Helix zips up sales and financing DNA

Kevin Northrup compares his work at Dell Financial Services Canada Ltd. (DFS) to changing a car’s tires while the vehicle is moving. Although such an endeavour would seriously injure any would-be mechanic, Northrup, DFS’ director of change management and IT, is still standing.

In fact, you might say he’s standing tall. Recently Northrup accepted, on DFS’ behalf, an Award of Excellence in the Organizational Transformation category at the Canadian Information Productivity Awards (CIPA), for technology and business-process amendments his financial firm has undertaken.

DFS won the award for its “Helix” initiative — a wide-ranging project designed to change the way DFS deals with customers and data. It took years, and business never stopped — hence Northrup’s analogy to a constantly-moving vehicle. Helix delivered both cost savings and boost in revenue for Toronto-based DFS.

Although Helix in name is just about a year old, Helix in scope has been around for a lot longer, perhaps since 2001, when Northrup joined DFS. Back then the company struggled to convince consumers to finance Dell computer purchases. One of the biggest hurdles was the cumbersome sales process.

“When a customer calls, the average call time is very short for selling them a computer, but the time for selling finance could be moments or days,” Northrup said during an interview at the CIPA ceremony. “You have to get documents back. Credit adjudication may or may not happen on the spot; it might be four hours later.”

Part of the problem was a need to deal with two people: A sales rep for the purchase, and a DFS rep for financing. “We wanted to simplify that so there’s one call, one sale,” Northrup said. DFS sought to have Dell customer-service representatives to also provide loan creation services in order to streamline the entire sales procedure.

The solution was one part IT and one part business.

DFS brought a “signatureless” documentation process online, which replaces cursive signatures with a pass code — a combination that customers select while talking to Dell representatives. This key opened the door to e-mail document transfers, which eased loan creation.

Northrup said some of the kudos for the signatureless platform should go to Dejan Bogojevic, a systems architect at Silent Consulting Inc., and Bogdan Negreanu of Bitco Software Inc. Both were hired as DFS contractors.

“We’re not using a lot of the sexy drag-and-drop, object-oriented development,” Northrup said. “These two gentlemen are doing it old school, from the ground up.”

We’re talking line-by-line development here. “You get a much slimmer application,” said Negreanu.

In its Helix project, DFS also brought credit scoring (a process for loan financers to assess risk in financing) in-house and achieved $150,000 in annual savings — money that otherwise went to a third-party provider. Bogojevic and Negreanu built the homegrown system “in six days flat.” Northrup said.

DFS built a fraud adjudication engine to speed the credit approval process. According to Northrup, it was one of Helix’s most challenging aspects. It’s not easy to weed out false positives, particularly when some customer applications are simply too risky to decide by the use of technology. About 80 per cent of applications now go through the automated fraud adjudication system. “The other 20 per cent, we’re working on it,” Northrup said.

According to Maha Masees, DFS’ vice-president of finance and operations, all of these changes bolstered the company’s bottom line, as well as that of its main partner, Dell. These days, more Dell customers are choosing to finance their purchases, she said.

Northrup said DFS revenue increased 208 per cent, and the sales process is less cumbersome. The application documentation process takes seconds instead of days. So does, in most cases, credit and fraud adjudication. And the sales cycle is two minutes long, rather than 15 minutes.

All of the above helps explain Northrup’s title. Note that he’s not just director of IT, but director of change management and IT. He said the company may well operate on computers, but it’s the business processes that drive the enterprise. It’s no good to keep one side separate from the other. “Any time there’s a change in the business process, we’re part of that,” Northrup said, pointing out that business and IT go together like a mechanics and wrenches. “We’re not just working away in some corner.”

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