Written language had been around for a long time by the year 1440 — 4,400 years, give or take a century or two. But in 1440, written language got a massive technological upgrade when Johannes Gutenberg invented the world’s first movable type printing press. The world of words changed overnight: Writing and reading books were no longer the provenance of royalty and the educated.
Reading was officially on the menu for everyone, and the tool of written language got the upgrade it needed to kickstart the modern era. In the 600 or so years since the invention of the movable type press, human beings built the atom bomb, invented the internal combustion engine, created penicillin and walked on the moon. Arguably, you are reading this on the internet right now because a German blacksmith looked at a book and thought there had to be a better way to produce them than by hand.
Telematics aren’t quite the innovation that written language was in 3,600 BCE; nor is the emergence of the autonomous car economy quite the sea change in human existence that the printing press was, at least not to our knowledge. Historical magnitude is hard to guess from the present day; it is unlikely Guttenberg anticipated the internet when he invented the printing press.
But there is something a bit similar in the stories in that telematics data gathering has been around for quite a while, particularly in areas like fleet management and other industrial applications. It was important for some people, but it was generally considered something of a niche service for a limited segment of specialized industries.
Or, as Karen Webster noted in her recent conversation with Tantalum’s CEO Ozgur Tohumcu about the future of connected and autonomous cars, “No one cared about it until everyone cared about it because suddenly it [was] the hot thing.”
But the change, Tohumcu said, has been inevitable for some time, as mobile phones have become an increasingly normalized part of consumer lives, including their commerce lives. What we are seeing today, he told Webster, is data enablers tapping into streams of information that have been available for at least a decade and then putting them to much more and better use than they ever have been before.
“Parking is the classic example. You are in your car, and the goal is to be able to tell the car to find you parking. We ... have something you just couldn’t do before now possible with voice-activated tech that is now fairly robust and available. Geolocation will allow the car to pinpoint parking closest to you ... fitting your price criteria. There are parking aggregators coming in who have the technology and inventory so you can see what is available in real time. You have turn-by-turn navigation to get you there. And the next big thing that we [Tantalum] added on top is that you can pay for all of it from your car as well.”
Those parking interactions in specific have just gotten easier, Ozgur Tohumcu noted, due to the firm’s recent integration with SAP® Vehicles Network. Going forward, Tantalum’s end-to-end Pay.Car platform for connected cars as part of the SAP Vehicles Network will help drivers find an available parking space quickly and pay securely without needing to find spare coins or load a separate car app on their phone.
But, Tohumcu told Webster, the vision at Tantalum is bigger than just parking, or really any one service in particular.
“We want to create the digital experience in the car. If you look at the rest of your shopping life, it is so easy to buy online and have it delivered the next day or even the same day. As you get into the car, it is still a rather analog experience. Our starting position is to make your life easier and more digital in the car, and we are focusing in on the vehicle services that are most relevant to that.”
Building the One-Stop Shop
There are no shortage of car apps offering a variety of services for drivers, Tohumcu told Webster, and finding better ways to plug that data in is easy through great parking apps, great roadside assistance apps and great repair apps. But that plethora is in itself a problem, because consumers don’t want to be in charge of that many applications. What Tantalum does is essentially put all of those sevices into a single app that is easy for consumers to navigate and utilize directly from their car.
“What we are doing is building the experiences for those services through our white-labeled app. We are a B2B2C company, so we might work with an OEM or a telco or with an aftermarket manufacturer. As the front end user, you get an option of filling in your data once and not facing a secondary download. We have found that answering zillions of questions isn’t really ideal for the smartphone use case, so we make it a one-step process.”
Moreover, he noted, the process they’ve built also reflects what they think is the changing role of services and cars in the consumer’s life. Insurance, for example, is something that they’ve tied into their platform so that a car can literally insure itself.
“The type of interaction we are trying to build for you as a driver is one where the car is a smart entity that can interact with you and for you. So, imagine getting a notice that your insurance is running out and that “the car” has found you a better quote. We are trying to create a separation of the driver and the car, and the car as an entity is empowered through the features we put in it.”
What OEMs Need
One might think that it might be difficult to build a services platform app for OEMs and brands who themselves are trying to build out telematics platforms of their own. But Tohumcu told Webster that isn’t quite the case, as these platforms themselves are evolving toward commodity status.
Their best interests, he told Webster, are actually best served by working with firms like Tantalum to expand the horizons of their offering.
“The OEMs are essentially a B2B concern: They sell to the dealership; the dealership sells to the customer. What they really love when they talk to us is a great chance for customer engagement. For the first time, they can relate to and interact directly with the driver of the car, knowing who that person is.”
That means, as a firm, Tantalum needs to be flexible in how it works with OEMs. One partner, for example, came with a fully developed platform with apps and services baked in. But what they really needed was a way to tie in geolocation parking and repairs. Another client wanted their services for customers built so they could be tied to rewards platforms offered by various retail partners it was in negotiations with because said European firm was particularly interested in value-added service.
Those customizations can all be made, Tohumcu said, because the bottom line for his firm is helping build the digital experience and the right digital experience for customers.
The future of connected cars and self-driving cars is an exciting one — but one that requires everyone to take a step back and realize that how we relate to cars is going to have to change.
“As cars become autonomous, the paradigm changes because the driver is doing less. In the future, you are literally insuring the car: When it drives off a dealer lot, it buys itself insurance immediately. A warning light goes on; it will book its own appointment and drive itself to the mechanic. The whole industry is going to be reshaped with autonomous cars.”
And, he noted, Tantalum will be changing too as the context for servies it can and will provide for will grow right along with customer use cases. That will mean the car being able to turn the heat on when the driver is a certain distance from home or opening the garage door because it senses it is pulling into the driveway.
And though that future may still seem a bit high tech and out of reach, Tohumcu said that even today, the platform is expanding to work with drivers while they are behind the wheel to help them drive better (before the car just takes over for them).
“With our Air.Car emission measurement program, we can offer suggestions on how to drive in a more environmentally friendly way. We can see that how you drive has a huge impact on the gases your car emits. We can give you real-time feedback on how you drive and how it pollutes, and in some cases it can cut emission right in half.”
The data, he noted, is there. Just like the written word was there. The job of technology — present and emerging (self-driving cars, for example) — is to find ways to make that data useful and useful in context with other information. It’s a big job, but Tantalum is committed to doing it.