Stephens said she encountered the firewall of proprietary parts data 10 years ago at GM when the company experienced problems with a supplier component. GM was aware that Toyota was using the same component and wondered if the quality problem was occurring there, too. But there was no way to acquire the information. Without it, GM couldn't be sure whether the problem was coming out of the supplier's plant or out of GM's.
Stephens got around the mystery by simply picking up the phone and calling a friend who worked at Toyota and asking about the part in question.
That back-channel call resolved GM's immediate question, but Stephens recognized that if automakers would only share their data — gingerly stepping around antitrust concerns — supply chain issues could be resolved faster. But legal department concerns about data sharing proved too challenging, she said.
In a more recent situation, We Predict spotted that a part being used by an automotive client was suddenly showing a higher-than-expected failure rate. And managers at We Predict happened to know that the same part was about to be sourced by a second automaker.
For proprietary reasons, We Predict could not notify the second automaker. Instead, the data company alerted its client to the situation, and asked them "if they would like to make their competitor aware of the part problem," Stephens said.
"And they did," she said. "Their attitude was, 'We're going to have to talk to this supplier — and it would be better if they were hearing about this from two customers instead of one.' "