Crucial questions for navigating automotive technology partnerships


Mike Walters explores questions that OEMs, finance institutions, leasing companies, and mobility service providers must consider when exploring prospective vendor relationships

In the automotive technology landscape, evaluating new commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) solutions is a formidable task. Sector convergence, multimodal mobility, subscriptions, MaaS, and advancements in robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) have added complexity to the already complicated software environment. Recent years have witnessed a surge in fintech and established vendors offering versatile COTS solutions, promising modularity, rich functionalities, omnichannel capabilities, and customisable support for lending, leasing, rental, and mobility services.

Amid this abundance of choices, selecting the right vendors and platforms is daunting. To navigate this, an exploration of six crucial domains within a comprehensive evaluation framework is essential. These areas are often overlooked but are vital for assessing product, implementation, transition, and service management capabilities.

How will the solution land?

One of the most common pitfalls organisations encounter when implementing new technology is assuming that the software alone will miraculously reshape their entire business. In reality, this rarely, if ever, happens. To achieve successful outcomes, it’s essential to understand that implementing new solutions goes beyond merely installing software.

Typically, the success of new solutions hinges on a broader transformation, encompassing changes to the operating model, as well as the adoption of new processes and procedures. Equally important is the need to prepare existing staff not only to operate the new software but also to embrace new ways of working within the organisation. In essence, it adheres to the timeless mantra: People, Process, Technology.

There has been a surge in versatile COTS solutions over the past few years

Therefore, at the outset, it is essential to consider how the introduction of the solution will drive transformation within the organisation. What repercussions will it have on the business, and how must the business adapt to fully unlock the value of this investment?

These are aspects that the vendor is unlikely to address comprehensively. Therefore, it’s critical to establish an internal client-side team responsible for managing organisational change and acting as the liaison with the vendor. The formation of this team should ideally precede the selection process, ensuring it takes full ownership of the success outcomes from the very beginning.

Assessing product and service coverage—unveiling real-world capabilities

COTS vendors often claim their solutions can handle a broad array of products including loans, leasing (for both personal and business use), and various rental options. They also tout their ability to support emerging mobility services including flexible subscriptions, car-sharing, and car-pooling. However, these assertions require rigorous scrutiny.

It’s crucial to determine whether these solutions genuinely possess the touted ‘hybrid’ product support capabilities. Mere configuration abilities differ markedly from effectively supporting complex downstream processes. Vendors should substantiate their claims with evidence of successful implementation within major automotive enterprises.

In the global market, platforms offering true flexibility, modularity, and support for diverse asset portfolios and complex business models are exceptionally rare. Many COTS vendors, especially those traditionally focused on retail finance, are struggling to adapt to sector convergence, subscription models, and pay-on-use mobility. To assess this capacity accurately, thorough evaluation scenarios and use cases covering the end-to-end lifecycle should be scrutinised during detailed ‘deep-dive’ solution review sessions.

Will I work with the vendor ‘A team’?

Software vendors often introduce their project teams, who will implement components or platform solutions, late into the decision-making process. Often, the vendor may only introduce project resources once selection decisions and implementation planning have commenced, but this is much too late. The difference between a vendor’s ‘A’ team and their ‘B’ or ‘C’ teams can be substantial in terms of capability and knowledge. Therefore, this can significantly affect project speed and the quality of the end result.

Platforms offering true flexibility, modularity, and support for diverse asset portfolios and complex business models are exceptionally rare

Hence, it’s imperative for automotive companies to assess the vendor’s team’s skills, experience and track record up front. Are they experienced with the product? Have they implemented the solution in a similar environment? Is this their first automotive project? Are ‘A team’ resources already committed elsewhere?

It pays to be direct and open with the prospective vendor to ensure you are dealing with the ‘A team’, rather than the inexperienced. So, it’s reasonable to request an introduction to the project team to ask about their experience and proposed role/allocation model for the project, and by asking for their names, you can review their experience on LinkedIn. This is a reasonable and logical step to ensure an optimal organisation and resource model for your project.

What is the implementation starting point?

In recent years, auto finance software providers have recognised the benefits of offering ‘out of the box’ reference setups for client projects. These setups typically include various elements such as tax regulations, product structures, and pre-configured interfaces. Vendors also provide standard digital tools for self-service. However, the quality and reusability of these reference setups can vary.

Automotive companies should carefully assess the relevance of the reference configuration to their project, potential reuse opportunities, and detailed specifications. It’s essential to determine whether the reference setup will genuinely accelerate project timelines or if it’s more of a superficial vendor claim that will not ultimately deliver significant project benefits.

Multimodal mobility, subscriptions and MaaS have added complexity to the already complicated software environment

End-user configuration—myth or reality?

In the past decade, there has been a growing demand for software providers to offer flexible solutions with sophisticated end-user configuration capabilities. Flexibility and agility are vital for rapid organisational adaptation and innovation. Evaluating a system’s capacity to allow trained internal users to quickly adjust critical product elements, pricing, workflows, and user interfaces without external vendor intervention is key.

End-user configuration promotes self-sufficiency and reduces the need for costly software development or customisation by vendors, resulting in a lower total cost of ownership (TCO). However, it’s important to note that not all vendors deliver on their claims regarding end-user configuration. Therefore, automotive companies should investigate the actual depth and sophistication of these capability claims.

This includes assessing skill requirements, complexity, available tools and templates, the vendor’s track record, and tangible case studies demonstrating the real-world benefits of end-user configuration.

Prioritise service excellence

In many evaluation and selection projects, the focus tends to be heavily on product features, architecture, and implementation, often neglecting the critical aspects of a vendor’s service transition and service operations capabilities. To establish enduring and successful partnerships, automotive companies should dig deeper into scalability/reliability, security and service operations.

Technology partnerships can make or break an organisation

For instance, they should evaluate how easily the platform can scale during peak and quiet times, whether it’s automated or manual, and its cost implications. It’s important to examine how the vendor manages capacity, considering business forecasts and load testing. They should also clarify the security responsibilities between the client and the vendor, and understand the process for ensuring security compliance during onboarding, offboarding, and transitions. Check if the vendor maintains a software bill of materials and manages security for third-party services and vendors. In terms of service operations, they should ask about the process and timelines for introducing changes into production. Evaluate the level of observability for performance enhancement. Inquire about the automation of build, test, and deployment pipelines. Understand the backlog prioritisation process, including non-functional aspects, and the client’s involvement. By delving into these service-related aspects, automotive companies can build stronger, long-lasting partnerships with their vendors.

Forging resilient technology partnerships

In a landscape where technology partnerships can make or break an organisation, asking these six crucial questions will help OEMs, finance institutions, leasing companies, and mobility providers make informed decisions when navigating the complex automotive technology ecosystem. By understanding the true capabilities and commitments of their prospective vendors, they can build successful, long-lasting technology relationships.

As the automotive industry hurtles into an era of unprecedented change and innovation, organisations that ask these questions and engage with prospective vendors with clarity and foresight will not merely survive, they will thrive. They’ll be the ones who drive the future of mobility, setting new standards, and delivering unparalleled experiences to increasingly demanding retail and fleet consumers.

About the Author: Mike Walters is Automotive Sector Lead at Axiologik



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