CIO interview: Andy Pocock, IT director, TrustFord
Andy Pocock, IT director at vehicle dealership group TrustFord, has been with his organisation since April 2008. When he looks back on his time at the company, he says that – quite simply – there’s been a huge focus on digital transformation.
“We’ve had periods where there’s been heavy growth and a lot of movement,” he says. “Sometimes, when you’ve been somewhere for 14 years, you can’t see how far you’ve come until you take the time to look back. But we don’t often take the time to look back because we’re always looking forward to the next thing to do.”
TrustFord is the UK’s largest Ford-dedicated dealer group for new and used cars, vans, servicing and repairs. The company sells one in four Ford Transits sold in the UK. As the company continues to grow, Pocock says technology – from mobile to the cloud to robotic process automation (RPA) – will play a crucial role during the next couple of years.
“We will have enabled the business applications, which is the focus on mobility servicing, fleet management and the growth that’s occurring in those areas,” he says. “By 2024, we will have enabled the digital transformation of processes that are currently manual or paper-driven. And we will have enabled business to be conducted anywhere. We will have totally transformed and refreshed the infrastructure and made it all mobile.”
Taking on the challenge
Pocock worked in large retail and distribution organisations, such as Dawson News and Sainsbury’s, before joining TrustFord. After many years working for companies with mature IT estates, he recognised the potential for a technology-led transformation.
“I was a little bit surprised at the how TrustFord hadn’t perhaps embraced technology in the same way as some of the other companies I’ve worked with, but I also knew this was a great opportunity to make a difference,” he says.
“A lot of our colleagues are now hybrid and we’ve had to adjust our processes, systems and hardware to support that change. The major transition over the past couple of years has been to move to a more virtual organisation”
Andy Pocock, TrustFord
Since joining TrustFord, Pocock says there’s been big changes to the underlying infrastructure. When he first arrived, the company’s datacentre was based in a room above a Transit Centre in York. Now, TrustFord has colocated datacentres and the direction of travel more generally is to move systems and services to the cloud.
Across that transformation process, Pocock has worked in close harmony with his IT team. He describes himself as “not a detailed technical person”. Instead, he helps the business make the most of technology that’s already in the company or available on the marketplace.
“My role has always been to interpret trends and to make recommendations to the board or the leadership team,” he says. “My responsibility is to both interpret the direction and strategy of the company and, as far as possible, provide an infrastructure and an IT group that’s suited to that strategic direction.”
Supporting mobile working
Like his technology peers in other organisations, Pocock has overseen a massive shift to mobility during the past two years. When the coronavirus pandemic made social distancing an obligation, the IT team provided systems to ensure their line-of-business employees could stay safe and productive. That shift in provision has led to some permanent changes, too.
“A lot of our colleagues are now hybrid and we’ve had to adjust our processes, systems and hardware to support that change,” he says. “The major transition over the past couple of years has been to move to a more virtual organisation.”
TrustFord has tripled the size of its laptop estate during that timeframe. The company also has plans to replace the rest of its fixed endpoints with new laptops over the next 18 months.
“Everyone’s now mobile, which provides freedom in terms of where they’re working and how they work, but also potentially in how they deal with customers,” says Pocock.
As part of the move towards mobile working, TrustFord has implemented Druva technology to create a holistic approach to data protection. The company uses Druva’s software-as-a-service technology to create what Pocock refers to as an “air gap” between its physical locations and off-site backups.
TrustFord has been running Druva’s InSync product, which is a remote backup service for endpoints, for 18 months. The technology backs up employees’ 850 laptops automatically and allows staff to pull data back whenever they need to. The technology also includes a self-service portal.
Pocock’s team is currently deploying Druva’s Phoenix service, which will provide backups for the company’s on-premise server and file-storage environment. In the future, Pocock says his IT team will start to think about how the company will back up data in the cloud.
