by George Nott

CIO50 2017 #26-50: Vinnie D’Alessandro, Silver Chef

Interview
Nov 21, 2017
Technology Industry

While attending a US trade show in 1985, Silver Chef founder, Allan English, discovered a new style of pizza oven, set to revolutionise the pizza industry. He and a business partner invested heavily in the ovens to sell to the Australian market.

But it soon became clear many businesses simply could not afford to buy them. So they decided to rent them out.

Ten years later, a new funding solution was launched called Rent-Try-Buy, enabling small businesses to procure hospitality equipment without the need for a large upfront capital outlay.

Since then, Silver Chef has listed on the Australian Securities Exchange; expanded beyond kitchen equipment into trucks, trailers, construction and plant equipment through its GoGetta business; expanded to New Zealand and Canada; and helped more than 33,530peoplerealise their business dreams.

Vinnie D’Alessandro joined Silver Chef in 2015 as IT Manager and was promoted to Head of Technology in July this year.

Technology has always been a central part of Silver Chef’s success, but over the last year it has been increasingly seen as a lever for growth. The technology strategy has three themes: Data Driven, Digitally Connected and Seamlessly Integrated.

“Our data insights will provide advantages over our competitors. We will use technology to connect, collaborate and innovate; regardless of our location. Our digital connections must also extend to our customers as we leverage new channels to provide frictionless access to our products. And our people will leverage systems that are flexible, intrinsically linked and allow for seamless access to customer and financial data,” D’Alessandro explains.

Over the last year D’Alessandro and his 16-strong team have been delivering on these aims, with a focus on establishing and expanding core platforms.

Highlights include the use of Salesforce’s Pardot marketing automation platform to deliver automated customer scoring, lead lifecycle management, financial and content EDMs; an automated proof of concept which can pre-approve customers without human intervention within two minutes, requiring only 12 pieces of customer data; and the launch of live dashboards to track the sales lifecycle for six teams across three countries and two brands, tracking contracts, lost sales, sales pipeline and percentage to budget.

“Across these platforms and supporting systems, we have automated over 30 separate business functions to offset 11 full time employees. These automation activities included transaction processing, daily reporting, electronic direct marketing, live customer services dashboards, credit checks and data entry,” D’Alessandro says.

Keen eye for innovation

“Being a non-traditional finance provider, we have a keen eye on the FinTech space both locally and internationally,” D’Alessandro says. “We regularly meet to map our business model, scan for opportunities, target areas for transformation, select projects and test, learn fail and scale.”

Through its Horizon Committee, the company initiated three ‘Black Ops’ projects to test three new technologies.

Working with online identity verification start-up Trulioo D’Alessandro and his team tested whether they could transition from a manual to an automated process.

“Partnering with Trulioo, we could meet our current manual identification rates and detect fraudulent verification attempts,” D’Alessandro says. “It’s is now being integrated into our automated on-boarding process.”

Working with another start-up, Australian asset tracking business Fleetsu, more than 40 active and passive tracking devices have been fitted a range of vehicles. The data is then provided to both the customer and asset owner giving insights into vehicle performance, location tracking, utilisation and FBT logging information.

Another project, using Microsoft Azure Machine Learning is currently underway with the aim of producing a service that can predict the financial performance of a customer before they are offered a contract.

A focus for the coming year is an automated approval process for the Silver Chef dealer network, including an online customer onboarding service; using the Salesforce Sales, Services and Communities platforms to blend traditional SaaS providers such as Conga, DocuSign and Equifax with startups including Trulioo, Stripe and Nexmo.

“We will see our innovation investment evolve into real world outcomes for our customers, partners and staff,” D’Alessandro says.

Feel the rhythm

D’Alessandro “understands the rhythm of the organisation” says Silver Chef CEO Damien Guivarra. He takes it upon himself to gain an in-depth knowledge of the business and plays an active role in the championing the purpose-driven culture of Silver Chef Group

“So often technology professionals focus on the technical aspects of their roles at the expense of understanding the purpose of their existence, which is to serve and enhance the capabilities of the business,” D’Alessandro says.

“Technology departments are in a unique position where they have touchpoints with every single department and person in an organisation. We must use these opportunities to business strategy, structure, functions and people.”

The technology functions meets regularly with different parts of the business and, D’Alessandro meets daily with the executive leadership team (of which he is a member) in huddles, as well as monthly day-long strategy sessions. The tech team present at regional and global staff meetings and run training.

“Whether it’s going on the road with Sales, working side-by-side with Finance or developing our social media skills with Marketing, we actively immerse ourselves in the business. It’s the best way to learn and build strong relationships; which is the secret of our success,” D’Alessandro says.