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Automated, Connected, Electric And Shared vehicles Will Lead The New Paradigm - Ms. Indira Uppuluri CDK Global

In a conversation with Siddharth Shankar from BWBusinessworld, Ms. Indira Uppuluri Senior Vice President - CDK Global talks about Auto Industry going into Digitization Drive, Technologies like Machine Learning, AI and data-driven approach, driving the new age dealerships, Job Opportunities for Women in the New Normal, STEM education and more.. Excerpts :

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Tell us about your role as a SVP at CDK Global?

CDK Global is a leader in integrated software solutions for the automotive retail industry. We focus on end-to-end automotive commerce and provide solutions to dealers in more than 100 countries. I am the global head of engineering based in our San Jose, California office. My team architects and develops a wide range of software solutions that automate and integrate all parts of the dealership and buying process, including the acquisition, sale, financing, insuring, parts supply, repair, and maintenance of vehicles.

What effects do you think the Global pandemic has on the automotive industry in India as well as on a Global scale?

The pandemic and changing consumer buying habits have accelerated digital transformation in automotive retail, forcing car dealers to evolve how they interact with customers. What was once a high-touch, in-person process is changing to an omni-channel experience to meet the preferences of consumers who are wary of being in public spaces, want options for how they buy a car and want a better car buying experience. One of the fastest growing consumer segments is car buyers under the age of 35. Prior to the pandemic, this population opted for ride sharing services. Now they’re turning into active car buyers and they want ease of use and a digital buying experience.

Dealers need to have a digital retail solution that offers three different car-buying experiences for customers: 

  • A car-buying experience that is completely digital end-to-end
  • An experience that starts online and ends on the showroom floor
  • And an entire brick and mortar experience that begins and ends on the showroom floor

What are the long-term changes do you see due to this pandemic, which are here to stay?

Car owners expect dealerships to anticipate their needs and create personalized experiences. With more of the experience turning digital, they expect to be matched to the right cars for them based on behavioural, demographic and geographic preferences. Similarly, they expect service on their cars to be automatically predicted, scheduled and completed. This requires us to leverage data and create machine learning models to enable these experiences. CDK is investing extensively in our data platform that is driven by artificial intelligence and machine learning models to give dealers actionable insights that help them become more efficient and create stronger relationships with consumers.

Additionally, auto dealers will look to optimize their operations further to keep their costs down. We also expect to see car manufactures leveraging data to connect with customers to maintain brand affinity. 

How well is CDK Global tackling the Global Economic Crisis?

We’re doing our part to help our customers, employees and communities navigate the current environment:

  • We offered some of our products for free or at a discount to our U.S. customers
  • We’ve created a remote install model and set up remote dealer management system access for our dealer customers to help them manage their dealership from anywhere
  • We launched Sign Anywhere to allow people to sign their car purchase documents remotely while dealerships were closed during the pandemic. 
  • We prioritized the health and safety of our global employees by moving them to work from home during the pandemic. We also put in place social distancing and sanitization standards when our employees returned to their offices
  • We stay committed towards the community by supporting education for underprivileged children. We have partnered with Snehalaya Education Society and Cherish Foundation in India taking care of the food and medical expenses of the children here

What key role do you think that the Research & Development Department would play to help you make the best of the current market?

The acceleration of digital transformation by the pandemic offers opportunities to redefine this industry into an automated, low-touch paradigm.   

This requires integrated solutions across partners and a platform to make data-driven decisions. R&D is key to understanding customer pain points and anticipating industry trends – and this leads to innovation.

CDK is taking a leadership role in the auto industry to create a marketplace, called Fortellis, for all software vendors to share applications. This enables integrations across vendors to create seamless journeys for customers. We have a data lake that brings together information from our dealer management system and our partners. We run machine learning models on this data to deliver actionable insights to our customers that help them improve efficiency and build stronger relationships with consumers. These insights are now being embedded into customer workflows in our products.

The Automotive industry is more tech-savvy these days more than ever, how do you see that?

The automotive industry is changing at an unprecedented rate now with ACES (Automated, Connected, Electric and Shared) vehicles leading the new paradigm. This shift is powered by technology, data and integrated solutions. At the same time, consumers want a car buying and ownership experience that is personalized, efficient and seamless across online channels and in dealerships. I see CDK playing a key role in this shift. We're transforming the way the entire industry connects. These connections center on our Fortellis platform, which will be a powerful tool for the development of data-driven insights to help dealers, OEMs, partners, and the entire industry.

How likely is the Employment Process to change as an aftermath of the Global Economic Crisis? Do you think that Work Opportunities for women are likely to go up or stay put for the foreseeable future?

Remote work and flexible working hours are now being accepted as norms in many industries. These are expected to continue long term, giving women the ability to balance home and work life. There is data showing that 1/3 of the women who took a career break after having children say it was due to a lack of employer flexibility. The current flexible work culture would also lead to equality at home. Business travel is expected to go down in the future with more business being conducted through video conferencing. This will help women stay home for longer periods of time.

In India, CDK has created programs to recruit, develop and retain talent. Our initiatives include:

  •  A performance goal for our senior leaders to improve gender ratios on their teams
  • Targeted internship programs to attract fresh talent from campus and help them develop skills while they are still in school
  • Exclusive leadership development interventions for women employees that include coaching, mentoring and image-building workshops 

What is the core value of CDK Global as an organization? 

We have four core values at CDK that define who we are and how we show up for each other, our customers and our communities: 

  • Be Open: We are transparent with our customers, our partners and with each other
  • Own it: We each own seeing through our commitments to our customers, colleagues and company. 
  • Stay Curious: We create a culture of continuous learning. 
  • Create Possibilities: We are excited by what we can achieve together 

What is STEM Education and tell us more about it?

STEM is a curriculum based on educating students in four key disciplines: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – all integrated in a cohesive way with an applied approach. STEM careers are often referred to as the jobs of the future that drive innovation, social wellbeing and sustainable development.

According to UNESCO, only 35% of students in higher education globally are women – and there are differences observed within these disciplines. Only 3% of women choose information and communication technology education.

We all need to help bridge the gap for women and this focus needs to start with early education. CDK is committed to bringing more women into technology by hiring and helping them grow and develop their skills. We are partners with ChickTech, a non-profit organization in the U.S. whose mission is to advance diversity in technology. CDK is the premier sponsor for their “Advancing the Careers of Technical Women” Global Virtual Conference and their National High School program that supports expanding girls’ exposure to STEM careers. Also, this summer, we partnered with greenlightforgirls, a global organization that promotes STEM for girls, to organize a STEM challenge for over 65 interns at CDK. We are investing and partnering with organizations that support bringing STEM education to students around the world.

A few words for the Women, who are looking for an opportunity

Every company needs its workforce to represent its customer demographic. This is what creates true empathy for customers and enables the company to build products that get adopted. Women are key to bringing this diversity into companies. We need women to stay in STEM and leverage these opportunities.  In addition, working in technology now doesn’t mean you have to work at a tech giant.  There are so many options for STEM positions across industries like ours in automotive or healthcare or even start-up businesses. 

I recommend women start with learning about prospective employers and the opportunities that are available there. They may need to go through training to apply to some of those opportunities. They may not get the first opportunity they apply for – and it is important that they keep trying until they find the right opportunity. The key to success and growth is learning – the world around us is changing quickly. We all need to continue to acquire new skills.