Autodata CTO Neil Brooks is helping to ensure the UK's leading supplier of technical information to the automotive aftermarket is also a leader in enterprise IT strategy.
The company's workshop application is the online data tool of choice to help automotive workshops and technicians around the world carry out services, maintenance, repairs, and diagnostics around the world.
It recently extended its reputation for open data with the addition of a new motorcycle API that uses the TIBCO Mashery API management platform to give access to its information on everything from repairs times to tyre pressures for developers to use in their own applications.
"We really wanted to be able to have a product in a workshop application for motorcycles," says Brooks, a member of the 2016 CIO 100.
"Since then I believe there have been several customers that are now starting to look at the motorcycle API and to actually take that as a product."
Brooks recognises that the company is first and foremost a vehicle data publisher and that any technology adopted should be geared towards boosting that function.
He divides this core purpose into four separate development areas: how the content is curated and assembled, how it's disseminated through avenues such as machine-readable APIs, the workshop applications on the front end that mechanics and technicians use and the management of access to and payment for the services.
His 54-member IT team add value to these streams through macro ideas such as the opening up APIs, and micro ideas behind day-to-day improvements such as saving time by making the data more easily accessible.
"In the last three years that I've been here, we've been going through a transformation," he says. "We started with a product, the client facing revenue product, and we've continually built up the delivery and product development capabilities behind that to continually keep developing them."
They've also made improvements in the backend systems, such as the subscription management and bidding systems interfaces including how they are automated, and by upgrading their content systems to create data that can be quickly identified by consumers.
"We use Agile extensively within the development process and we put a lot of emphasis on feedback loops," says Brooks. "What's going on, how are people using the product and what do they like and what do they dislike, what are the usage patterns we can see within the system."
To take the lessons from the feedback loops into the development process they look not only the features but also analyse how the solution is delivered from the engineering to release without affecting current customers.
"We spent quite a long time last year looking at how do we do no downtime releases, how can we do releases to our customers without having to take the system down, because every time we take the system down that's an inconvenience to our customers," says Brooks.
Hybrid data model
Autodata combines on-premises N+ONE data storage with Amazon Web Services cloud hosting for a hybrid data solution that offsets to reduce risks while protecting availability. The company has a growing market in Australian and New Zealand, and uses geographic load balancing and fail over to protect site speeds for the user abroad and no-downtime releases.
"That gives us that ability at a moment's notice to be able to automatically flick between one site and the other site, and that's completely automatic, so there's nobody involved, the system detects that one half of the world isn't working and it automatically goes to the other," says Brooks. "Most people do not notice, it's quite amazing actually how good it is."
Brooks has big hopes for Autodata in the year ahead.
"There's an insatiable demand for product change and feature change," he says. “We've set out a strategic plan to deliver at least one key feature every month within each."
His team is already ahead of schedule for 2017. They have added key data modules for service transmissions and vehicle information summaries to help centralise the Autodata information in one place and will release three more in March.
They are also investigating how Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTCs) stored on board the vehicle computer system could help mechanics diagnose problem areas, estimate calculators to assess the length of time a repair or service could take and compiling wheel alignment information to accelerate the analysis of specialist parts.
There's still untapped potential for the technology in the automotive sector, and experimenting with innovations such as these and the Motorcycle API show that Brooks is eager to discover it.