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Connections with Leading Thinkers – Steve Crumb

Matthew Robinson and Niaz Souti of the Accenture Institute for High Performance interviewed Steve Crumb as part of a research project on Digital Shoring.

As part of the Accenture Institute for High Performance's mission to develop cutting-edge new ideas and insights, researchers often seek the views of academic leaders, business executives and industry analysts. The Connections with Leading Thinkers series captures some of those interviews, showcasing interactions and discussions with some of the world's leading experts.

Executive Director of the GENIVI Alliance, Steve Crumb, discusses collaborative innovation in the automotive industry.

Steve Crumb is the Executive Director of the GENIVI Alliance—a non-profit industry alliance committed to driving the broad adoption of an in-vehicle infotainment open-source development platform. Founded in 2009, the Alliance has a growing membership of major players, including the BMW Group, Volvo, Intel, Delphi, Texas Instruments, and Bosch to mention a few.

Steve comes to the Alliance with years of experience as the strategic and operational leader of technical alliances. He is based in Chicago and holds a bachelor degree in computer science and mathematics.

Matthew Robinson and Niaz Souti from the Accenture Institute for High Performance (AIHP) spoke to Steve about collaborative innovation in the automotive industry.


It’s a pleasure to speak to you, Steve. Let us start by asking you to tell us more about the mission of the GENIVI Alliance.

Our mission is to develop an open source middleware for in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) systems that helps companies reduce the cycle time they need to produce them. These systems are growing, both in size and in the complexity of their software. Their cycle time is around three to five years—much longer than other systems. Open source is the basis for reducing this cycle time. We aim to lower this and make convergence of electronics into cars possible.

Very interesting. The Alliance has a growing membership of many leading companies, some of them competitors. What is motivating them to work together?

The interactions depend on company groupings. The technical work of the Alliance is divided into seven different expert groups based on problems we are working on. These groups are led and populated by volunteers. Generally speaking, they meet in person about two to three times per year and work virtually for the rest of the year. The face-to-face aspect is crucial for building trust. If I were to give a percentage, I’d say our globally dispersed members work 20 percent physically in face-to-face meetings, and 80 percent virtually using different digital tools such as Web-based platforms and teleconferencing technologies.

What are some of the key challenges of working together, especially among competitors?

This is a great question. There are multiple issues to work around.

Automotive companies are simply not used to giving away software. What needs to take place is a fundamental shift in thinking toward a new mentality that supports giving something away as opposed to selling it. In our model, everything is open and free. Automotive companies are also secretive about who produces their products. Most organizations that are comfortable and successful with open source have made tremendous shifts in their organizational processes and mentality.

In addition, there needs to be a shift in thinking around collaborating with competitors. The scope of our work is very important here. We hold aggressively to our mission that is only concerned with the non-differentiating aspects of IVI systems. The OEMs are not submitting thoughts on what makes the driving experience in a BMW different from a Peugeot, for example. Rather, they are submitting the commodity part of what needs to be done for everyone. We are trying to give an inexpensive head start to something that requires thousands of lines of code. This collaboration is a win-win situation for everyone, but, as I said, it needs a shift in thinking around collaborating with competitors around non-competitive aspects of IVI systems.

There are other challenges as well such as legal risk management. You can create software in open source and later find out someone has a patent on it. What do you do if that happens?

But doesn’t working on non-differentiating aspects of these IVI systems together mean companies can focus on things that do differentiate them? That should be a great incentive for collaborating.

Definitely. Companies don’t need to focus so much on things that they all have to do—these are commodities. They can instead focus on things that truly differentiate them and make their customer experience better. Essentially that frees up time and resources for suppliers and automakers.

These resources can then be redeployed on new and differentiable features. In that sense, it is accelerating innovation in the industry

That’s a great way to think about it. Does the Alliance have competitors of its own?

There are other alliances in this space. The Automotive Grade Linux Working Group of the Linux Foundation is one. They are making Linux auto-capable. We are an influencer and a consumer of that but not their competitor. Google’s Open Automotive Alliance is another alliance with which we collaborate on producing open interfaces to their technology.

Let us end by asking you about the key to success of the GENIVI Alliance.

The Alliance has grown tremendously, with members from multiple industries. I work for a company called Global Inventures. Building alliances of this kind is what we specialize in. There is a process that we go through to incubate an alliance. It’s not a science but it is repeatable. You always want to start with a few established organizations. Once they become committed, they act as magnets for attracting others. So these alliances need a strong secretariat—not only to record activities, but also for running the alliance. A lot of our members know how to run their own organization, but not an alliance. Lastly, not deviating from our mission is significant. Alliances of this sort need to have a clear mission and stick very closely to it.

Thank you, Steve, for your time and excellent insights.



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