“If I think about data in my estate, we back up all endpoints. We will be using it to back up server environments or shared storage file shares, and then – in the future – there is the potential for backing up cloud data,” he says.
Making the most of automation
Pocock says RPA has been another priority investment area for the business. TrustFord uses the technology to automate existing processes and to help introduce new processes that might otherwise be completed manually.
One area where the company uses RPA is to input data automatically. Instead of relying on someone keying in information, the business can run the technology overnight and push data to its key business services. Pocock says the impact of automation is considerable.
“RPA improves accuracy, it improves speed and it provides more flexibility around when we run these processes. Automation just gives us much greater capacity for processing large amounts of data,” he says.
“We pick use cases that really get the most benefit out of RPA. That means we think about things like, ‘Is the data repeatable? Is it clean? Is it available?’ And that approach has made a huge difference to us. In 2021, we estimate we processed nine million transactions through RPA.”
Pocock says the automated use of MOT data provides another example of how TrustFord applies RPA. In the past, the company’s employees had to go online and manually check MOT records on the government’s databases. Now, that process is completed automatically.
“We just take a file of vehicle identification numbers or registration plates, and we can access the government-supplied application automatically. That whole process increases the accuracy of our data. It also means we have a better grip on our information and that we’re contacting customers when they want to be contacted.”
Developing capability internally
Pocock’s team hasn’t relied on an external provider to help create its RPA capability. Instead, the automation technology has been created in-house. The development work behind this implementation might have been challenging but it’s also paying big dividends.
Andy Pocock, TrustFord
“It’s been a long journey,” he says. “And it’s probably fair to say that, up until about four or five years ago, it was one of the best kept secrets in the business. We used RPA primarily to do things that helped us in the IT department. But then, all of a sudden, the rest of the business woke up to the scale of the opportunity.”
Business units are now thinking about how RPA can be used to release colleagues from manual activities and create more value for the business, says Pocock: “We have a stream of requirements from internal customers who want us to automate what they’re doing.”
He explains that there wasn’t a conscious decision to develop RPA internally rather than use tools from an external provider. Rather than creating an explicit automation strategy, Pocock says the use of RPA “grew by stealth”. Today, senior managers in the business recognise the company possesses strong specialist capability in a fast-growing area.
So, where next? Could TrustFord start selling that RPA capability externally? For now, Pocock says the company is firmly focused on its internal efforts: “We want to drive further value to our business. We see it as a jewel in the crown. It’s a great enabler for us and our focus is still on continuing to use that enablement for our own business.”
Transforming fleet services
As well as continuing to hone its automation technology, Pocock says his team’s key priority during the next couple of years will be to help the business make the most of other digital technologies, especially in the area of fleet management and mobile service.
“The fleet business is data-driven and there’s huge volumes of information,” he says. “Our fleet leadership has, in the past, been quite disparate, with data in different locations, and we’ve brought that together into a single place. We’ve got some large deals now to supply fleet for some pretty major distribution companies.”
When it comes to developing TrustFord’s mobile servicing capability, Pocock says the key is to support customers in innovative ways. Rather than having to visit the company’s service centres, TrustFord’s fleet teams will visit distribution centres and service client vehicles on site. Pocock says technology will back this initiative.
“We’re developing applications that support the capability to service vehicles,” he says. “That work includes things like remote updates, where everything that we would normally do in a dealership – when we’ve got a car in for service or a vehicle in for service – can now be done remotely on the road.”
Pocock’s team supplies its specialist staff with the technology to contact base. This technology includes laptops, iPads and applications that are used to update vehicle records remotely and to create a real-time update of data. The technology also allows people back at base to communicate with mobile service technicians when they’re out on the road.
“If we need to re-route or change their schedules, we can do all that remotely,” says Pocock. “These people on site can also record any damage and run health and safety checks online. The technology we provide them with is pretty prosaic, but it’s our ability to communicate with them while they’re out and about that has really developed.”