Coevolving Innovations

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Lecturing at an automotive engineering class at Helsinki Polytechnic Stadia

Posted on April 28, 2006 by daviding

Following on from David Hawk‘s practice, I’ve continued to lecture at the Helsinki Polytechnic Stadia for the past 3 years when I’ve been visiting Finland. On this visit, I was able to draw on some of the work presented a few weeks earlier at the IT Strategy Consulting conference in Toronto.

I lecture in Ritva Laamanen‘s classes, which are designed for Finnish undergraduate students to pick up greater English fluency that will advance their professional capabilities. The sections that I teach vary. I’ve spoken with business students (easy), and software engineering students (a snap). Since I’ve been studying and working in those domains on the order of 20-plus years, it’s second nature for me to pick some subject that has relevance to the current business climate and to students’ interests. My goal actually isn’t to lecture, as much as it is to encourage students to speak up and practice their English. On my visit last November, I spoke to a class working their way through an English operating system textbook (uggh!) on my personal history with operating system. This included being one of the first IBMers to work with Metaphor Computer Systems, participating in the OS/2 Warp beta, and observing the evolution of Patriot Partners into Taligent. On another lecture with the Stadia Formula Engineering Team has prepared for competitions in Detroit, I’ve spoken on Canadian and U.S. geography and cultural differences. Relevance is important to maintaining interest.

For this visit, Ritva suggested that I might speak to an automotive engineering class. This isn’t one of my strongest areas, but it happened that at the IT Strategy Consulting conference from two weeks earlier, Thomas Bartsch from IBM Global Business Services Germany gave a presentation on “Unlocking the Potential of Embedded Systems”. I had mentioned to Thomas that I was interested in hearing his talk in Toronto, but unfortunately his presentation was scheduled in the same time slot as mine. Still, since the presentations were distributed to attendees to the conference, I had access to his slides. Thomas was so thorough that he wrote up speaker notes for the slides. While I didn’t think that it would be right to actually show his slides at the Stadia automotive engineering class, they made up a great set of cheat sheets!

Thus, I was able to use drop some factoids such as:

  • Computer memory requirements in cars seem to follow that of typical office PCs by a lag of about 7 years. Thus, 2008 vehicles should expect to have 1 GB of memory onboard. (I wonder what content is stored in that memory!)

It’s fun to play with potential future scenarios.

  • With the move towards embedded systems, there’s the potential for improved functionality from standardization. How about using using your PDA to send an encrypted signal to your car so that it starts up and warms up the driver’s seat on a cold winter morning?

In addition to the more technical aspects of the automotive business, it’s pretty easy for me to riff on current themes that you read in the business press:

What is the biggest cost that General Motors executives are focused on, right now?

  • It’s not manufacturing.
  • It’s not product development.
  • It’s pensions and health care costs! In Finland, socialized medicine means that many employers don’t think about these social costs as part of their business concerns. In the United States (but not in Canada), the lack of socialized medicine means that employers bear a lot of the social costs for their employees directly.

What is the biggest contributor to profits for General Motors today?

  • It’s not automobile sales.
  • It’s financing! Automobile manufacturers tend to make more money on the intangibles around the product, than the product itself.

This led me to speak a bit about my other activity with Stadia, which is in the role of a Service Science Ambassador for IBM. With Taina Tukiainen and Minna Takala , I’ve been working on a program in International Service Business Management, for the Master’s degree in Industrial Management. This has been an interesting pursuit that will eventually get more visibility, as we try to make the Services Management part of SSME more concrete.

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