Haydar Vural: Driving Digital Transformation in the Automotive Industry

Haydar Vural
Haydar Vural

With over 15 years of experience in banking, finance, and insurance, Haydar Vural has honed his expertise in digital transformation initiatives. His early career provided him with a unique opportunity to witness and contribute to large-scale digital transformations within these sectors. However, it was a pivotal offer from a renowned automotive company five years ago that led him to pivot towards manufacturing and automotive industries.

In 2023, Haydar joined Karsan, a prominent automotive company, as its Chief Digital Officer. His decision to transition to this role was influenced by his successful track record in leading and executing large transformation projects. At Karsan, Haydar is instrumental in driving digital initiatives aimed at modernizing and revolutionizing various aspects of the automotive industry.

As the Chief Digital Officer, Haydar plays a critical role in spearheading Karsan’s digital strategy, leveraging innovative technologies to enhance operational efficiency, customer experience, and overall business performance. His vast experience in digital transformation equips him with the insights and skills necessary to navigate the complexities of the automotive sector and drive meaningful change. Under his leadership, Karsan is poised to embrace digital disruption and emerge as a leader in the rapidly evolving automotive landscape.

Below are highlights of the interview, which showcase Haydar’s strategic vision and hands-on approach. These positions him as a catalyst for innovation and propel Karsan towards a future of continued growth and success in the digital age.

What inspired you to focus on automation, and what aspects of this field do you find most compelling?

Since the time I was a junior software engineer, I have been working for companies that heavily invest in digital or automation. It is not surprising that they are overperforming compared to their competitors, who preferred alternative methods. I believe that no company on earth has a better way of doing that. But the competition in digital is no longer a first-in-the-market problem for a use case or the total investment you made. There are so many digital products, technologies, options, and consultants available in the market, and creating the right mix with the best cost-performance became a significant issue. Even a start-up established a few years ago may yield better results for a specific problem.

How would you describe your leadership style, and how does it contribute to the success of automation initiatives within your organization?

I have a motto for our IT teams: “I don’t want to be a boss or manager; I want everybody to be their own boss.” We have teams and individuals who are supported to be decision-makers and show initiative. IT and digital teams are closely working with all departments, and they are in constant search for new digitalization opportunities. People who know the technology are able to propose more feasible solutions to solve problems or increase utilization. Our teams also avoid complex and hard-to-maintain solutions by eliminating them in the first phase. If we don’t encourage them to decide based on their expertise, we have to deal with useless time spent on dream business projects that may never be complete.

What strategies do you employ to foster innovation and creativity within your team when approaching automation solutions?

We have general awarding mechanisms and target-focused ones. They are open to anyone in the company. Our field teams also have a monthly Kaizen target. We apply a strict but simple benefit/cost analysis to each new idea, and whenever it exceeds the minimum, we put it in our backlog to prioritize. This simple but efficient prioritization, individuals coming up with new ideas, and digital teams observing the fields significantly improve our success in automation and digitalization. In Karsan, we are also building our own technology ecosystem with universities, start-ups, technology suppliers, and peers. If you don’t have an extensive ecosystem, innovations originating within the company are not sufficient alone. Designing or manufacturing in the automotive industry is a complex process, and productivity is everywhere.

How do you ensure that automation initiatives align with broader business goals and objectives?

Karsan has long-term strategic plans and annual tactical goals derived from them. Any single project that will be developed has to be linked to one of these tactical goals. Unless it’s a legal obligation, our IT evaluation eliminates demands without aiming towards a goal.

What role do you believe automation plays in driving efficiency and productivity in today’s rapidly evolving business landscape?

The roles handling big data, like data scientist or data engineer, are far more important to productivity. In manufacturing, IoT engineers have a similar role, too. Because of the enormous data generated in manufacturing or connectivity data generated within transportation vehicles, there is room for multiple use cases. Traditional software solutions are easy to find or buy, but company-specific machine learning operations are both very hard and profitable.

How do you approach the integration of automation technologies with existing systems and processes within your organization?

The brownfield integration of new automation technologies is hard and problematic everywhere. We also have complex businesses and processes in automotive. To avoid more complications, we prefer simple integration architectures. We deploy service-based interfaces to new components. We don’t follow popular or fancy software solutions, and reliability is our highest priority. We have been observing companies investing in popular software without sufficient architectural evaluation and seeing how they fail in the long term.

In your opinion, what are the key qualities or skills that are essential for success as a leader in automation?

You need enthusiasm for new technologies and have to be a quick learner of new technologies since the digital world and IT technologies are rapidly changing. Following the start-up ecosystem, establishing connections to innovation centers and a strong peer network is essential. It is no longer a good time to be an introvert or arrogant toward digital leaders. Just to give an example, I spend at least half a day each week learning new things and another half a day building a strong network.

What advice would you give to aspiring leaders looking to make an impact in the field of automation?

Digital and IT leaders are pioneers of any new technology that significantly changes the business environment or competition within the industry. The expectation from us is not evolution in processes but revolutionary applications, developments, or technologies that accelerate big organizations. This should be handled with the philosophy that corporations’ responsibilities towards society are increasing. We should not focus only on profitability and productivity but also on investing in the future and educating our employees, customers, and society. Sustainability is not only an environmental issue. It is also cultural, digital, and social.