How the car industry is becoming an information business

IT will drive business change at Toyota Financial Services says CFO Chris Ballinger

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How is technology affecting your business? Unlike the past 100 years, our business is no longer just about money; it is also about information. We need core competencies in not only lending but also technology and information management.

Uber achieved a third of Toyota's market valuation in just a few years--when Toyota has been at it nearly a century--by using technology to reduce the cost of contracting between buyers and sellers. With the push of a button, Uber puts the private buyer together with the private seller and creates enormous value for both. Technology's ability to drive down frictional costs allows new business models to emerge rapidly.

Uber has the luxury of having been born very recently and with little legacy technology, people or habits. Our first step is recognizing that technology cannot solve our legacy problems. We have to re-engineer our business processes.

How do you drive change through a company that has legacy business processes? This is where information is very powerful. If you can demonstrate expected profitability at the transaction level, everyone can see the opportunities for value. When you show employees the impact of every transaction on the business, you turn employees into entrepreneurs. The more information you push down, the less employees will have to wait for senior leaders to tell them what to do, and the faster they will adapt to change.

Transparency between IT and its business partners is also critical to change. How do you make that happen? The first step is having a willing partner in IT. Some CIOs are afraid that if they make IT costs transparent, business leaders will say, "I can get storage for less than you charge, so I'll contract with a vendor on my own." But if you show business leaders what IT really costs, they can be involved in managing those costs.

How do you get business leaders to commit that level of energy? We educate them to realize that if they understand the true costs of IT, they can make trade-offs between IT and all the other investments on their plate. IT becomes another cost that they can manage.

But we didn't start with the business. Our CIO, Ron Guerrier, put two great IT finance people, Wendy Wuo and Andy Wilson, on a project to make IT costs transparent. It was important to avoid the perception that the business was out to embarrass IT. By IT owning the project, they were able to move more quickly and with more openness than they otherwise would have. Wendy and Andy have successfully transformed the IT-business relationship by exposing the value of IT expenses via multidimensional reporting and consultation. It's been a true game-changer.

What tech innovation are you personally excited about? I look forward to harnessing the enormous amount of processing power in a car. Cars will pay tolls and select routes as they drive through a city. We might wind up buying transportation services instead of owning our own cars, which will have a major impact on traffic patterns in cities. Autonomous cars will radically transform our lives in a relatively short period of time.

This story, "How the car industry is becoming an information business" was originally published by CIO.