Lookers CIO Attiq Qureshi interview - Changing lanes

Advertisements for mobile devices bear a striking resemblance to those used for years by the automotive sector. Until now though, the purchase, ownership, usage and replacement transaction model for phones and cars were very different. But today's consumer, brought up on a continual cycle of upgrades and improvements as part of a utility payment service, expect the same experience of car usage as they do from the connected device in their pocket or bag. As a result, the automotive retail sector is changing its business model.

Traditionally car dealers were focused on a sale, with the organisation judged by the number of units it shifted off the forecourt every quarter. However, as with every sector, automotive retailing is moving to a service model that sees its products as a utility, while the business differentiator is the value added to the customer experience added to the utility.

Attiq Qureshi joined FTSE-listed automotive dealers Lookers in September 2014 to enable one of the UK's largest car retailers embrace the change in customer behaviour.

Record profits

"Lookers has been very successful, and this is the seventh year of record profits," he enthuses in his Manchester office next to one of its major dealerships. The company sells 150,000 cars in the UK, carries out 500,000 services and has an annual turnover of £4 billion.

Founded in 1908, the business was an early adopter of the emerging motoring trade. It's been highly acquisitive in recent years, buying Dutton Foreshaw in 2007, Shields in 2013, Colborne Group in 2014 and the Benfield Motor Group in 2015 to expand its grip on the market.

Qureshi was brought into Lookers because he had no previous automotive experience; most of his career had been in mobile telecoms. Executive Director Richard Walker, himself a veteran of mobile telecoms asked Qureshi "if I'd take a look at the IT and online strategies," he says.

"It was very technical, focusing on virtualisation and IP telephony, all good stuff, but not what a plc board should be talking about. So I told the board they have answers to questions they hadn't asked. I asked the board to tell me what it would be like to be a Lookers customer in five years time and the board answered that really well. Their answer was strong on multichannel retail and the customer.

"Then I told them all of that is really hard and the current IT ambition will struggle to meet that plan. So I joined to do a business transformation, so that our online and retail journeys join up," he says of the career lane change.

"The entire future landscape will be fought on experience," Qureshi says of why an omnichannel plan is essential. "So we have the challenge of IT going from not being very important to very important.

"Automotive is cyclical as a business, especially with staff levels, so that creates a dependence on manual processes. A lot of our problems are sorted by throwing people at them, but that creates opportunities for defects. There are 23 documents to buy a car. We are a heavily?regulated sector and have to comply with the FCA, for example, and we sell a lot of extra products, but you can be a compliant business and a business that is easy to operate," he explains of his role to streamline the customer's journey into a new car.

"We can't send the same message to a 20-year-old Audi A3 buyer and to a 70-year-old A7 buyer. Campaign management is very important," he argues of the need to mine and understand their information and customer base, and to create systems that benefit the frontline workforce and therefore the customer.

"Some 70- to 90% of cars are sold on finance, so it is like a mobile phone contract, there is a payment and need for retention, and there is a similar culture to mobile phones," he reveals of the fashion accessory nature that has taken over the car industry, replacing old ideas of brand loyalty. Qureshi describes this realisation as a 'light bulb' moment for leading car retailers and it is creating a highly competitive landscape to corner the automotive market.

"I've been at organisations that have a complex customer transaction, such as Tesco Mobile, which allowed me to run the marketing department," he says of his three years with the retail behemoth. What Qureshi is clear about is how Tesco taught him to look at the customer and their journey with your organisation, and then for the CIO to look at the business processes and make them simple for the customer.

Customer service

"You can face your customer or you can face your boss. As a CIO, it's about facing the customer. Will a change be simpler and faster for the frontline workers and therefore the customer?" he asks. Just as Nissan Europe CIO Stephen Kneebone told CIO UK in his February 2014 CIO profile, the customer is now empowered by the internet, and their need and experience of the dealership has changed dramatically.

"80% of customers start their journey online and only visit a dealership 1.7 times," Qureshi says, echoing Kneebone. "So we rolled out Wi-Fi across the dealerships, designing it for 200 devices per dealership," he says of accepting and improving an existing customer behaviour. The CIO reflected the customer behaviour back too, ridding dealerships of desks and desktop devices, and giving showroom staff iPads. He's also redeveloping the systems, which until now have provided masses of information on the car to showroom staff, but little about the customer. With the customer having already done their car research online, they don't want a repeat of the process. It's of more value if showroom staff know about their needs; for example, that the customer does low mileage and always favours vehicles that have plenty of space for sporting goods and children, or that a customer lives on a high rural road that can get icy and has a bona fide reason for buying a vehicle with four-wheel drive.

1 2 Page 1
Page 1 of 2
7 secrets of successful remote IT teams