A German hardware giant tries to become an ultra-secure tech platform

  • The 130-year-old giant’s attempts to become more like a tech company reflect a world where value comes increasingly from software, services and data, not things.
  • Volkmar Denner, its CEO, says that he still sees Bosch’s future as a product company, but one that is heavily involved in software and “middleware” and that provides services on top.
  • It has invested in software; built a platform (on which it runs IoT services and apps and allows other firms to do the same), called Bosch IoT suite; and last year launched its own cloud and data centre.
  • But it is making connections with all sorts of other companies; from a map-building partnership with Apollo, a Chinese platform owned by Baidu, to working with Tesla on autonomous cars, to a deal with Amazon to use Alexa—its voice-controlled computer—to steer Bosch smart-home systems.
  • At the launch of the “Bosch IoT Cloud” Mr Denner noted that many companies and consumers say data-security concerns stop them using cloud technologies and connectivity products, offering its own cloud as an answer.

BOSCH is everywhere. It has 440 subsidiaries and employs 400,000 people in 60 countries. Its technology opens London’s Tower Bridge and closes packets of crisps and biscuits in factories from India to Mexico. Analysts call it a car-parts maker: it is the world’s largest, making everything from fuel-injection pumps to windscreen wipers.

BOSCH is everywhere. It has 440 subsidiaries and employs 400,000 people in 60 countries. Its technology opens London’s Tower Bridge and closes packets of crisps and biscuits in factories from India to Mexico. Analysts call it a car-parts maker: it is the world’s largest, making everything from fuel-injection pumps to windscreen wipers. Consumers know it for white goods and power tools synonymous with “Made in Germany” solidity.

The company itself prefers to be called a “supplier of technology and services”, or “the IoT [internet-of-things] company”. On a hill overlooking Stuttgart, robotic lawnmowers whizz around its headquarters and a window displays dishwashers and blenders. Inside are signs of a company in transition: posters call on staff to rip off ties, celebrate “error-culture” and “just do it” opposite a quote from Robert Bosch, the founder: “Whatever is made in my name must be both first-class and faultless.”

The 130-year-old giant’s attempts to become more like a tech company reflect a world where value comes increasingly from software, services and data, not things. When software and hardware meet, as they do in the field of autonomous cars or the IoT’s world of internet-connected objects, manufacturers risk becoming mere commodity suppliers. Part of Bosch’s answer is to position itself as a trusted custodian of data. “Orwell’s 1984 is kindergarten compared to the IoT-world. When it comes, and people re-evaluate privacy, Bosch will be prepared,” says Peter Schnaebele, its head of smart homes.

A German hardware giant tries to become an ultra-secure tech platform