IT's the tiger in the Volvo tank

Once seen as an overhead, Volvo Truck's IT department is held in high esteem by the rest of the business. Ross Bentley met the...

Once seen as an overhead, Volvo Truck's IT department is held in high esteem by the rest of the business. Ross Bentley met the man behind the wheel

Five years ago, the IT department at Volvo Trucks was viewed as an overhead," says Gary Ridley, chief information officer and vice president of IT at the group.

"Now we're a catalyst. I sit on the board. An IT corporate action team has also been formed to talk to all the other sectors of Volvo. Business analysts have now been employed within the IT department to bridge the gap between us and the rest of the company.

"Recruitment is the biggest problem - finding and retaining good people with Visual Basic and Java skills is hard. The technology is moving so fast these days, it's difficult to know when to say that this will be our standard for e-business.

"To attract the right people, we offer a high level of internal training so that employees will feel that they are staying abreast of the latest technologies. You have to be up-front at recruitment interviews - some people want to work in an exciting atmosphere, while some people are happier in an environment that isn't forever evolving," he says.

On e-business, Ridley believes, "it's just a different strategy, nothing more. Every part of the whole process has to be looked at and accounted for - from the initial customer contact, to delivery and follow-up. If the process is watertight, the technology will be the enabler.

"While the sales and marketing people like to give all the dazzle about what e-business benefits Volvo can offer customers, we do find that we constantly have to remind management of the costs and time involved in living up to the hype. In a manufacturing environment, like elsewhere, there is a certain way of working. A move to e-business means a change of culture. Marketing can forget that," he adds.

Ridley continues, "We are just about to launch an online speccing system for our customers. This will allow them to put together an order for a truck or a fleet of trucks to the exact specifications required. We have also developed some highly sophisticated software that informs users what specs can work together. Keeping clients updated online will be a huge improvement to the CD-Roms we used to dispatch."

Volvo is also launching into customer relationship management and has implemented a Siebel system with the help of Princeton Consulting. "We have taken potential customer information from all sorts of sources, like vehicle registration and Volvo's accident service. A big part of the process is to integrate this information from multiple sources. The real trick is to get all the business rules organised, so that one piece of information can be cross-referenced. We want to build a relationship with people, not just get in touch when we think it is time for them to buy a new truck."

And, meanwhile, Ridley says, "Mobile comms for our trucks is something we are working on. Your mind can run riot with the possibilities of this technology," he adds.

Email: [email protected]

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