Why automakers need to adopt an entirely new software development process

Traditional automakers know they are struggling with leaping forward with software integration into new cars and trucks. Companies have recently been more transparent over the past year or so as they realize their ability to compete with tech-forward newcomers depends on modernizing their approach to software development.

However, understanding the challenge is only half of the battle. The second – and more complex half – will be overhauling the product development process up and down the supply chain and scaling the software development processes to truly enter the modern digital age.

New technology requires a new mindset

The increasing role of software in vehicles requires an entirely new approach to product development capable of addressing the complex development, integration and data security challenges that come with the software-defined vehicle.

This means automakers must create a new product development process that integrates software from the start, rather than building the software on top of the hardware. While some newcomers and startup vehicle manufacturers have built this approach into their DNA, many traditional automakers are locked into a long-standing approach of applying software to existing products or at the end of development. These software practices of the past will not be enough to compete in the future, which means a significant change is needed to modernize legacy methods of product development, both at the component and the vehicle level.

Integrating component and vehicle-level software

One of the keys to successful software integration is a modern, centralized software architecture. In traditional vehicle design, each component is manufactured at the supplier level with proprietary software and as many as 100 individual electronic control units (ECU) performing a specific function throughout the vehicle.

With many OEMs relying on third party developers for 50% or more of their software, it is difficult for different systems to be able to communicate with each other. Even in cases where individual software products are effective, this siloed model is a roadblock to innovation and heightens the risk of quality and reliability issues.  In this model, suppliers must develop base software and then integrate each manufacturer’s code for differentiation, causing integration quality and project coordination issues.

In some cases, automakers are trying to address this by taking ownership of the software development process, either by acquiring software products or entire companies to bolster their software capabilities. This, however, is not a silver bullet, as many automakers are operating under legacy architectures that do not allow them to effectively integrate their newly-acquired technology. Whether outsourced or in-house, effective integration will require new levels of co-development and transparency between automakers and suppliers that enable them to continuously integrate code from beginning to end.  

Finding the better tool chain

To encourage increased collaboration, automakers need to adopt an open, standardized tool chain for software development. With a common tool chain across all parties, teams can work together better at each stage of the development lifecycle.

These tools should address everything from continuous integration and delivery to test automation and high-speed deployment for an improved development environment. This approach can provide significant improvements to software development by also providing continuous feedback and support for incident management and monitoring to detect issues earlier in the process.

The automotive industry in the early innings of a new era. Software has the potential to revolutionize both automotive production and the driving experience, but to truly take advantage of the opportunity the industry must adapt. Successful software development and integration hinges on the automotive industry’s willingness to redefine legacy processes, collaborate with industry partners and introduce better tools for the job.

While this may seem like a daunting task, it doesn’t need to be. Contact us today to learn how Envorso can help you make the leap to a modernized, integrated approach to automotive software development.

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