Auto Electronics

Automotive software development—Trends for maturity

Electronics and software development are a key feature — in terms of cost and value — for automotive manufacturers and suppliers. With complexity and challenges in quality, cost and time to market, companies are looking for better ways to deliver high quality and reliability. Improving efficiency, reducing the cost of non-quality and optimizing product strategies are the challenges. Engineering and product development processes must support these goals. For the majority of the vehicle producers and their first-tier electronic systems suppliers, capability maturity model integration (CMMI) is the method of choice for electronic product development and software process improvement along the life cycle.

CMMI is a process maturity model that was released in 2001. It provides a framework for process improvement and is used by many electronics and software development organizations. It defines five levels of process maturity plus an improvement framework for process maturity, and as a consequence, quality and predictability. The CMMI is based on the former capability maturity model (CMM), which has been used since 1986 in the software and IT industries. CMMI provides organizations with effective processes, guiding them to successful process evaluation and improvement. It is an industry standard for systems and software engineering. In an independent consultant survey, “The Automotive Maturity Model Study,” conducted by Vector Consulting, automotive software and electronics managers were interviewed on their organizations' current and future process improvement practices. Companies included Daim-lerChrysler, Ford, GM, Bosch, Delphi, Denso, Johnson Controls, Lear, SiemensVDO, TRW, Valeo and Visteon. Al-though interviews had been conducted in North America, the survey's supplier organizations shared a global perspective.

While achievement levels vary throughout the departments, Daimler Chrysler, Ford and GM chose CMMI as their primary software improvement model. Maturity levels at these companies were reported as level 1 or 2 by the end of 2006, with goals of achieving level 2 or 3 by the end of 2007, or 2008 at the latest. The German entities of these manufacturers have achieved the highest maturity levels, and are often the global drivers of the enterprise-wide initiatives. This is due to the longer experiences they have in process improvement and applying CMMI.

Of the nine participating tier one automotive suppliers, seven chose CMMI as their software improvement process, with the remaining two opting for SPICE, a maturity model similar to CMMI, with lower penetration in the industry. CMMI levels of achievement among the tier one suppliers are higher than those of the interviewed vehicle manufacturers with most reporting achievement levels of 2 by the end of 2006 and goals of level 3 by the end of 2007. The maturity difference between OEMs and suppliers causes inefficiency due to mismatch at their interfaces and the risk to lose control for the less mature partner. Thus, OEMs have to speed their process improvement in order to keep up with their suppliers.

Asian vehicle manufacturers have chosen a different strategy for software process improvement. In contrast to their European and North American competitors who have adopted CMMI, most Asian vehicle producers rely on internally developed quality improvement standards. However, the underlying principles don't differ from the ideas behind CMMI. In the case of a supplier proposing software product integration to a customer demanding a different maturity model, gap analyses are used to align the supplier's offering with the customer's expectations.

The adoption of CMMI needs professional expertise and an independent view. Otherwise, the risk is high to invest effort and resources into changing a program that won't achieve sustainable and tangible benefits. Nearly all of the above-mentioned companies rely on professional consulting to develop their process vision and to make use of CMMI as a means to improve efficiency, quality and cycle time in product development.


John Cain is vice president of sales and marketing at Vector CANtech, Inc., Novi, MI. He is responsible for creating, implementing and driving sales and marketing strategies for Vector's software and development tool portfolio.

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