Over 1,900 employees are working in the heart of Lisbon on BMW’s latest and greatest digital and infotainment systems. “Our technology works” is the the tech office’s motto, a joint venture between Portuguese company Critical Software and BMW Group. Critical TechWorks was born in 2018 with BMW holding a 51 percent stage. At launch, the joint venture employed 240 people at its locations in Lisbon and Porto. But today, the tech offices are quickly expanding their workforce and skill sets.
To learn more about the latest software developments, and exclusively see some new infotainment features, we stopped by the Lisbon office to meet with Rui Cordeiro, CEO of Critical TechWorks, and Philipp Nitschke, the COO. A large majority of the engineers at CTW come from the Portuguese workforce, including from local universities and from an academy founded by CTW. Even more interesting is the human resources structure.
Horizontal Employee Structure
The tech joint venture is organized horizontally with a focus on teams and units rather than individuals. In many ways, this structure is similar to the late Tony Hsieh’s Holacracy operating structure at Zappos. There is no direct relationships between employees and managers, instead the teams are held accountable for deliverables. Even the official titles are fun: Cordeiro goes by Chief of Purpose, and some engineers by Agile Gandalf.
But of course, when it comes to car architectures and platforms, more structure is needed. Therefore, the car tech stack is split across four different domains: Cloud and Edge, Software Applications, Software Platforms and Hardware Platforms. The CTW engineers currently work on the BMW OS for driving, Infotainment Operating Systems and even on some autonomous driving operations.
Some BMW iX and i7’s Functions Designed in Portugal
Naturally, the BMW iDrive 8 was part of the CTW’s development map and one of their latest car projects include the BMW iX electric crossover and the i7 electric limousine. Some of the highlight features worked on in Portugal are the entertainment systems, Apple Car Play and Android Auto integrations and E-Mobility. Their latest major product roll out: BMW Parking Payments in Germany.
A couple of fun facts also: first, the software for the Touch Pads in the BMW i7 was developed by Critical TechWorks. The Operating System is called xPAD. The second fun fact are the automatic system of doors in the new BMW 7 Series and i7, which can be opened at the same time from a smartphone.
My BMW App
Of course, the tech office is also looking towards the future. In upcoming releases, the My BMW App will bring even more customizations inside the app, and even the ability to order new features for your BMWs. The 2023-2025 product map highlights things like “Increased Service Experience” and a “Vehicle Order” feature. According to a slide provided by CTW, the My BMW App has grown from 6 million users in January 2022 to 9 million users today. 7,000 new users are signing up globally every day.
For the tech savvy readers, CTW said that they use Google’s Flutter for developing cross-platform applications (iOS, Android, Web, Desktop). Another fun fact: BMW was an early adopter of Flutter and has the largest project outside of Google. Apple Watch users have not been forgotten. A series of widgets were designed and engineered for the popular smartwatch, with more planned in the future.
COVID-19 also played an important role in the development of new features as well since BMW had to adapt to a new ordering process. CTW worked on digitizing a lot of the paperwork required at point-of-sale and even created interactive 3D models to showcase the car and its features to customers.
Another major project inside the joint venture is OneGPM which ensures that all data collected is available in the cloud. The data is not only used to improve the driving experience but also to accurately assess demand, forecasting and product availability. OneGPM provides data and visualization tools to 24 markets from 50 different data systems. Another fun fact that was shown to us: OneGPM also analyzes data from competitors providing even more insight into opportunities for growth and volume.
The real-time analysis of OneGPM is impressive. With a few clicks and drop-downs, you can quickly drill by markets, countries and even cities, to see real-time demand and forecasts. The inventory management function is also equally exciting for data geeks since you can see data points like vehicles backlogs, or inventory aging.
EVE – Emotional Vehicle Experience
Another 3D visualization tool is EVE, available for BMW, MINI and Rolls-Royce dealers. The tool is used as part of the sales process with 8,000 cloud computing machines generating 3D virtual models. Using a virtual reality experience, customers can explore, in unique ways, their future cars. EVE can also generate a QR code which, once scanned, will display all the specs, prices and even 3D animations of the car’s features and options.
You don’t own a virtual reality headset? Don’t sweat it. Some dealers, in certain countries, have a VR studio setup to offer an immersive experience, even if the product is not on the showroom’s floor. You can even display your BMW, MINI or Rolls-Royce in virtual environments, like at the BMW Welt, M-Town or in the Alps.
Typical Tech Space
The current office will soon be phased out in favor of a new 11,200 square meters location in Lisbon – and that’s mostly to accommodate future growth. Of course, the CTW working space is what you’d expect from a tech office: open space, people working side-by-side, hardware rigs sprinkled throughout the office and plenty of amenities for employees. It was here the head honchos gave us some insight into future products, especially in the area of car-to-car communications.
So we’re quite excited to see the global impact of the Portuguese-German joint venture on future BMW Group cars.