On Wednesday afternoon last week, Toyota Australia announced the date on which workers would down tools at its Altona plant. October 3 will mark the end of more than five decades of Toyota vehicle manufacture on these shores. There is no single reason for Toyota\u2019s decision \u2013 made back in 2014 \u2013 to pull local production. An unfavourable dollar rate, high operating costs, low economies of scale, a fragmented market and the effect of free trade agreements were all contributing factors, the company said. But this is not the end of the road for Toyota in Australia. As CIO Ellis Brover explains: \u201cWe\u2019re treating this as a once in 50 year opportunity to set up a new company from the ground up, the way we want it to be.\u201d Gear change The morning following the announcement, Brover speaks to CIO Australia from Toyota\u2019s Melbourne offices. Brover has spent close to 15 years at Toyota Australia, working his way up the executive ranks after starting with the company as a software architect.The change brought about by the end of manufacturing is \u201chuge\u201d, he says. But the mood on his floor today, given the circumstances, is positive. \u201cIt\u2019s actually quite an exciting time," he says. "I don\u2019t want that to sound trite. Obviously there\u2019s a lot of people with serious impact to their lives, but for those of us who are staying with the company, it\u2019s also a bit of a once in a career opportunity to really influence how a new company of this size is going to be set up and work.\u201d The firm\u2019s strategy now is to become a \u201cnational sales and distribution company\u201d. Inevitably, that means a dramatic reduction in its workforce \u2013 from 3,900 to around 1,300 including the consolidation of its Sydney corporate offices into its Melbourne headquarters. It also requires a new approach. \u201cWe\u2019re taking the opportunity of this massive change to really rethink how we do everything,\u201d Brover says. Guests without guesswork Central to the rebirth is a concept known internally as Franchise of the Future, and with it the creation of an exceptional experience for Toyota guests (the company\u2019s term for its customers). \u201cThe basic approach is that by focusing on making that guest experience outstanding, business success will follow. Rather than the traditional way in the automotive industry, focusing on numbers and volumes, obviously they\u2019re definitely important to the business, but we believe that by getting the guest experience right the volumes will follow,\u201d Brover says. Toyota\u2019s 200 plus local dealerships are privately owned and independent. Unlike many other franchising organisations, a corporate system is not imposed on dealers, who are free to choose whichever IT systems work best for them. \u201cThe challenge for us is that we need to be able to work with this diverse landscape of back-end systems out there and yet try to produce a consistently outstanding guest experience,\u201d Brover explains. The vision is what marketers often call a \u2018seamless customer experience\u2019, which will work something like as follows: An individual is browsing the Toyota website at home on a device and choose a car they are keen on. They build an online 3D model to their own specifications \u2013 picking out the colour and seat material and accessories, and get a quote. When they go to their local dealership, the dealer has all their preferences (currently that information is \u201cessentially lost\u201d says Brover), ready-loaded on the already deployed big-screen kiosks, and then takes them on a customised test drive. The experience continues after-sale too. When booking a service customers will be able to book at the dealership closest to their work, for example, which might not be the same one they bought their vehicle from. A phone app will integrate with their calendar to find an available time that best suits. \u201cThen you drive up, your numberplate is recognised, they know who you are and welcome you,\u201d Brover explains, \u201cthey\u2019ve got the paperwork ready to sign, or rather an iPad, and then off you go.\u201d Making this possible requires some complex integration of a diverse range of systems. \u201cWhat we're doing essentially is working out which parts of that experience we believe are really unique to Toyota and need to be a particular way to make us the best. How do we make sure those things, that are delivered through systems that we\u2019re providing or that we\u2019re controlling, interface seamlessly to the back-end systems the dealerships are using? So they\u2019re not re-keying information and not updating systems and having to produce reports?