This is one in a series of profiles of tech leaders named as a finalist for the 2019 ITAC CanadianCIO of Year Award. Fong was part of a Nov. 14 Town Hall discussion for finalists focused on the changing role of the CIO. The ITAC CanadianCIO of the Year winners will be announced Nov. 27 at the Ingenious Awards.
The data from at least three-quarters of a million cars are being tracked by coding that’s traced back to Alan Fong, chief technology officer of Dealer-FX. “The weight of the world is on my shoulders,” Fong jests.
Fong has been trusted to lead corporation after corporation with his insights, tech wizardry and business acumen. And each time he’s done so in a way that has exceeded expectations. The latest has been Toronto-based Dealer-FX, where he has been since mid-2019.
Founded in 2007, Dealer-FX is the exclusive or preferred service technology provider for a long list of known-brand car manufacturers and has more than 2,500 dealership clients.
Fong is responsible for innovation, research, development, building and testing for the company’s ONE Platform offering. Along with the Service Dashboard, it provides automotive dealers and consumers every detail at their fingertips: from initial contact, through drive-off, and services, and more.
“When a customer comes in for service, they are greeted with a greeter that has an iPad that shows everything about them, and their vehicle,” he explains.
In doing so, he says this builds trust between the customer and dealership, providing a transparent and convenient platform for all things related to the car.
“Right there, is an entire customer lifecycle journey for the owner.”
The program tracks the kind of driving the car does, for example, highway or suburban, and can determine what’s needed, and when, for the maintenance of the car.
“It is really more of a ‘customer insight’ that we are providing. We are providing the customer with more emotional satisfaction because they know, ‘Hey, I’m seeing this in your system in a use-friendly way’ –from the vehicle, last service, maintenance.
“We are operating in a sort of unique space right now, because not only are we helping the dealerships, but we have information from the dealerships, the vehicle owners, from the vehicles themselves because we connect with everyone,” he adds. “It’s sort of like we are the hub for information gathering. We have to know how to slice and dice the information.”
Overseeing some 150 colleagues – some in other parts of the world – he’s now crunching some 15 years of automotive data to provide better analytics, and eventually, his hope is to create artificial intelligence to predict more intuitively what a car will need well ahead of when it’s needed.
“I’m just so interested in the data. In all my years in automotive tech, the streaming data that comes through is so interesting. So, imagine you are driving your car from home to work. There is tons of data that’s available,” he explains.
“The future is here. There are cars – even GM and Ford that have their own platform where vehicles send data on a steady stream to that platform. They all share data with partners like us and dealerships. So, we get real-time insight into these vehicles.”
With two decades in the technology sector, Fong has helped other companies as well, in terms of robust, sustainable growth, and innovation.
Previously, Fong led Fleet Complete’s technology development and R&D teams. They became a leader in global connected vehicle technology largely due to his out of the box innovations.
Fong inspired a culture of forward-thinking technology and improvement while securing new partnerships and closing enterprise deals.
When Fong joined in 2017, the company had a traditional IT model, releasing new technology updates quarterly, without a modern DevOps culture or CI/CD processes. They had a mix of cloud and on-premise systems. It was Fong who introduced hyper-scale cloud providers such as AWS, to accelerate the frequency of product releases.
The modern cloud scalability enabled the company to increase its ability to serve more customers, as well as address the load and scale of larger enterprise customers. Fleet Complete initially was able to serve 20 million requests per day and was able to quickly scale to over 50 million requests per day, collecting over a billion data points. The major enabling factor behind this was the unification of environments to the cloud, having moved 60% of all environments to the cloud.
Eventually, Fleet Complete expanded its customer base, acquired more companies, and achieved almost triple the revenue.
Fong also mobilized the team to leverage 19 years of data, archived to be loaded up and utilized for machine learning and analytics. These changes helped the company grow from serving a handful of countries, to serving nearly twenty countries.
Today, they serve a half-million subscribers and in excess of 30,000 businesses. Many of the world’s largest vehicle manufacturers and tier-one suppliers, such as General Motors and Mitsubishi leverage Fleet Complete’s connected vehicle platform, CONNVEX, to bring commercial-grade telematics solutions to their customers.
Meanwhile, Fong is already preparing for the next steps with Dealer-FX, and these will be exciting times ahead. “The next challenge will be getting the platform to scale appropriately. There aren’t problems yet, but we need foresight to get ready for expanded growth, and that’s my next big thing here.” Given his successes, it’s sure to be ‘the next big thing’ indeed.