Super Saver Innovation

This Innovation Fair People’s Choice award winner looks to replace plastic dealer personnel ID cards with a far less costly digital alternative

November 06, 2019
People's Choice -- Julia Wada (far right), an executive sponsor of the Innovation Fair, congratulates (left to right) Caroline Brown, Natesh Muthalan and Christine Xu who -- along with Allyson Kiyan and Kevin Reifel (not pictured ) -- proposed replacing analog dealer ID cards with a digital solution.

Take a look around your workstation. Other than the humble coffee mug, you probably won’t spot any technology that existed 15 years ago. The relentless march of innovation has a way of changing things.
Or does it?
A small group of team members recently discovered an exception to this rule: physical identification cards still being printed and mailed to personnel at Toyota and Lexus dealerships at a rate of about 40,000 per year.
At a cost of $5 per new card and $15 to replace a card. You do the math.
Their alternative, called the Digital SPIN, has the potential to save the company a lot of money in the years ahead. It won the People’s Choice award for prototypes at last month’s Innovation Fair held in the Sequoia Pavilion at TMNA headquarters.
Digital SPIN was just one of 279 ideas presented by team members at this year’s fair, co-sponsored by TFS Group Vice President of Corporate Strategy and Innovation Julia Wada and TMNA Group Vice President and CIO Manjit Singh.
“SPIN stands for Secure Personal Identification Number and is widely used for access to dealer systems,” says Christine Xu, the lead member of the winning team. “However, the physical cards have very limited usage. At one time, they were used for roster management at some vehicle launch classes. But we’re not sure if they are still being used for that.”
A unique identification number is needed. For example, frontline salespeople use it to log into proprietary Toyota or Lexus online training resources that help them stay abreast of the latest product features. But is there a way to create and transmit that number other than a plastic card that the end user stuffs into his or her wallet?

Adaptive Interior Storage -- Digital SPIN was just one of 279 ideas presented at the fair. This display suggests another: How soft robotics technology could be used in, say, a vehicle's sunglasses holder compartment so that the space could adapt to items of other shapes and sizes. This exhibit was part of the R&D Research Expo which, for the first time, was presented in conjunction with the Innovation Fair.

Cracking the QR Code
Xu and her Digital SPIN innovation team say yes, emphatically. They recommend leveraging the thoroughly tested technology of QR codes to accomplish the same objective, but at considerably less expense. Since they’re digital, these codes could be transmitted via email as well as a variety of other ways, such as by text and through mobile apps.
Like, say, the one that links to the Toyota Engage product information database. Reifel, who works with the team that manages that resource, says they’ve already begun to pilot test Digital SPIN on that front. So far, so good.

Train Without Travel -- With another possible innovation, team members try out augmented reality technology that could be used to train port personnel charged with installing accessories, saving time and reducing travel expenses.

Saving a ton of money isn’t the only potential benefit of making a shift from analog to digital identification numbers. For example, Xu notes that when salespeople leave dealerships, their IDs could be deactivated in real time. In the current reality, it’s almost impossible to reclaim the physical cards when personnel move on to, say, a competing brand’s dealership.
“We don’t see any reason why this wouldn’t work,” says Xu. “But we are now doing the due diligence and reaching out to the field to confirm that we’re on the right track. If this works for salespeople and service technicians, we see no reason why it couldn’t also work for team members and maybe even customers. The possibilities are almost limitless.”

Innovation Celebration -- Team members packed the Sequoia Pavilion to learn about and honor the creative thinking of their colleagues. More than 2,000 cast votes in the People's Choice award competition.

A Wealth of Ideas
For the first time, this year’s fair was presented jointly with the R&D Research Expo normally held in Ann Arbor, Michigan in January. And in another innovation of the, uh, Innovation Fair, displays of team members’ creative thinking were bolstered by a series of speakers on the importance of embracing change.
Heading that roster of experts was Dr. Franklin Chang-Diaz, the first Latino astronaut in NASA’s history and founder of Ad Astra — a company working on a plasma engine to replace the chemical combustion technology currently used to power spaceflight. His keynote address was made possible in part by TODOS, the Toyota business partnering group dedicated to promoting contributions of the Hispanic community.
Want to learn about the other creative ideas shared at the fair? Not surprisingly, there’s an app for that. And if you’d like to get into the act yourself, the Innovation Fair will return in 2021. But no reason to wait until then to begin turning your ideas into a reality.
By Dan Miller

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