How Honda UK is heading down the global tech road

Honda UK CIO Gareth Jackson discusses the challenges of running local IT for a global company

...tailor its technology to the needs of the different types of dealerships it serves.

The car and motorcycle dealerships generally just sell Honda products but businesses selling power equipment often sell Honda products alongside those of other manufacturers, so they have slightly different requirements.

"We can't just say, 'We're a big corporate - you're dealing with Honda so you can use the same ordering system that cars use and bikes use'. It needs to be different – their entire business isn't Honda and therefore how do we make it simple for them to run their business and want to deal with Honda so there's no inconvenience to them?"

Focusing on technology for customers

Another important consideration for Honda UK's IT department is serving the needs of customers in the best way. This requirement includes the services provided to dealers but also the way the company engages with customers using technology.

"Our big focus as an automotive and motorcycle and power equipment company is to be different in terms of the customer experience. People have a certain view of the car industry and how we deal with customers. Honda has a good reputation within that, but we're looking to be great outside the industry as well. So we're really looking at how we can make our systems do what the customer wants and not what is efficient for us," Jackson said.

One of the innovations on the Honda UK car website is a facility for interested customers to book test drives at a dealership of their choice. The system makes sure cars are available at the relevant time and location and prompts dealers to call the customer to confirm the arrangements.

This functionality has been live for about 18 months but the company is looking to make it available for motorcycle dealerships as well. "What we're now looking to do is to think how we use some of the applications and services we've got in cars and move it through into bikes and power equipment," Jackson said.

Jackson oversees the Honda UK team of Java developers behind the new motorcycle website launched in late January to showcase Honda's 2011 line of bikes.

Part of this project was to make the website user-friendly for iPads and other tablet PCs, and the new website allows iPad users to scroll through the range of Honda bikes by swiping across the screen. "We're making sure the experience for an iPad user is what they would expect and not a clunky web-based experience that doesn't fit with the iPad," Jackson said.

He added that the needs of people buying cars differ from those buying bikes or powered equipment, so the functionality for each website should also reflect that difference. Car customers are generally looking for a vehicle to get them from A to B whereas motorcyclists are generally much more passionate and knowledgeable about the products they want to buy.

Processes such as managing leads when customers have shown an interest in buying a Honda product, either through the website or by visiting dealers, should therefore be handled in different ways depending on the product.

This issue means that when potential customers make enquires about the availability of a certain car or about getting a quote from Honda Finance, the requests need to go to the right people at Honda or in the dealerships so they can be followed up effectively.

Making sure this happens is an ongoing process and Jackson and his team are always...