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21 April 2017

J-P De Clerck

Blogs by author: J-P De Clerck, Digital Consultant


Jan Van De Gucht is helping TomTom make the transition from consumer devices to automotive company.

Jan Van De Gucht Tom TomKnown to many of us as a manufacturer of car navigation devices, TomTom has in recent years undergone a pretty radical transformation. Its core business today is the delivery of advanced mapping, traffic and navigation intelligence in the cloud to a range of b2b industries such as automotive, logistics and government (traffic authorities). Jan Van De Gucht, TomTom’s Vice President Employee Services (IT & Facilities), explains how IT is enabling the transition.

Jan Van De Gucht, TomTom

Jan, can you tell us a little about your role at TomTom?

Simply put, my teams design and deliver all IT and facility services that make TomTom a great place to work. We have a team of about 90 people who support our engineering and employee communities around the world in several key areas. These include collaboration technologies such as Office 365, development software for our engineering teams, IT support services, support for devices covering three operating systems, and unusually for an IT team, we are also responsible for company cars and facility services such as cleaning, catering and security.

Wow, that’s quite a load! How do you prioritise your work?

It is a very diverse set of responsibilities. My days can be quite strange. One moment I’m talking about catering, the other about artificial intelligence. It’s very broad and a lot of fun.

Generally speaking, I have three main priorities. Firstly, I need to be as cost-efficient and innovative as possible. These go hand in hand. All our innovation must deliver clear returns.

Secondly, we need to create a great place to work. In the war for talent we compete head on with other major tech companies such as Google and Microsoft.

And thirdly, we must stimulate the entrepreneurial spirit in this company.

Tell us about the company, TomTom. I think most of us still associate the brand with navigation devices.

Indeed, that is still a significant part of our business. However, TomTom is undergoing a pretty comprehensive transition from being mainly a consumer-focused business to a much broader automotive or mobility business.  Essentially, we transform mobility, in the broadest sense of the word.

We have three main businesses. Firstly, our Automotive and Licensing business licenses maps, traffic and navigation software to customers who integrate those components in their own applications. Automotive customers use these components for in-vehicle navigation, assisted driving and autonomous driving. Traffic authorities also use our technology for traffic management.

Secondly, our Telematics business is focused on fleet management and connected car services. Fleet managers of logistics companies, for example, use our SaaS solution to monitor their vehicles and generally improve efficiency and safety. We provide similar services to insurance companies, car rental companies, leasing companies and so on.

Finally, our Consumer business, which historically was our bread and butter, still manufactures navigation devices for cars. This is a declining market due to the increasing use of smartphones for navigation, but it still turns high volumes. We have recently diversified our consumer business, however, with a promising range of GPS-enabled sports watches and activity trackers.

That’s quite a change from your days as a car GPS maker. What has been the impact on IT? What do your CEO and internal customers expect from you?

Clearly we have to help manage the transition from consumer to automotive business. The implications for IT are somewhat contrary to the mainstream trend.  IT consumerisation is forcing a lot of companies to open up their IT infrastructure more, whereas at TomTom, as we move closer to the automotive business, we are gradually and where necessary increasing the controls. We must take security a lot more seriously and are therefore investing in more encryption and device management.

At the same time, however, we have to help make TomTom a great place to work. In that regard it is crucial that we always align ourselves with the latest technologies. For our employee communities, we strive to deliver a robust and cost-efficient service through a self-service model, enabled by the cloud. The whole company runs on Office 365 and we have deployed Skype for Business and Yammer. For devices, we support three operating systems: Windows, Linux and iOS.

Our engineering community expects us to deliver robust engineering software for writing code as efficiently as possible. It is an increasingly complex field as we have to comply with the requirements of the automotive industry. Also, the technologies themselves are evolving so rapidly.

And where does facilities fit in?

Also in facilities we try to do interesting things. For example, we have a rotating catering system. Each day of the week a different caterer comes in representing different international kitchens.

What are your top challenges? What keeps you up at night?

Managing multiple operating systems is a key challenge, especially from a security perspective. It adds complexity.

Operating systems aside, we are always trying to simplify our software environment. This is a challenge because there is always pressure to add complexity. IT consumerisation is one part of the story, with consumer products such as Dropbox and Facebook continuously trying to break into the corporate market. But we are also a very decentralised organisation. For example, our product divisions tend to select their own software products based on their own peculiar engineering backgrounds. Historically we have also inherited a fair amount of complexity.

Our responsibility is to minimise the overlap between software products and to manage security. Fortunately, the cloud is a key enabler in that regard.

Devices is also a murky field and difficult to manage. There are so many different concepts in the market currently that make it very difficult to predict where it is all going. For example, the iPad Pro shook up the tablet market but at the same time the laptop market is picking up again.  There is a lot of innovation but it is all pretty turbulent. My intuition tells me that many employees will continue to prefer a company device, but what will that device be in 5 years time?

Finally, the cloud presents its own challenges. The advantage of the cloud is that you can always use the latest technologies. You can move fast, but that does not imply that your employees can follow. For example, collaborating real-time in the cloud remains a key challenge for many employees.

To wrap up, what do you expect from suppliers?

I would boil it down to reliable innovation.  I do expect innovation from my suppliers but it has to be reliable; I need to be able to depend on it.  My organisation is too lean to co-create with suppliers; I do not have the resources and cannot take on that risk.

I think suppliers sometimes have difficulty placing TomTom in a familiar customer segment. We are a very entrepreneurial company. We like to move fast. But at the same time all our innovation demands a strong bottom line and business case. For many suppliers who are accustomed to working with corporates this can feel unfamiliar and can lead to friction.  A limited group of vendors truly stand out in entrepreneurship and it’s always a pleasure to work with them.