IT as a Phaeton Enabler

IT and business alignment happens when a business and its IT department positions both assets in complimentary ways to facilitate greater efficiency and productivity towards the business’s overall goals.  In some organizations this complementary relationship is often channeled to align with a goal that has already passed instead of innovating towards the future.  

The Volkswagen assembly plant in Dresden Germany is a good example of IT and business alignment.  Although it’s not necessarily new to have segments of the automotive assembly process automated with machines the assembly plant in Dresden has a much different approach in their manufacture of the Volkswagen Phaeton.

The Phaeton is a marketed as a high end luxury automobile and competes in a market that values as much hands on time as possible.  This means that for the Phaeton factory Volkswagen had to develop the assembly line process not with more automation, but with less automation to allow it to compete in the luxury hand-built market.

Robots aren’t just more efficient, they are also more predictable.  Putting humans back into the assembly line processes increases some of the technical challenges.  The factory is a wonderful blend of some great technologies.  From the business side it was important to the company to have a plant in the downtown area to revitalize the community after reunification.  The IT department facilitated the engineering software that designed a building with moving floors, robots who automatically resupply parts drawers, and a light rail car system that moves the parts into the building to reduce the amount of trucks in the downtown area.

Just as the IT realm responds to the availability of new technologies updated best practices so too does the business realm as improvements in efficiency are identified and leveraged.  Aligning the two departments isn’t just a one time fix and forget solution.  It’s a marriage.  When the demand of the Phaeton dropped due to a lack of interest in the US market, the factory had additional capacity and the engineers went back to their IT systems to develop techniques to utilize the plant’s capacity and produce similar vehicles in the Volkswagen family.

For the glass factory in Dresden the role of the IT strategic plan was to function as an enabler for the business’s strategic plan of revitalizing a community by producing high quality hand-made automobiles.