Ford Motors: an Internet Story

A case study about how Ford Motors benefited from the Internet in building a network that linked all its offices at a time when the Web was still young and very few realized the potentials…the case study addresses several issues and how Ford managed to resolve them and continue building its innovative infrastructure…Expert Author

Background (General Facts)

Ford Motors is one of three leading automotive manufacturing companies in the United States. Based in Michigan in 1903 by Henry ford and grew to reach revenue of $150 billion and more than 370,000 employees by 1996 [1]. In the 1970’s, the automobile market for the major auto makers – General Motors (GM), Ford, and Chrysler- was crunched by competition from foreign manufactures such as Toyota and Honda. In 1999, Ford acquired the Swedish Volvo model in an attempt to compete in the foreign market and expand to other regions. Furthermore, Ford launched a full organization re-engineering business process plan called “Ford 2000” aiming at reestablishing the company’s infrastructure. The process meant reduction in their Vehicle Centers (VCs) to only five covering the operations that spanned 200 countries. It also meant cutting redundancies and requiring Information Technology (IT) to be the driving force and the link between Ford centers worldwide.

In building Ford’s IT infrastructure, the company focused on implementing a setup that supported the TCP/IP communication protocol based on the U.S. department of Defense requirements. At those days, Ford internal network was meant to serve files transfer unlike most companies that used the network mainly for email communications. Throughout the 1990’s, Ford developed a cost effective Global Enterprise Network Integration (GENI) process to link all its locations compromising on the type of the connection and the cabling in favor of full coverage. During the same time, Ford started building its Web Farm, which was basically a set of hardware and software managed by a team for building Ford’s public website. The work started by publishing documents for technical references and moved to more advanced images from a live auto show. As a result, the website received 1 million visits a day in less than 2 years after its official launch. Throughout the end of the 90’s, Ford established its web services by increasing the amount of information published, building more intelligent and standard web application in 12 weeks period, purchasing more Netscape browsers for setup on its users’ machines, and creating a B2B server to allow the suppliers secured access to Ford’s Intranet.

In the path towards service cost reduction and bringing more business through the web, Ford worked closely with its competitors in the U.S. market GM and Chrysler to establish what came to be known as “Automotive Network Exchange” (ANX) certificate. The protocols aimed at providing a unified communications standard through the Internet to enable suppliers to provide common technology for all manufacturers. Moreover, Ford focused on making information on its web site more accessible and useful by deploying a team to manage the process of adding and updating information based on an analysis of how humans deal with information. One final aspect of Fords endeavor was to try to build a model through its infrastructure that benefited from the model implemented by Dell computers to improve their supply chain and delivery process. The direct model would not work well for automotives as it would with computers, as a result Ford worked on its retailing network remodeling and identifying what would eventually give it the extra edge in delivery time.

Enterprise Architecture Issues

  • Ford’s regional expansion to address the competition for market shares demanded cost management for the infrastructure upgrades
  • IT infrastructure places limitations on the type of application development based on the platforms
  • Easy access to information and prompt delivery of vital data to key individuals requires proper knowledge managementOrganizations reengineering and process remodeling is necessary when adapting new technologies to maintain the cost and increase efficiency
  • Supply chain errors and delays can severely affect the progress of the business and the market value of the corporation


Infrastructure Upgrade

Since the inception of the Internet in the 1960’s, much effort has been made in standardizing how computers connect to it. In 1982, the International Organization for Standards (ISO) realized that during that period many ad hoc networking systems were already using the TCP/IP protocol for communications and thus adapted it as a standard in its model for the Internet network [2]. The main driver for IP convergence, at that period, was the growth in data traffic through wide area networks (WANs) established by local companies. Furthermore, in 1991, the Internet was open for commercial use, and that demanded a reduction in the total cost of operating the network to cope with 1 million Internet hosts that materialized in only 1-year time. Telecommunications companies like AT&T understood the potential and worked on standardizing the network offering voice services over IP networks that managed the separation between voice and data transmission [3].

At the same time, Ford had launched its plan to update its infrastructure, and seized the opportunity brought by the global movement of integrating the voice, fax transmission network with data transmission and expanded its WAN to include its offices in Europe and elsewhere. The financial benefits also came from the fact that Ford adapted the TCP/IP protocol from the beginning and made sure that all its technical infrastructure upgrades adhere to the standards. This made the transition of its system to the Internet as cost effective as it could be.

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