Mazda's Three-Pronged Mobility Approch

Alison Diana, Tech Journalist | 3/13/2012 | 24 comments

Alison Diana
Mazda North America is focused on mobility -- giving people the ability to move around the United States and Canada in comfort, style, and safety. But equipping users to tap the new wealth of mobility devices created a three-pronged challenge for its top IT executive, CIO Jim DiMarzio.

After all, DiMarzio said in an interview that his department has a trio of primary customers: internal employees of the Irvine, Calif., car manufacturer, its dealers, and consumers. The company could strictly control employees' mobile devices, but it has no ability to determine the type of device other users prefer. Nor does it want to. As a result, it needed a mobility approach that embraced smartphones, tablets, and notebooks.

Like many other organizations, Mazda North America chose not to limit employees' mobile options, preferring to adopt a bring-your-own-device approach that mirrored consumer use, he said. But when the manufacturer unveiled one of its first mobile solutions for its dealers, it focused on the Apple iPad, in part because of the device's general popularity and in part because of how easy it is to use.

"Dealers are very traditional in the way they do business," DiMarzio said. "We're not trying to replace the sales consultant or do his or her job. Rather, we want to assist them."

Developed internally, Mazda North America's iPad application gives sales reps access to a wealth of information about the company's vehicles. Since it was rolled out in June, the app has been a hit. Between 60 percent and 65 percent of dealers now use it, he said.

"The turnover at the salesperson level is over 100 percent per year. Dealers are constantly retraining, and having everybody knowledgeable about all our products is virtually impossible."

The app lets sales reps pick and choose the information they see or show to customers, such as videos, vehicle specifications, and features. It is designed to complement sales reps' face-to-face selling techniques, not replace them. Customers enjoy the technological approach to information, he said. "Consumers are able to see it in a way that jumps out at them."

Mazda North America plans to introduce apps to assist in other employee roles within dealerships, DiMarzio said. For example, an app could track work on customers' vehicles, warranties, and orders. The company is also investigating tools for dealers' finance departments.

Within Mazda North America, authorized employees can view up-to-date vehicle sales information on their iPhones. Consumers can use an app to make service appointments, check service histories, and mark their parking spot at an arena or mall.

"We've taken a very cautious approach," DiMarzio said, "but we're on a path for growth. People have a very good understanding of how to visualize this information. Give it another year or two, and you'll see more. We're embracing consumerization."

Virtual support
The use of virtualization supports Mazda North America's mobility implementation -- and a whole lot more.

The automaker virtualized on VMware and Dell servers, in part to enable finance department users to access information stored in SAP software quickly, DiMarzio said. Its storage needs continued to grow, both in size and cost.

Last year, Mazda North America piloted virtualized desktops, giving some employees mobile devices and others thin clients, depending on their screen-size needs. The program generated savings, which was ploughed into more wireless access points, an upgraded network backbone, and more Dell Compellent storage.

The virtualization program also "saves from a support point-of-view," he said. "We haven't billed it as a dollar savings internally, because we wanted to take any savings we get and invest them internally. We want to improve the infrastructure and provide better service."

However, the IT department delivered straight dollar savings to the chief financial officer when it virtualized infrastructures in the United States and Canada and ended its disaster recovery contract with SunGard. "That is a cost-saving. Using a third-party like SunGard is a very expensive way to do things. It's very professional, and it's very safe, but it's very expensive."

In fact, the virtualized solution delivered a payback in less than a a year.

Since its data is safe and accessible, its employees are equipped with the most appropriate devices, and its IT professionals are busy developing the next generation of applications for mobile users, Mazda North America is ready to keep consumers moving.

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Alison Diana   Mazda's Three-Pronged Mobility Approch   3/13/2012 2:40:20 PM
Re: 100% turnover?
I'd imagine it demonstrates the car in all its glory. Mazda has some pretty sporty vehicles, so they'd look great in a video. I'd think, though, the app is more useful for all the stats and facts people want to know about their prospective vehicle--the MPG, warranty info, etc. The app is one other way for reps to find information. They could also look on the window sticker, search online, ask a colleague, or call Mazda. It's just one more tool--but a snazzier, cooler tool that a rep can share with the customer vs. making a phone call!
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sohaibmasood   Mazda's Three-Pronged Mobility Approch   3/13/2012 2:36:20 PM
Re: 100% turnover?
I am surprised by the high turnover rate too but I guess it seems achievable as the entire experience for the customers has been enhanced. With the ipads the sales reps can easily put into pictures/videos whatever they are trying to sell. A picture speaks louder than a thousand words. I wonder what a video is able to convey to car enthusiasts. 
Alison Diana   Mazda's Three-Pronged Mobility Approch   3/13/2012 12:55:12 PM
Re: 100% turnover?
David: Like you, I was initially surprised at the high turnover. But I mentioned it to my husband who was in sales of high-end cars (Jag, BMW, etc.), and he agreed. I also thought about the dealership we buy from and realized that many of the sales reps we've dealt with over the years have moved on.

Because the app was so simple to use, I believe the sales reps required little to no formal training on the iPad itself. Obviously, they are trained on Mazda North America products before they go onto the sales floor and interact with customers; the app augments their traditional training. Because it's visual--videos, colorful, etc.--Jim said customers like it too.

I believe it's too early to tell whether the app itself has improved sales for Mazda North America dealers. But my sense is that it's enhanced sales reps' performance since they can more easily access information for customers and prospects in an interactive, cool and fun way. And since the app includes info that's direct from corporate, both the sales rep and the customer know it's accurate.

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David Wagner   Mazda's Three-Pronged Mobility Approch   3/13/2012 12:41:09 PM
100% turnover?
Wow, that kind of turnover obviously makes supplementing knowledge crucial. But i have to say that I'd be put off by a saleperson simply looking up the answers to my questions. I'd rather trust my own research. And as a training tool, it seems video and other form factors works better than a tablet.

Do you know if the 65% of dealers using the app went form using some other type of formal training to the app or went from ad hoc training to the app? And is there any sales evidence that it is working? Or is it too early to tell?

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