Ford embarks on a new ride

Ford Canada has introduced a new model, but this one is aimed at computer literacy, customer relations and corporate communications, rather than comfort and fuel economy.

The company’s new Model E program provides Ford employees who enrol with a brand-name home computer system, which includes unlimited Internet access, for a cost of $10 a month for three years.

In early December Madan Bhardwaj received the first computer from the Ontario Truck Plant (OTP) in Oakville, Ont. The roll-out for this program started in Ontario but will go cross-country this month.

Bhardwaj, an auditor who has been with Ford for 30 years, said he has being using the computer at home for both work and pleasure.

“I use it for Excel,” he said. “I make a lot of spreadsheets here (at work), so I’m using it for that. I also use it for surfing the Web on my own.”

He noted this program is a great opportunity for people without a computer who want a low-end unit to start learning with or for those with home PCs who want to upgrade a bit.

Pat Reid, manager of the OTP, said about 30 OTP employees were chosen for the introduction of the program, and Bhardwaj’s was the first computer to arrive.

She added she hopes these computers will encourage communication between the corporation and employees and between employees and their peers. “We have a Web site here at the plant which employees can log on to and see what’s going on here or with each other personally,” she said. “This program will just allow us to do more of that.”

Reid said people will not be using these computers only for working and adding to their Ford knowledge.

The Internet access provider Ford uses supplies a home page that is a corporate portal where the company can post communications or announcements. Reid said this will be a great way to bump up corporate communication, but she noted that any time spent on a computer will be educational and useful in the employees’ work lives.

She also said that many of the employees already have computers and that this program is a good way for them to bring a second one into their homes.

“If it’s anything like my house, you can’t get near the computer because someone is always on it,” she laughed.

Bhardwaj agreed this is a factor for him, saying his two sons often monopolize the family’s computer, and now with the addition of this new unit he can finally log some time on-line.

“It’s nice to know now that if I can’t finish something [at work] I can take it home,” he said.

Reid said another focus for this program is to interact a bit more with customers. “Most of us who work here are also Ford customers,” she said. “This will be a good way for people to share their complaints or praise for Ford as customers.”

She said in a speech at the OTP’s presentation to Bhardwaj that employees surfing the ‘net will gain invaluable insights into the industry and the mindset of customers. “I can expect to begin hearing suggestions about how we might better use Ford Web sites to better meet (customer) needs and desires,” she said, adding employees may find that they are able to chat with other Ford customers.

Bobbie Gaunt, former president and CEO of Ford, also spoke at the presentation just prior to her retirement.

She said with the recent re-vamping of, which included the new BuyerConnection portal, Ford is becoming more Web savvy.

“And since we’re challenging the traditional business processes and structures to take advantage of Web-based technology, it is essential that each and every one of our employees understand this new era.”

Eini Di Bon, director of processing and IT for Ford, said the basic Model E desktop is a Hewlett Packard Pavilion XE735 model with an Intel Celeron 667MHZ processor, 15GB hard drive, 64MB of SDRAM and a 56Kbps internal modem.

“Madan’s unit arrived bundled with a lot of useful software aimed at everything from number and word crunching to enjoying and manipulating his favourite audio tracks,” Di Bon said.

The basic package includes Microsoft Works 2000, Encarta and MusicMatch Jukebox 5.1.

There are packages with additional features available to employees who choose to pay an extra fee.