The working method in Continental’s software powerhouse is characterized by constant review of one’s own actions. Unlike the way other companies and competitors pool digital resources and run the risk of being occupied with internal reorganization for years, Continental pursues a decentralized approach: All function-related software development is undertaken in the business unit responsible for that topic and, depending on the topic and scaling requirements, is implemented in a cross-functional way. In Holistic Engineering and Technologies (Heat), 200 employees act as a central hub for the establishment of the latest standards and processes for agile software development worldwide together with OEMs, suppliers and other players.
Heat makes all of the key strategic decisions regarding software-related matters in the Group. The unit, which has teams in Germany, Portugal, India, Romania and the United States, takes on a kind of government function across time zones and acts as a driver for the transformation of Continental into a software company.
And the company is taking new approaches, particularly when it comes to software development. Traditionally, the functional package of a software was tested at the end of the development process. Today, Continental is pursuing the agile development method: Each software package is tested in small steps in the overall system so as to regularly have valid, functioning and reliable statuses. Errors are continuously detected and eliminated. In this process, Continental uses approaches similar to those used in the IT sector. “To overcome the challenges of system integration, a cultural change toward agile working is essential,” explains software expert Michels. And he adds: “Ownership by the individual teams gives rise to enormous motivation.”
Continental is developing collaboration tools for this such as the Continental Cooperation Portal, which enables extensive automation in the integration and testing of software packages. Completed software modules are transferred to a virtual library for specific vehicle functions. All business units are required to make their solutions available via the library. In this way, each software project adds to the pool from which new products and product combinations can be quickly derived – like a kind of internal app store.
That results in a faster ability to respond and shorter development cycles. On top of this, there is continuous further development and direct feedback. Today, the software packages are integrated into a large software library. The interfaces can thus be tested in an automated manner, even in early stages. This also works beyond the company boundaries and ensures that external collaboration partners are seamlessly integrated early on via the Continental Portal. Standard errors can thus be automatically detected early on and eliminated.
Developers are given another important role besides the actual functional development. They are the spearheads in the fight against external attacks. Traditionally, there were only a few ways for hackers to attack a vehicle. Tuning and mileage manipulation were the only targets. The situation is different today. That is why “Security by Design” is followed in the Continental software powerhouse right from the first line of code. For complex systems too, the security regulations are strictly followed in all subsystems.
The following is a general rule at Continental: No networking without the right security approach. In this respect, the Group is developing global security concepts jointly with Elektrobit and Argus Cyber Security, which include all networked control units and ensure effective protection throughout the entire service life of the vehicle. Updates to the security software thus become a regular part of vehicle maintenance, like changing the tires and the oil.
Another success story for the innovative output of agile methods is the cockpit high-performance computer. It uses Internet-based services to combine a variety of displays such as the combi instrument and the center console display into one complete solution. Continental is thus following the company-wide approach: moving away from many different control units to just a few high-performance computers.
A comprehensive understanding of agile working is part of the cultural change at Continental. “This includes a high level of automation of constantly running test routines and a combination of strict gating and transparent quality checks,” says Michels. However, on the Agile Campus in Wetzlar, the use of agile methods and tools is not just limited to software development. Continental is daring to make a big leap and is gradually switching other Group sectors over to agile principles. “We are already fit for the requirements of automotive manufacturers worldwide, who are approaching us specifically for collaboration based on agile methods,” says Jens Walther, an agile development expert at Continental. The topic of software at Continental is disruptive – in the positive sense.