How VWFS SA’s CIO helps drive online car purchases

As more people get comfortable buying big ticket Items like cars on the internet, Volkswagen Financial Services South Africa (VWFS SA) knew it needed to simplify the entire process. CIO Wilma Crosson was in charge of making this happen.

Improving its direct sales channel demanded that they come up with a way to, first of all, cut the time it takes for customers to complete the sales process. And, in doing so, VWFS SA made it easier for customers to buy a new car without ever having to set foot inside a dealership. 

Someone looking to buy a car can either go into a dealership and talk to a finance and insurance manager who helps them though the process, from drawing up sales contracts, to arranging payment for the car and offering them additional products. That’s one process. The other more direct route now is a customer visiting the website and doing everything there. Looking at the entire customer journey—from customer awareness to payment and delivery—was just one step in the chain Crosson wanted to improve. Discussing what drove the move, she outlines that the pandemic forced most companies to look at their digital capabilities. “We knew we needed to transform digitally to stay competitive,” she says. “We wanted to improve our online applications process because we weren’t getting a lot of traffic from this channel. When we looked at it more closely, we realized our online journey wasn’t very efficient, requiring customers to spend about 30 minutes filling out paperwork.”  

Finding the right solution

VWFS SA is owned by two shareholders Volkswagen Financial Services AG (Germany) and The First Rand Group. When it started talking about improving the online application process, it was lucky it could use software developed by one of these shareholders to make the application process a lot shorter. The solution uses APIs and AI to run an affordability background check so it can quickly verify if the customer qualifies for the deal. This meant VWFS SA could reduce the number of fields customers had to complete from 250 to just 10. “We were quite lucky we could just tailor this solution to meet our specific needs,” she says.  

To do so, the brand partnered with an external service provider. “I think it’s always quite daunting trying to choose the right service provider because you have to think about how the company aligns with your organization’s culture and with your future needs. So we had to come up with quite strict criteria,” she says, and according to Crosson, companies from different types of industries, different sizes, and with different levels of experience were in the running for the project. The final decision came down to what they needed now, as well as what would be needed in the future.

The business case for outsourcing

“Because of how our company is structured, I’ve outsourced most of my business-as-usual activities to an IT service provider so I don’t have in-house developers or a huge complement of IT staff that can execute for me,” says Crosson. “But we do need to have some skills in-house that our chosen IT service provider, SovTech, then supports.” Obviously, this comes with some challenges. Being a company that outsources a lot, VWFS SA had to get very good at ensuring their SLAs were well structured and well managed. “I use the term ‘managed’ because if you don’t meet with your service providers quarterly, or in the case of certain projects, monthly, and if you don’t have the necessary KPI-driven conversations, you’re kind of dead in the water,” she says, adding this is especially important when you work with multiple providers because they also need to work together.  

While she does admit this is where most of her challenges came from, she cites an agile approach to project management as being critical to the project’s success. “I promise you, having weekly meetings, where we were all are together and could discuss progress helped a lot,” she says.

The devil is in the data

When looking back on how the project went, she admits they had a lot of data-related challenges, because it all sits with their IT service provider. “If I, as the CIO, want to enable key business objectives, like streamlining our online journey, I need to be able to run a marketing campaign, for example,” she says. “But to do this, I need to know who my customers are and which ones have actually opted in to receive marketing content. So I need that data.”

But when the data sits in an external environment, this is a big challenge because someone needs to go through a third party to access it. Plus, Crosson says that when you outsource to a third party, you run on their migration timelines and you have to fit in their schedule. If these timelines interfere or conflict with a request you make, it can delay progress, which is exactly what VWFS SA experienced and it delayed their project by about three weeks. “The lesson learned for us was we need to be more aware of our service provider’s technical roadmaps so we can plan accordingly and, where possible, work around them,” she says.

Looking at some of the learnings from this project specifically, she adds that sometimes the answers to problems are right in front of you. “Our customers are digital, our competitors are digital, our employees are digital, so it made good business sense for us to be more digital too,” she says.

Automotive Industry, CIO, Digital Transformation, IT Leadership