Why Does BMW Have a Technology Office in Chicago?

BMW is a sprawling automaker with facilities scattered around the world, but why do they have a software development and innovation center in Chicago?

America’s coastal areas are usually top of mind when one thinks of fresh ideas or new trends, with conurbations like Los Angeles, San Francisco, or New York leading the charge. It’s a little unexpected that high-tech work like this would be found in the Windy City.

But this shouldn’t be a surprise. Chicago is a great place to develop software for myriad reasons. Thom Brenner, vice president of BMW Business Line and Connected Life, said plenty of other high-tech companies are based there, plus it’s a hotbed of entrepreneurship. “It’s a tech hub, basically in the middle between the coasts,” he noted. Additionally, the city has a host of good universities, relatively low living costs and an outsized pool of talent to draw from.

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The team that works in this Technology Office is primarily focused on developing new features for BMW Connected, the brand’s digital services platform. Aside from this, they also design user interfaces and help drive innovation at a rapid pace. The company aims to update its software in some form or another every two weeks, a crazy rate in comparison to traditional vehicle development, which generally takes between five and seven years.

BMW’s Chicago Tech Office opened back in 2014. Today, it employs more than 150 people hailing from 20 different countries. Aside from this town on the shores of Lake Michigan, BMW has similar facilities in Shanghai, China; Tokyo, Japan; and Mountain View, California.

Customer demand for new software and innovative features is tough to keep up with, in fact, “It’s exceeding our capacity,” said Brenner. But this shouldn’t be an issue. “BMW is quite attractive as an employer,” he added, which should make it easy to get new talent going forward.

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