\u201d Although this kind of seamless experience has been mastered by some in the retail sector, the automotive industry is still \u201ccatching up\u201d Brover says. \u201cBut we don\u2019t think that other automotive manufacturers are already doing this to any great extent. We are blazing a bit of a trail but it\u2019s a very competitive industry and we won\u2019t be alone for long,\u201d he adds. In with the old When the Altona plant ends its operations later this year and the last Australian-made Toyota, a Camry, rolls of the line, around 100 IT systems will need to be decommissioned. \u201cThat process isn\u2019t as simple as turning off a bunch of switches and getting rid of servers,\u201d Brover explains. Huge amounts of data will need to be retained, both for statutory reasons and for continuing business operations. In some cases that data will need to be reformatted so it can still be used by other systems, in other cases new systems will need to be built. \u201cAnd there are still interfaces to systems that will persist, so we\u2019ve got to figure out how to rewrite those and how to configure those so that the sales side of the company can continue to run even when the manufacturing systems are no longer there,\u201d Brover says. Exhaustive planning has already begun, which will be begin to be executed in October. Given the complexity and amount of data transfer required, Brover predicts \u201cit will take some time to do it all\u201d. Built into the plan is a major Sharepoint project in which all documents currently stored on shared drives will be catalogued in the cloud. \u201cWe\u2019re taking the opportunity to rationalise all of those, clean them up, categorise them, all of that," he says. "We\u2019re going to end up where every electronic document in the company will be in a shared, searchable repository that people can access from anywhere.\u201d In the driving seat As Toyota Australia transforms, Brover and his team\u2019s responsibilities are growing fast. Last year saw double the number of new systems projects than the year before. This year the number will triple. There has been \u201cmassive growth in our scope and workload\u201d, Brover says. All digital systems (the company has no dedicated CDO, \u201cI guess it\u2019s mine,\u201d Brover adds), in-car technology and dealership systems have been added to his remit. \u201cOur trend seems to be to bring more into the scope of IT and grow IT,\u201d he says. \u201cIt buoys me. It\u2019s challenging but it\u2019s exciting that I\u2019ve got an opportunity to be in a company where the role of my function and the importance is growing and my people feel that.\u201d To ease some of the pressure, the company has moved to an as-a-service model of provision. The latest deal saw Toyota sign with Datacom to supply IT infrastructure and support services. All its vendors, Brover says, are being held accountable to business outcomes rather than detailed technology SLAs. \u201cThat\u2019s a big change for us,\u201d he says. \u201cWe found that the market wasn\u2019t quite as mature as we thought it would be. It wasn\u2019t quite as ready for that model yet in Australia so we felt a little bit like trailblazers \u2013 which we weren\u2019t really expecting. \u201cIt\u2019s an essential part of our new strategy. I need to have fewer people who are managing servers and networks and switches and so on and more people who are doing digital and architecture and analytics. That means I need the vendors to take more accountability for all of the operational areas.\u201d The (new) Toyota WayAs the IT function expands, there have been some growing pains. \u201cIt\u2019s pretty tough to absorb so many workloads in terms of staff, making sure the structures are right, the processes are right. I think that\u2019s our hardest thing, how to manage the growth,\u201d Brover says. While the headcount is being reduced across the company, IT is recruiting. Recruitment is a \u201ctough one\u201d. Brover is seeking candidates with both IT and business acumen. \u201cIt\u2019s a little paradoxical in an environment where the count overall is shrinking, but it reflects the changing nature of the industry that some areas are shrinking but other areas are growing. As the demand for IT is only growing, we need more people. The right people,\u201d he says. \u201cWe\u2019re looking less for your traditional operation and coding skills and a lot more for business partnering, architecture, digital, customer service skills \u2013 less of your traditional hardcore IT skills.\u201d Before the year is out, Toyota Australia will be a very different company to the one it is today. Technology is driving the transition. \u201cWe\u2019re certainly keeping our rich heritage and our culture and what we call The Toyota Way, but because of the extent of change it does feel like we\u2019re resetting in many areas and setting them up for the future rather than being constrained by legacy," says Brover. "It\u2019s a great time to be in IT."