Do you spend a few hours a day driving to work or meetings? Are you tired of wasting precious time while stuck in traffic? Well, imagine you could spend this time more enjoyable and productive. Imagine, for example, you could easily attend a virtual meeting using Skype right from your car’s infotainment system. Or instruct Cortana, your voice-controlled digital assistant in the car, to take over so you can sit back and relax. Perhaps get some more work done by managing your e-mail or finalizing that important PowerPoint presentation. Sounds unreal or very futuristic? Maybe, but all of this could very well be possible, and perhaps sooner than you’d think!
In this post I will provide an overview of the current status and development of this “connected car” and specifically look at how Microsoft technology such as Cortana and Office 365 will transform our in-car experience. I’ll show examples of today’s advances, what the future will bring, and factors that might impact the development and adoption of connected cars.

The rise of the Connected Car

First of all: what is a “connected car”? Simply put, it is a vehicle that is connected to the Internet and can therefore deliver digital services. From a high level perspective, it’s just another device in the ever-expanding ecosystem we call the “Internet of Things” (IoT). Last year, Gartner Research forecasted that the production of new cars equipped with data connectivity would reach 12,4 million in 2016 and increase to 61 million in 2020.
Together with other rapidly developing technologies such as autonomous drive (a car that can drive by itself with minimal or no human input), this presents a huge opportunity and market for both the automotive industry as well as technology companies and ecosystem partners.
Even though Microsoft is not a new player in the automotive industry (it has provided software solutions in the past) and there’s some serious competition taking place (e.g. Apple’s CarPlay, Google’s Android Auto), Microsoft plans to have a leading role in this market with a new solution.

Microsoft’s “Connected Vehicle Platform”

The new solution is called the “Connected Vehicle Platform” and was presented earlier this year at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. According to Microsoft, this platform is:

“a set of services built on the Microsoft Azure cloud and designed to empower auto manufacturers to create custom connected driving experiences. This is not an in-car operating system or a “finished product;” it’s a living, agile platform that starts with the cloud as the foundation and aims to address five core scenarios that our partners have told us are key priorities: predictive maintenance, improved in-car productivity, advanced navigation, customer insights and help building autonomous driving capabilities.”

The five focus areas of the Connected Vehicle Platform. Source: Infographic from Microsoft

In this post I will focus mainly on the “Productivity & Digital Life” aspect.

Productivity & Digital Life in your car

Using its new Connected Vehicle Platform, Microsoft plans to bring its “intelligent services from across the company right into the car, including virtual assistants, business applications, office services and productivity tools like Cortana, Dynamics, Office 365, Power BI and Skype for Business”.

Nowadays, people are used to being connected 24/7 so why not in the car as well, right? Microsoft wants to use its technology to create a smart and safe environment which should result in a more productive, easier, and enjoyable ride.
Several car manufacturers such as Volvo and BMW have already teamed up with Microsoft and implemented certain services into their cars. Many other brands have recently announced serious plans to implement Microsoft technology, including Renault-Nissan, Harman, Tata Motors (India), and Mercedes. Furthermore, Toyota recently became the first partner in Microsoft’s intellectual property licensing program for connected cars.
In the following section I’ll show the current productivity features already available. Next, I will show what’s coming at us in the (near) future. Curious? Let’s have a look!

Extending the office to the car

Volvo has been the first car manufacturer to integrate Skype for Business into its 90-serie models. The service has been implemented into its infotainment system and also includes voice recording functionality to send notes. Watch the video below to see how it works:

 

Furthermore, late last year, “BMW became one of the first auto manufacturers to commercially offer Office 365 communications and collaboration services through Microsoft Exchange to drivers who already rely on Office 365 at work and want to extend the services to their car”. Recently, BMW integrated Skype for Business as well:

BMW Skype for Business

In addition to making and taking Skype calls, the system also alerts the driver about upcoming meetings, or when meetings have been changed. The implementation of Microsoft Exchange allows calendars, to-do lists and contacts to be integrated into the car’s voice and navigation systems as well.

Personally, I think these are cool and useful features to have in a car, especially for busy managers out on the road with lots of meetings. These functionalities do make one’s life easier as you don’t have to fumble with your smartphone anymore. However, I think we’ll see the real value and benefits of the connected car when voice-controlled digital assistants, such as Microsoft’s Cortana, will be integrated into the car’s system. This, together with improved autonomous driving capabilities, would really create new possibilities. Several car brands are already working together with Microsoft to make this a reality. They have a clear vision of what the connected car experience should be and what it can do for us. Not just inside the car, but even outside. This is innovative, exciting technology that could change and improve our lives. Let’s have a look at some examples.

A peak into the future…

Watch Nissan’s demo at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) earlier this year:

 

Watch Volvo’s vision of in-car productivity using Microsoft technology:

 

From vision to realization and adoption

These visions may seem very futuristic, but the fact is the required technologies are being developed at a rapid pace. However, besides technology there are other factors that come into play, such as security and safety concerns, infrastructure requirements, and government regulations. All of these affect the rate of development and implementation of connected cars on public roads.

And let’s not forget the human aspect of all this: it’s about people using technology. Technology that changes a familiar situation: the good old car ride. Technology such as Cortana and Office 365 services will change the way we, as individuals and employees, spend time in the car. At Portiva, one of our main goals is to help companies deal with digital transformation in the best way possible. I believe the shift towards connected cars can be seen as part of this digital transformation. And as with any other software implementation, adoption activities such as training and workshops will be necessary to help people understand and embrace the change and use the technology most effectively.

Final thoughts

From a business perspective I believe it could definitely be an advantage to stay connected and make the car ride more productive and enjoyable. Companies will get a more productive workforce and employees are less tied to the office. However, I expect that at least initially the target audience will be quite small: busy managers driving high-end cars. But when connected cars become more mainstream as more brands will be offering these types of cars, I expect a larger part of the workforce will start to use them.

I am curious to see how the connected car will develop and what it can do. And when. I think Microsoft is in a good position to take a leading role in this market due to its experience, cloud infrastructure, and familiar products and services such as Cortana and Office 365. Also, Microsoft is teaming up with more car brands and announcing exciting plans for technology integration. However, with serious competition from other digital assistants (e.g. Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant) and in-car infotainment systems (e.g. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto) it remains to be seen how things will play out.

I’m curious now; what are your thoughts on Microsoft technologies coming to your car?

Do you think people actually want to be connected and productive in the car?

What are your concerns and expectations regarding the development of connected cars?

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