Yesterday, I ended my subscription of the magazine “Auto Motor Sport”, one of the big German journals about automotive and racing sports. I will continue reading about automotive topics via a news platform from my employer, but quitting the “Auto Motor Sport” is a nice occasion to write about why you should care about the business of your customer.
“Auto Motor Sport “ isn’t what you would call a neutral medium (Volkswagen suspiciously wins every comparison with other vendors) and there are quite a few really silly articles in it. However, I ordered it two years ago when I made the decision to stay in the area of Wolfsburg. The alternative was to leave the area and work in another industrial sector for a while. To make a good decision, I wanted to know more about why the people in automotive are the way they are and what the hype about cars is all about. I didn’t knew much about cars.
The reading helped me to understand some corner stones of the automotive industry in Wolfsburg and maybe in general. In Germany, automotive is the biggest driver of research as well as the most important industrial sector. That is why politics decides in favour of the automotive industry. It’s also the reason for the thinking and acting of some of the decision makers. Being part of the country’s main business sector develops some special kinds of personalities.
Although I know that a lot of people outside of Germany like German cars, I didn’t know why exactly. Articles that compared German cars to Asian and American cars helped me to notice the advantages (quality of materials and construction) and disadvantages (high prices). Knowing how people think about the final product of my customer helps me to understand how he acts. A car producer who has the reputation of favoring robustness over fancy new digital technologies maybe wants robust software more than the most recent shiny UI-toolkit.
The thinking of the bying-department of an automotive vendor is quite important for developing software for them. Because of the huge quantity of processed parts during construction and the number of produced cars, the buying department strongly tries to minimize the cost of each part. Every screw and every meter of steel sheet has to be as cheep as possible. They are even willing to change the provider if another one delivers for just a few cents less. That has tremendous effect on the IT because developers often are treated the same way. Cheap is king. Without judging this thinking, it really helps to understand where it comes from.
A nice side effect of reading about the business of my customer is to know more about current events than he does. It’s always a good impression to know about what your customer moves. It eases the daily dealing with each other and maybe gives you the advantage in job interviews.
Be interested in your business domain! Read journals, watch documentations and talk to people. Knowing what your customer thinks and does helps you to understand him.
(Photo: Steven Schwenke)