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Outsourcer MSXI puts Microsoft cloud in driving seat

Business process outsourcer MSXI has replaced Salesforce with a Microsoft business applications stack to support its car dealership business

MSXI, a car industry-focused business process outsourcing company, has turned to Microsoft for its business applications, in part replacing Salesforce for customer relationship management.

Brendan Walsh, the Detroit-based CIO at MSXI, says that “the customer is the centre of the universe” now in the auto industry and elsewhere. That, plus “staying current technologically is very important for us when dealing with OEMs in the automotive industry”. In the auto industry, OEMs – original equipment makers – are car makers such as Ford, GM, Toyota and the rest.

MSXI, says Walsh, “works for OEMs in over 80 countries to improve the efficiency, profitability and customer satisfaction of their dealer networks. Our technical and architectural IT decisions have been in line with that.”

As well as focusing on “everything that happens after a vehicle has been manufactured and is at a dealer location”, MSXI is a managed service provider that furnishes global companies with contract labour. Ford and GM are customers for both the company’s divisions.

MSX International aims, then, to boost the business performance of vehicle dealerships worldwide, providing an outsourced service. One of the areas it specialises in is containing warranty costs for car makers and their dealerships. The trick here is to analyse warranty claims data for anomalies. “Bad things can happen when a repair is misdiagnosed as a warranty repair,” Walsh points out.

So why couldn’t Ford, GM and the rest do this for themselves? “Automotive OEMs are really good at designing and manufacturing vehicles. All of their R&D is centred on that, not so much on what comes after. The very existence of franchised dealerships is testament to that,” Walsh explains.

The Microsoft cloud

The company turned to Microsoft’s cloud three years ago, using the Office 365 suite. It has added Skype for Business, Yammer, SharePoint and OneDrive for Business. Combined with Skype for Business, CRM data stored within Microsoft Dynamics is shared with sales teams across the company worldwide.

Microsoft’s Power BI software also provides the company’s employees with new deals and current business and revenue information, which refreshes in dashboards each night. This allows MSXI account managers to access global information and statistics during meetings.

Sharing knowledge globally

Walsh, who has a deep background at IBM and AT&T, started in the CIO role three years ago, finding a “fairly antiquated technology infrastructure. We were a Novell shop, without much of a Microsoft presence outside of the desktop. So we had marginal global co-ordination and knowledge sharing.”

The decision to migrate from Salesforce to Microsoft Dynamics was made before he joined the company, and took about six months to drive through in 2013. Cost was an initial driver for the switch, “but it was clear that our user base was struggling with Salesforce.com. It was also more along the lines of an opportunity management system than a customer relationship management one. There are only so many of these automotive OEMs on planet Earth, and we need to take care of them, and with a global perspective. Microsoft lent itself well to that kind of global account hierarchy.”

Scaling up

The majority of the business lies outside the US – 65% is in Europe, mainly in France, Germany, the UK and Italy. MSXI’s annual top-line revenue is in the region of $550m, and it has increased sales and profits by double digits over the past five years or so, Walsh says.

“We really need technology that will enable us to scale while keeping a low overhead. It has been a key factor in promoting our growth,” he adds.

“Office 365 and the whole technology stack was an elegant option for us because it was all one environment, with attractive ease of deployment and adoption. We’ve been very impressed with the enhancements that Microsoft has brought to 365 and Power BI, bringing analytics to all kinds of back-office data as well as sales data. It’s just very tidy.”

Read more about CRM and data management in the car sector

His UK-based colleague, Dominic Fraser, project manager for Microsoft applications, says: “We needed to work on a more global scale. The deals and new projects we’re doing require international collaboration, with all documents accessible 24/7.” Hence the move to the cloud.

Fraser says a driver of their data management programme has been to get to a more holistic view of the customer, using PowerBI as a layer above the data in the CRM system and other sources. “Having dashboards on tablets is great for our managing directors and global account managers.”

They also, though, use Tableau for reports that are exposed to customers, he adds.  

He says the company has getting on for 4,000 cloud licences for the Microsoft business applications stack.

“It is all about the innovation in-vehicle and focus on the customer”
Brendan Walsh, MSXI

Walsh adds that with respect to the broader forces of disruption affecting the car industry, such as the rise of Uber and the interest in autonomous vehicles, “the customer is at the centre of things. What mobile and smartphones have done is enable personalised relationships. That is the story in automotive. An industry that has been dominated by design and manufacture is now recasting itself as about mobility.

“For the OEMs the barbarians are at the gate, in the form of Apple or Google, so what do they have to get right? How does the car become the platform that the smartphone is? In the US, CES has become like an auto show. It is all about the innovation in-vehicle and focus on the customer.”

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