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IT Innovation Management

Data rather than gasoline running through his veins!

He built his first computer when he was 14 years old – for gaming, as he puts it. Years later he is still building at Mercedes-Benz, although now it is Artificial Intelligence (AI) prototypes, including the virtual assistant 'Ask Mercedes'. Patrick Klingler, IT Innovation Manager at hte Mercedes-Benz Group, explains how he wants to democratize Artificial Intelligence in the company. The founder of an in-house AI Community gives insights into his work and career, and tells us how Daimler can inspire someone who isn't actually a typical 'car guy'.

Hi Patrick! Please introduce yourself to our readers.
My name is Patrick Klingler, I'm 31 years old, and I am responsible for Innovation Management in the Mercedes-Benz Group`s IT unit, focusing on AI. I did a management degree majoring in IT and Innovation at Stuttgart-Hohenheim University. I'm not actually a typical 'car guy' – I have data rather than gasoline running through my veins. If I had to choose between a larger engine and the latest infotainment system, I'd go for the infotainment system every time.

When did you join Mercedes-Benz?
I started as a temporary student employee in the Product Strategy department in 2014. To be honest, I didn't really have any idea or enthusiasm about the Group at that time: I thought it was a traditional company that offered well-paid jobs. I saw my future career in consultancy or at a tech firm. But then I got to experience the new vehicle model initiative live. I saw future model series come into being, experienced 'digital' thinking, and felt the desire to change mobility at Mercedes-Benz. The workplace culture was totally different to what I expected, too. I got the feeling that people wanted to do something big. Filled with this enthusiasm, I joined an international talent program here in 2015.

How did it go for you after that?
I 'built' AI prototypes for apps. We say 'build', but we actually mean 'develop and program'. My favorite baby is 'Ask Mercedes'. I had the great opportunity to present this project to top management. And now it's a product that our customers use. Behind it is an entire team that does great work day after day and continually develops the product.

Patrick supports our top management in the field of AI through „reverse mentoring“ – in this case, Sabine Scheunert (Vice President Digital & IT Sales/Marketing Mercedes-Benz Cars)
Patrick supports our top management in the field of AI through „reverse mentoring“ – in this case, Sabine Scheunert (Vice President Digital & IT Sales/Marketing Mercedes-Benz Cars)

How would you explain 'Ask Mercedes' to an outsider?
'Ask Mercedes' is a virtual voice assistant, e.g. for smartphones, which answers questions about the vehicle and its functions. The app is a combination of a chatbot and Augmented Reality – 'seamlessly' integrated, as we say. The platform can grow generically, which means that further functions or vehicle models and further chatbots can be integrated.

That sounds exciting – a product aimed directly at the end customer. Were there other innovative projects in the background?
I developed a prototype for a machine diagnostics tool in collaboration with our axle production facility in Mettingen. This prototype is based on a search engine with learning capability. This system enabled production colleagues to detect, classify and efficiently repair faults far more quickly.

And what are you doing now?
I no longer focus on prototype development. For this, I have very competent colleagues in various disciplines who identify and implement the use cases for AI. My mission now is the 'democratization' of AI in the company.

You'll have to explain this
Ultimately, it means scaling AI, in other words raising awareness of it throughout the company, and also creating an infrastructure and a culture so that AI can gradually establish itself as a central instrument. I founded the AI Community on the Intranet a year ago. Experts and interested parties can swap ideas here to further advance AI. The Community now has over 2,500 members. I am also involved in 'reverse mentoring', which means assisting top managers with AI issues. This involves highlighting opportunities on the one hand and demystifying the issue on the other.

Demystifying the notion that 'AI can do everything'?
Yes, that's correct. It's very important to convey a realistic appraisal of AI potential to prevent uncertainties or even exaggerated expectations. This also includes showing what the technology can do. An even more important aspect in my view, however, is to talk about what the technology cannot do – i.e. where its (current) limits lie. Highlighting the necessary prerequisites, like data availability, also aids general understanding.

Please explain your job using a simple example? What is your work routine like?
Luckily I don't really have a routine since I get bored quickly. I have a clear mission and task, of course, namely to get new AI technology into the company and promote AI, but every day is different. As an example, I frequently attend IT shows and conferences, and I research and read lots of blogs and scientific publications to keep right up to date. But I am also allowed to actively try out new technological trends or methods. Having a wide network is a central part of my job, so I am constantly consulting with universities, tech companies and experts.

Enough of business. What do you do in your spare time?
I always try to achieve a balance. Travel is one of my passions. I also do a lot of sport such as soccer, swimming and beach volleyball – I find it hard to sit still.


IT, Software Development.