Inchcape's crack at uniting legacy, manual IT

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Inchcape's crack at uniting legacy, manual IT

One data warehouse to rule them all.

Automotive distributer and retailer Inchcape is the first to admit its technology environment left much to be desired.

While it attributes much of the blame to the myriad of proprietary systems imposed by car manufacturers on their dealers, the firm recognised the onus was on it to fix the problem if it wanted to become the customer-centric organisation it aspired to be.

However, at the outset, the holy grail of a holistic customer view looked impossible.

"The industry is full of systems build on antiquated database technology with nested values stored, and nested-nested values stored," CIO Alan Perkins said.

"This makes it incredibly difficult to get access to information, so a plethora of small operators prey on the industry to offer services that are far from world class."

Perkins' team realised they would need to come up with their own solution to the problem: thus the V360 project was born.

The SQL data warehouse unites data from all these closed and fragmented systems into one single location, offering a complete view of the Inchcape customer.

It consists of three types of schemas: one containing a faithful copy of the source data; another with the output data (used by end users); and another "intermediate" schema that links the two. Data is cleansed in real time.

The IT team designed a custom JSON metadata language to map the data from each system to the target schema, and developed a program to read the files and automatically generate code to synchronise data.

"This meant the code writing was extremely productive and reliable - over 200,000 lines of synchronisation code was written with a few hundred lines of master code and several dozen control JSON files. All code can be regenerated in a turnkey manner," Perkins said.

The data warehouse replaced headache processes that, in one case, required a staffer to pull together more than 40 reports from PDFs and copy them into Excel.

Another - the formerly manual process of working out which cars to order from overseas - used to take 40 people between 60 and 80 hours a week to create 80 spreadsheets; it now takes 5 seconds.

Since V360 came to life last year, sales reports can now be generated in seconds and refreshed instantly; all sales from all dealerships can be accessed in one place; and all dealerships now get the same comprehensive inventory data on new and used cars.

Less easy to measure, but equally as important, according to Perkins, is that V360 has provided the fabric underpinning Inchcape's transition to SAP and Salesforce.

"Many areas of the business will function effectively because of V360's capability of bringing data together," he said.

"We can transition a site from the old dealer management system to the new SAP and Salesforce system without them having to be aware of the change."

It would have been "close to impossible" to take all the data from Inchcape's myriad systems to faciliate the implementations of Salesforce and SAP without V360, Perkins said.

This project has been named a finalist in the consumer category of the iTnews Benchmark Awards 2017. View the full list of finalists here.

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