its entire life cycle. In order to get this service out on the road, the project is supported by operations experts by means of rollout and support concepts such as training courses for our smart dealers and the creation of a telephone center for customer care.

Our IT colleagues are working to create a stable and reliable IT infrastructure, and other colleagues are promoting cooperation models with our partners — for example, with insurance companies. We also have colleagues who represent our services at conferences and various other kinds of events or who further develop the area of sales. The smart lab operates practically like a small independent company.

Generating, collecting, and testing ideas

When I started to work here, my supervisors simply assigned the area of Security to me. Apart from that they gave me completely free rein to develop new services. So I joined the team and we started to use Design Thinking workshops to collect ideas that would help us to relieve our customers of unpleasant daily tasks.

The best idea is useless if it remains utopian. That’s why we always had to conduct a technical feasibility test as a first step. Our services have to comply with the requirements of all the shareholder groups, ranging from data protection to product liability and criminal law. Therefore the ideas we develop also have to stand up to an assessment process conducted by lawyers.

All of these interrelationships are multilayered. It’s not easy to develop new services that offer added value to our customers while at the same time keeping an eye on all of the interdependencies. You often face problems that initially seem to have no solution — for example, the incompatibility between an idea and the available legal options. But where there’s a will, there’s a way. And with a bit of creativity you can always find ways to get to your goal, even if these ways are somewhat unconventional.

The results of the technical and legal assessments were service concepts with market potential. We tested these concepts in their early stages and made our customers members of our development team. We presented our ideas to the customers and then asked them to evaluate these ideas. At this point of the process, we learned a lot. Individual functions were scrapped, others were added, and we realized which features we had to emphasize as unique selling points.

By now you may already have an idea of how diverse my area of responsibility as a Service Owner really is. And our journey is just beginning.

“ready to spot” and “theft recovery”

After we had a clear service concept on paper, of course we had to name our “babies.” In our case these names were “ready to spot” and “theft recovery.” “ready to spot” helps our customers find their way back to their parked smart at any time. It also offers many useful features, such as a reminder function that informs customers that their parking time is almost over. It’s a convenient and practical supplement for services such as „ready to park“ and „ready to share“.

“theft recovery” is more complex. It’s a service that is meant to help our customers deal with a very difficult situation — the theft of their smart. “theft recovery” includes an early warning function in which the smart driver uses an app to set up a virtual fence around his or her vehicle and is informed via a Push notification if the vehicle leaves this predefined area without the owner’s active involvement. If the vehicle has in fact been stolen, the “theft recovery” mode can be activated via the app. In this mode, we take the customer by the hand and lead him or her through the process step by step — from reporting the theft to a police station to activating the live tracking by the Customer Assistance Center.

A new colleague

But let’s go back to the concept generation process. We had a concept, we knew what we wanted, and now we were able to start the implementation process. At that point we looked for a suitable development partner and hired the Product Owner, whom I’ve already mentioned, specifically to work on the two services. Our team grew larger. The Product Owner is my technical counterpart. In coordination with me and the developers, he plans how to implement our new functions during a sprint (a phase of work in agile software development), and he subsequently checks and accepts the result.

If you think about the various players involved — the vehicle, the app users, the diverse user interfaces (app, Web, support and back-office tools) and the interdependencies between the individual services — you’ll quickly realize how complex and demanding our IT infrastructure is.

In parallel with the technical development, we worked together with the marketing unit to prepare for the market launch. In this case we decided to present our services not only at the traditional auto shows but also above all at the new tech events such as the SXSW in Austin and the re:publica in Berlin.

After the launch is before the launch

A few months ago, in June 2018, the services went live. Of course that was one of my highlights. It’s a great feeling to know that “my baby” is making smart drivers’ lives easier. But after the launch is before the launch: The service thrives on continuous further development and on the feedback from our customers, which we receive from sources such as our online community and our Customer Assistance Center. That’s how the service keeps improving and attracts more and more users.

And even that’s not all! Our services are also being made available, one by one, to our smart customers internationally. Italy and France are our pioneers, and other countries will soon follow. I’m coordinating all of the work packages and maintaining an overview of the international market launches. In parallel, I also support the international satellites of the smart labs in the U.S., China, and Italy. At the local level, colleagues are developing and testing their own “ready to” services that are specially adapted to the needs of the respective countries or regions.

As I look back, I can see an impressive amount of project development in a relatively short period of time. Two years ago we were still retrofitting customer vehicles in cooperation with selected dealers and equipping the vehicles with a connectivity box. Today we’re offering the “ready to” package ex works, and we have a broad portfolio of services that have reached series maturity.

From the very start, my work has been impacted by my supervisors’ trust in me in every respect. Today as in the past, I’m completely free to choose the way I approach my work, and I always feel that I have my team’s full support. Supporting services from the initial idea to the implementation is a huge task that is rewarding and exciting. And it shows me that even though Daimler is a major industrial group, each employee is not just a small gear in the machine but can actually make a difference.

Inés Beinder works in the Business Development unit of the smart lab. There she develops digital services for smart connectivity that make city living much easier.