​LeasePlan prepares for connected future with IT overhaul spanning 32 countries

After the success of its local digital transformation, LeasePlan Australia has been charged with bringing the rest of the world up to speed before the connected world consumes the automotive industry.

Fleet management and financial services company LeasePlan has offices across 32 countries, including in Australia. But although each location operates the same function under the one entity, up until last year, each country operated its own federated model.

Speaking with ZDNet, Alfonzo Venturi, CIO for LeasePlan Australia, explained that every country was basically allowed to do its own thing; run its own IT, and manage its own activities.

"Yes, we all reported up, but we had autonomy to really do what we wanted to. If you can imagine 32 entities with 35 leasing solutions -- so very expensive, with no agility at all," he explained. "Any change would take a long time and it just wouldn't allow us to do any of the new technology sharing that our customers are wanting today."

Early last year, LeasePlan, headquartered in the Netherlands, picked up a new 100 percent shareholder in LP Group BV, which represents a consortium that includes Dutch pension fund service provider PGGM, Denmark-based pension fund ATP, GIC, Luxinva SA, and investment funds managed by TDR Capital LLP.

"In all the due diligence prior to the acquisition, they saw that there was a major opportunity in IT," Venturi said. "I think they started realising that something had to be done and they couldn't continue the way we were going."

The new IT Platform would be based on the baseline SAP solution LeasePlan Australia had gone live with in 2010.

Venturi was asked to visit a number of European countries to perform a feasibility study and assess the possibility of putting the Australian-based solution in place.

He conducted a proof of concept for three LeasePlan entities, which Venturi said ticked all the boxes. Following the closing of the acquisition, the new owner wanted to see this stretch to the rest of the world.

Venturi then performed a full assessment of each country and it was decided he would lead the way with replacing the legacy systems in 15 countries in Europe -- as a first step -- taking the baseline of what he did in Australia and filling in the country-specific gaps.

"The reality is that we all do the same things. In Europe, if you want to go and lease a car, the process is going to be almost the same wherever you go," he explained. "Italy might call it one thing, Germany might call it something else; they may have tweaked that, but the reality is that what we call our value chain is the same."

The Australian chapter had recently implemented an on-premises solution from SAP, but taking his idea global meant LeasePlan needed to move to the cloud.

By the end of Venturi's first project, LeasePlan will have 15 countries on a single SAP instance, based in Europe, on Amazon Web Services (AWS).

There are plans to send the Melbourne operation into the cloud as well, but getting the other 15 countries on board is the CIO's priority.

The first country to go live will be head office in the Netherlands, slated for October this year. From October through to 2020, the other countries in the first project will be gradually sent live with SAP.

Having the backend IT brought into the 21st century will result in LeasePlan being better prepared for the future. Venturi is well aware of the connected future the automotive industry is on the edge of.

"I don't think we can dictate what's going to happen in the future -- even a year, it's ridiculous. We know for certain that the way we commute will change," he explained.

"I think the Uber of today is going to be the Uber self driving car of tomorrow. And for us it's a case of well, there's still going to be a car. Whether it's a self driving car, whether it's an Uber car, we are today building a strong relationship with Uber.

"We want to connect with the Tesla's and the other organisations like that. We are not oblivious to the fact that sharing and the sharing economy is the way of the future."

Venturi still sees a place for LeasePlan, however, noting that a car will still need managed services and there will always be a need to service a car.

"We believe that we will play a role in that phase," he said. "Our model will probably change over the years, however."

"If we didn't make this change we would not have been able to try and adapt to the change that's coming."

Disclosure: Asha McLean travelled to Sapphire Now as a guest of SAP.

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