Jarrod Phipps, CIO at Holman, says working for the automotive specialist is an all-encompassing leadership challenge. With two decades of technology experience built up at some of the largest consumer product, retail and healthcare companies in the world, Phipps was appointed as Holman’s CIO at the start of this year.
“What gets me up every morning is [thinking about] how [to] bring agility and make ourselves faster at delivering capabilities without forgoing the stability that we need as a business to operate,” he says.
Phipps joined Holman after IT leadership stints with footwear specialist Clarks, retailer A.C. Moore and vehicle repair company Pep Boys. He says his first year with Holman has been focused on transforming how the technology department works with the rest of the firm.
“I’m rethinking how we interface with the business, our interface among ourselves within the technology group, and I’m positioning us for that level of agility we’re all looking for,” says Phipps.
Defining what being agile means for his IT organisation in an age of almost constant digital change, he says: “My aim is that technology is slightly ahead of the business. That’s where I want to be – in that real sweet spot, just maybe an inch ahead, as opposed to being behind and slowing the rest of the business down. That’s what we’ve been working on for the past year.”
Holman, headquartered in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, is one of the largest family-owned automotive service organisations in North America. The company employs more than 6,500 employees across North America, the UK and Germany.
There are two sides to the business. First, the company runs 40 dealerships across the US, which Phipps describes as a “nice, standardised business”. While these organisations use lots of technology, Phipps says the standard practices that take place across the network means there’s not a huge number of bespoke IT systems.
The second part of Holman covers fleet management, which Phipps describes as a significantly larger business than the retail organisation and an entirely technology-driven operation. He says Holman’s fleet company operates millions of vehicles on behalf of its clients. The only way to manage the fleet efficiently is through technology.
“The fleet management side of our business has more appetite for digital than I’ve ever seen in any other business. We can streamline processes, we can optimise customer experiences, employee experiences, the whole nine yards”
Jarrod Phipps, Holman
“The fleet management side of our business has more appetite for digital than I’ve ever seen in any other business,” says Phipps.
“We can streamline processes, we can optimise customer experiences, employee experiences, the whole nine yards. So for me, the attractiveness of going into a company where that’s front and centre, and technology is as strategic as it possibly can be, was the number-one driver for moving to Holman.”
Phipps says the culture at the family-run business means there’s a strong emphasis on people. His job as CIO is to implement the tools, methods and processes that help the firm’s people – whether newly joined or long-serving staff – to provide high-quality services to customers.
“For the next 24 months, my focus is going to be on reshaping the employee experience and digitising as much of that area as we possibly can to bring efficiency and to make it easy to bring new people onto the platform,” he says.
“I always say to my team that my goal is to give the person who just joined Holman as equal a shot at delivering a remarkable customer experience as the person who’s been here for 20-plus years.”
Phipps says achieving that experience-led objective will mean ensuring the technology his team implements is as employee-centric as possible on the inside and as customer-centric as possible on the outside. One big focus for the next two years is data analytics.
“That means bringing information to light for all of our stakeholders, internal and external,” he says. “At the end of the day, especially in our fleet management operation, we’re running a data-driven business. We have vast amounts of data about everyone’s vehicles.”
While he’s only been in his role for less than a year, Phipps has already begun the process of helping the business to make the most of its data assets. “We’ve begun the journey of standardising our process,” he says. “That work means standardising how we interface with the business in much more of a product management-based methodology. That’s been the heavy lift, and with a concentration on product management comes a deeper focus on agile processes.”
Phipps has supported that shift with the use of automation and continuous improvement techniques. From the data and analytics perspective, there’s been a big investment in the company’s cloud-based infrastructure.
“That work was something that had already started, but we’ve ratcheted the effort up since I’ve been here. We’re now at a tipping point to start taking that technology to a much broader audience,” he says
“We’re using some hyperscale cloud database analytics and database technologies to drive the data lake component of what we’re doing. And right now, we’re headed down the [Microsoft] Power BI path for representing our information to our various audiences.”
Holman also collects data through fast-emerging technologies, such as the internet of things (IoT). The company has a full telematics suite and Phipps says his team has access to event-level information on thousands of vehicles, showing everything from data on hard braking to dashboard maintenance lights and insights on engine performance.
“Everything that comes out of a vehicle, we get fed event-level information that we integrate back into our broader portfolio of solutions. Let me give you an example of how that process works. We have clients where, if somebody brakes too hard or somebody makes an illegal turn, we actually feed that data back into our training module,” he says.
“We then trigger training for the driver, so the client can go to their insurance company and talk about the safety programmes they have in place and why they should have a more advantageous insurance premium. So, we have a fully integrated solution that’s taking information and using it as part of our broader ecosystem.”
Over the next couple of years, Phipps is keen to further improve his company’s ability to visualise information.
“Whether that’s good things or bad things, we need to have an ability to tell a visual story that is capable of eliciting insights,” he says.
“We’re a very diverse, data-rich business, and we just want to push insight to the fingertips of our people” Jarrod Phipps, Holman
“Once we see those insights, we need interaction. We need to be able to interact with the information to determine why things have happened. And we need to be able to do that work with the data that’s at our fingertips. Then, when we get to the ‘why’, we need to see the lowest level of grain in the information set.”
Taking that detailed, visual approach will mean people across Holman can use best-practice examples to boost existing operational processes and customer experiences. Phipps says the long-term aim is to use data to galvanise how the company makes affirmative interventions.
“Once we have a high level of understanding, can we highlight an example that then helps us to take immediate corrective action? Could we then do more of this type of action? We’re a very diverse, data-rich business, and we just want to push insight to the fingertips of our people,” he says.
While Holman is already exploring analytics, IoT and automation, Phipps recognises other emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, will also have an impact. His role is to ensure the company is using data to develop a proactive approach to service.
“One of the things that’s important for a fleet management company is helping our clients understand when it’s time to change a vehicle that’s at the end of its life. When maintenance costs are up and the equity position is low, you might as well move to a new vehicle to decrease your expenses in the short to medium term,” he says.
“We also talk a lot about the movement from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles [EVs]. That’s a big question for a lot of our major fleets. So, how do you forecast the cost differential and the complexity of managing an EV fleet versus an internal combustion fleet? Modelling some of those key decision points will be crucial.”
Phipps says the key to unlocking that higher level of analysis will be ensuring the business can take advantage of new data-powered opportunities when they arise. “As long as we have the right platform in place, we need to be able to experiment,” he says.
“I don’t think anyone has a crystal ball as to what the silver or gold nugget is going to be in the future. We just need to have that innovative and experimental capability in place because we might wind up 24 months from today in a place that none of us can see.”