How strategic partnerships underpin digitalization at Bridgestone Europe
Photography: Stefan Hobmaier
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How strategic partnerships underpin digitalization at Bridgestone Europe

Kenny MacIver — July 2017
Michael Johnson, head of IT for EMEA at the world’s largest tire manufacturer, outlines the pivotal role strategic partners are playing in renewing the company’s technology infrastructure and helping it to harvest the opportunities of digitalization.

Car companies around the world are bracing themselves for momentous change over the next decade as the whole vehicle ecosystem is shaken up by new digitally inspired business models and shifting customer preferences. And that extends right down to where the rubber meets the road.

“Every company should be looking at their industry, their markets and their internal operations,” says Michael Johnson, VP for IT in EMEA at Bridgestone Europe, the Brussels-based subsidiary of Japan’s Bridgestone Corporation. “The sharing economy is going to have a dramatic impact as asset ownership becomes less and less important to people and more customers want services rather than products. A lot of different factors are going to change the way people consume cars and, as a result, the tires they use. And we need to understand what that means for us and how we participate in that new economy.”

But adjusting to new consumption patterns is just one strand of a company-wide digitalization agenda taking shape at Bridgestone Europe. “Digitalization requires change and transformation across every part of the business,” says Johnson. “You can’t do that serially. Speed is of the essence and the traditional way of thinking about IT and about businesses in general has got to be a thing of the past. So along with exploring the business models of the future, we are leveraging digitalization to optimize our costs and improve our efficiency.”

Johnson outlines the multiple initiatives underway to prepare the company for that new world. “We are transforming our IT organization, trying to be faster, more creative, leaner and more responsive for the business. At the same time, we are renovating the core, so that we have the right IT infrastructure and application services in place, with the right security and integration capabilities. As new business models develop, that will ensure we have the solid, stable, resilient, highly secured and available infrastructure and services that the business can easily plug into in the future.”

To support that, in November 2016 Bridgestone Europe extended a five-year contract with Fujitsu by a further three years to manage its entire IT infrastructure and host its core applications, spanning data center services, SAP systems, service desk, workplace services and servers, PCs and printers.
Transforming the business through strategic partnerships

Critical to the success of such new IT-delivery structures is the formation of deep, trusted relationships with vendors, he says. “As digital transformation happens we have to think completely differently about our suppliers, our strategic partners. Partnerships with companies are going to grow more and more important because being fast needs to be supported by IT that is flexible, scalable and agile. And you can’t just build all that in-house. You have to have the right partnerships in place so that as new business models emerge — as new opportunities to deliver technology to the business emerge — you have the right skills, the right resources, the right capability and experience behind you.”

The partnership with Fujitsu is a prime example, he says. “Trust and transparency are driving a lot of new ways of thinking and co-innovation between the two organizations. Not conversations about the table stakes of traditional IT, like the boxes and the wires, but more about what the business is trying to do and how Fujitsu services, products and people can help enable that.”

“Through that partnership in Europe we have been able to completely transform our IT organization, our infrastructure and our core services — and, indeed, the perception of the IT function within the business. The stability of the operations and significant improvements in the cost of delivering core IT services is enabling us to steer more investment back into other parts of the business, providing the kind of results the business wants to see.”
The challenges of digitalization

The challenges of such a transformation are not inconsiderable, says Johnson. “The business is learning, understanding and really driving digitalization. There needs to be business justification and an appetite from the business to digitalize a process, to create a new business model or a new service. And that puts a lot of pressure on the IT function to go through the journey with them, helping to identify opportunities and partnering to realize those opportunities.”

That means a rethink of where the IT function sits within the business. “The role of IT is rapidly evolving,” he says. “More and more, the lines and siloes within a company are going to be torn down, including those between IT and different parts of the business.”

He continues: “We need to be more immersed, more part of the business, to be there through the process [of digitalization]. So IT can’t be an ‘order taker’ any more; it can’t just be a business partner any more. IT really needs to become part of the business.”
Harvesting IoT opportunities

Those new structures — coupled with strategic partnerships — are vital for Bridgestone to take advantage of the host of opportunities created by new digital technologies such as IoT.

“The business opportunities that IoT presents to Bridgestone are many and varied. We are looking at how can we leverage IoT and digitalization to change the consumer experience. We are looking at that to streamline and automate our internal business processes. And then we are using it to understand how new businesses, new markets and new ways of going to market will emerge.”

And that makes this a time for action, he argues. “IoT is both a threat and opportunity for every organization. It’s a question of whether you embark on a journey that will allow you to harvest the opportunity, really turn it into a competitive advantage, or else you fall behind and IoT turns into a threat that causes disruption to your company.
First published July 2017
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