Ford Motor Co.'s hiring last week of a new senior officer illustrates the auto industry's accelerating dive into big data.
Automotive News reports that the company named Paul Ballew, a former top sales analyst at General Motors, to the new post of chief data and analytics officer. Mr. Ballew, 50, will oversee the automaker's global analytics efforts and focus in particular on helping the company develop autonomous driving, mobility and connectivity technology.
Until now, Ford has had separate analytics groups operating separately in different areas, including manufacturing, design, research and marketing. Mr. Ballew will develop an "enterprisewide vision for now to use analytics," a Ford spokesman said.
Many automakers have been pushing to harness the potential of big data. GM, for example, reaps a wealth of information on how drivers interact with their vehicles and with the company by analyzing interactions with its OnStar service.
Ford is counting on Mr. Ballew to help it divine a new path in terms of in-car electronics. Ford's Sync system was once a trailblazer, but its expansion into MyFord Touch was fraught with difficulties and lately has hurt Ford's performance in key quality surveys.
One misstep Ford made: At one point, it all but eliminated knobs from its center console on certain vehicles equipped with MyFord Touch, only to find that customers want simple, old-fashioned knobs for turning up the volume. That's the kind of decision big data and analytics can potentially help companies get right.
Ford accelerated its big data efforts after the 2006 arrival of former CEO Alan Mulally. The company now operates an enormous number-crunching center in Dearborn, Mich., and has been expanding its computing power by about 50% a year for nearly a decade. The company says the sensors, cameras, radars and other electronics hooked up to test cars kick out 250 gigabytes of data an hour.
Mr. Ballew left GM in 2007 to join Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., where he was senior VP-customer insights and analytics. Since 2012 he has been in charge of data operations, market research and analytics at Dun & Bradstreet, a financial information provider.