The slightest scratch or bump to a car can accelerate into a major headache quicker than most cars can travel in today's over-congested roads. One of the reasons for the rise of digital and sharing economy organisations is that they often take the stress out of situations, whether it is house cleaning, code creation or parking that now dented car. So CIOs and organisations need to be actively engaging in creating services that mimic the services offered by apps such as Just Park if they see the appetite in their economy. One such company that has achieved this is, as you may have guessed, in the automotive sector. Belron is a UK-based global organisation that provides windscreen repairs, best known in the UK for the Autoglass brand. Its Head of Group IT is Nick Burton.
"We have to make sure our processes are painless as it is a distress purchase, and for some people it is urgent," Burton says of perhaps an Uber driver, who finds a cracked screen on a frosty autumn morning. "So we have to understand how people feel about the problem, and we often handle the entire claim for the customer with the insurance company." As we'll see, in the UK, and increasingly worldwide, mobile technology has empowered customers and the employees of Belron, to move from a traditional bricks-and-mortar business to a mobile first and deployed business.
Belron is the world's largest specialist vehicle glass repair organisation with operations in 34 countries. "We just focus on vehicle glass as it has become very specialist," Burton explains from the organisation's Surrey headquarters in Egham. "We have a Belron way of fitting that is a standard practice and it means we can invest in the tools." The atrium of the firm's headquarters displays the specialist tools and vans the organisation's own research and development team has pioneered to become the leaders in their market.
"The R&D team focus on the best way of repairing screens and it means that we have really focused on the customer experience," Burton says of the customer's desire to see where they are going, and get going again as quickly as possible.
He adds that the R&D team is essential too, as car screens are getting larger, increasingly complex and carry more electronic parts.
In the UK, Belron is a 100% mobile business that's totally dependent on its fleet of road warriors in their red, white and yellow liveried vans. Closing branches can sound like a simple rationalisation to improve the bottom line, but the organisation has rethought its entire business model, focusing on the customer, and importantly on the face of Belron that the customer interacts with – the technician that arrives to fix your windscreen.
Moving to a mobile business has enabled the company to move to offering flexible working to all technical staff, managed by intelligent technology and the utilisation of cloud tools to ensure the strategy is effective. For a CIO to play a key part in such a brave journey they have to have a strong relationship with their leadership peers. Burton says one of the key milestones for his relationship was organising a Silicon Valley trip for the global and US executive teams.
"We went to Google, Facebook, Twitter and Yahoo among others. It was a real eye-opener for people to see the focus and approach of these companies on issues such as mobile first. Desktop access to our service was at a plateau and the Silicon Valley trip really helped gain traction with the digital focus and brought it to life. This helped cement the fact that we can't not focus on this, and digital is a top four strategic focus."
Burton doesn't shy away from the potential disruption digital trends could have on his sector. "There are potential angles, we operate in a flat market where miles being driven is being impacted by urbanisation and youth. There is still a lot of potential to grow, but there is potential disruption from shared ownership, as it is not the number of cars that are owned, but the number of miles driven, so Uber is a disrupter," he says of decreasing car usage across the west.
"The other key disruptors and this is why digital is so important, is that we have traditionally been a physical business, while our customers now live in a digital space. So it is important to make the digital option easy for customers."
His reporting line is perhaps telling of Belron, and why it is an organisation that understands the importance of technology and the CIO when it comes to the customer experience. Burton reports to the Belron Group Customer Director, showing the importance of technology to the customer journey.
"It was the Head of Finance that said: 'IT had to be part of the customer role as IT is not a support function'. I was already working with these teams, so it was a natural fit," he reveals.
"It was before all the talk of the CDO, but I suppose it was that type of role. The CDO role is about how you drive change in the business model or the way you do business, so the remit I have is about mindset. My CIO role is to make sure that the technology is running really well and the two must work very closely together," he adds.
As a key part of the customer focusing team, Burton and his team have targeted customer journey mapping. "We need to try and be a customer, so we created personas, first in Canada. We called our call centres, booked jobs, changed appointments then booked online, but changed things online. It was enlightening to experience that as a flow."
Burton moved into the Group Head of IT role in April 2012, having been head of eBusiness at Belron where he was responsible for the delivery of the organisation's apps. "When I was running eBusiness, it was perhaps like shadow IT. The great thing about an eBusiness role is that you can be creative and try things. We do a lot of multi-variant testing. So we are talking a lot about pace layering with agility, and making sure that our core business is well run and protected."
Shift to mobile
Although Belron has achieved a 100% mobile business in the UK, that has not been the case across the globe. "If you look across the Belron countries they are all very different. With the UK, we were seeing that 85% of our business was booked via mobile, so we moved to 100% mobile. We will now look at what has worked and how you approach that in other countries.
"The mobile shift is only possible with the right technology to support it, though. Scheduling used to be based on capacity, which is not practical with mobile. So the algorithms in our tools works out the best way to complete the job, and software reoptimises all the time to ensure we meet our promise to the customer."
Burton explains that the combination of ClickSoftware and Chronos scheduling tools looks at skill levels and the staff available on the day. He adds a further upside of being so mobile is that Belron has improved its stock management, as the tools work out the best way for the screen to be collected and delivered using containers around the country. "If a technician doesn't collect a screen, we can move it to a collection point nearer to a new technician for the job," he reveals.
"Workforce management tools make sure that our people are working at the times that our customers need us. We used to have rosters of early and late shifts. Now we look at the demands, including advertising and the weather, and when the customers are telling us they want the work to be done.
"We give the teams a three- to four-week certainty, and we can put in rules around childcare needs," he says of the benefits to the technicians on the road. "It was not a straightforward thing to get working and the shift to mobile is a huge change, but it was a natural progression," he says of the strategy shift.
Road teams access the applications on Samsung Galaxy Note devices. Belron's research showed it to offer the best balance of usability, while the open platform of the Google Android operating system made sense to Burton.
"They are a consumer device and it empowers people to feel it is there's and they look after it. At our headquarters, we have bring your own device (BYOD) as I want people to be empowered by technology, whereas we used to be a BlackBerry house. Now people have freedom," he enthuses.
But the technicians are not just given a shiny Samsung device and sent off. Belron has invested in using social networks and physical meetups, so that the teams can ask for help.
Burton's approach to freedom of choice extends beyond mobile devices. "We tried a standard ERP and contact centre system, but it didn't work, not for a lack of trying. We are a federated business. Each country has its own P&L, executive and plan. So three years ago, we gave autonomy to the countries. Giving that accountability, we have ended up with more standardisation," he says. Now Belron has four major markets on Oracle, and two smaller ones on Microsoft Dynamics AX.
With cloud technology growing rapidly, the CIO expects further standardisation from a cloud platform. He's moving to cloud infrastructure where possible, Belgium's Dynamics AX is on Azure "and we are starting to have discussions elsewhere." AWS has also been introduced by Burton's UK team. He's using Tibco Tibbr in the cloud for enterprise social media.
"I'm trying to make it easy for our countries, so it is simple for them to pick up the agreements. Each country is different, so we don't impose a new model when it comes to replacement as we don't want to right off investment, and the IT teams need to develop new skills."
Burton has been with Belron for 16 years and worked through what he describes as a number of traditional IT roles. Away from Belron, as the father of two boys, he says they "keep me pretty busy" and rightly, he's a self-confessed technology geek.