Following a comprehensive, complex and challenging six years of diversification, Eqstra Fleet Management (EFM) is on the verge of seeing the fruits of its hard labours across Africa.
THE FULL RANGE OF SOLUTIONS
Initially beginning operations back in 1984 in South Africa’s prime car leasing space, the global economic crisis of 2008 presented the Company with both an unprecedented challenge to stay afloat, and adversely, an opportunity – through necessity – to reinvent itself.
The subsequent overhaul of its previous business model and structure has been a long, and sometimes painstaking, process but with the balance of the organisation now more evenly distributed across the full plethora of car fleet management services than ever before, and with a new automated system set to swing the market in Eqstra’s favour even further, the business is now basking in the light at the end of the tunnel.
“In 2008, through the global financial crisis, there was a lot of pressure on us and how we were going to be a sustainable Company, so we sat down and changed our business model in response to it,” recalls Eqstra Fleet Management’s Managing Director (MD), Murray Price. “Since then we’ve grown from being primarily a leasing Company with only a bit of background services and managed maintenance included, to pretty much a 50-50 split between leasing and service divisions.
“We’ve done very well to get that balance in six years, following the example of partners we saw elsewhere in the world who walked the financial crisis as a result of their own flexible service offering.”
Turning adversity into opportunity is a rose-tinted view on the hard work and challenges encountered by the Company during this period, but is nevertheless applicable now that the new model is in place; a model which gives its customers – both old and new – a unique market proposition as a result of its turnkey, integrated solutions.
Price continues: “A lot of the past six years has been about following our gut – which can be dangerous – but it was always a sense of knowing our own pain, and therefore the pains that our customers would be experiencing also.
“People were used to the old way but can now see exactly where they are in the process because the visibility is there. This is where the integrated solutions came in, and where the new system will also help, in comprising all data together in one place.
“This is what we believe will produce future value and is our unique differentiator in the market; providing the full range of services in a single platform.”
This consequential single point of access to the full range of fleet solutions is the end result of a strategy which was put in place to not only find new revenue streams, but to alleviate the similar industry struggles of customers and suppliers in the process.
Complementing its bread and butter leasing arm now is an array of fleet solutions, risk solutions, tracking solutions and remarketing services which cater for all administrative, licensing, fuel management, driver management, vehicle efficiency and maintenance requirements; engraining the very latest global trends, technologies and solutions into the portfolio in each case.
Price explains: “In a way, we were lucky that 2008 forced us into a position where we had to change, and a lot of the change has been achieved through acquisition.
“For aspects like tracking and insurance, which are challenging, we’ve been able to bring in the required expertise and resources, knowing that if we don’t have the answer to a particular problem, then somebody else will.”
The integrated solutions model that has ultimately manifested incorporates all areas – both acquired and established internally – to address customers’ needs in areas of finance, maintenance, insurance, accident management, fuel and tracking; not only as separate data reports, but under one analytical report designed to help said customers gauge their own costs and statistics more effectively.
“We do a lot of front-end consulting too, which helps us begin relationships that we hope to build upon in the future through our integrated solutions,” Price adds. “What we end up with is a model where customers get everything from us, with the benefit of visibility and, most importantly, consistency.”
The principle behind the concept of offering integrated solutions is to take away the challenges of dealing with multiple suppliers before applying the data attained from each to their fleets.
However, in taking on the one-stop shop tag instead, Eqstra Fleet Management has similarly taken on the strains of all facets, storing them in what was understandably an unprepared system.
The new ERP system worked on over the years has therefore been an eagerly-awaited and highly necessary addition to the Company’s repertoire, and is symbolically – if not literally – the final string to the Eqstra Fleet Management bow following the past six years’ efforts.
“Our new system, Quest is built on Microsoft AX 2012 and addresses the challenge of handling all the new services that we’ve added over the past six years,” Price says. “It has been a significant investment of between US$15 million and US$20 million but we believe, once it has landed, it will be a complete game-changer.
“We’re not even live with it yet, but we’ve had customers in Europe and the US already telling us that they’ve never seen anything like it. It’s an amazing concept and completely different from the approach taken in the past.”
The system will facilitate each customer having its own profile kept on record, where all master agreements, transactions and service histories are kept and stored in an easy-to-use database, ensuring unrivalled automation, consistency and security throughout the management of each and every partnership.
“Ultimately, we will have more control of providing the service we have committed to,” Price emphasises.
An additional benefit of having a centralised operating system comes in the form of enhancing efficiencies; something which Eqstra Fleet Management has been a firm champion for during an evolution which has recently seen it go entirely paperless.
With the aid of a document management system, everything is generated, stored and updated digitally, once again emphasising the reliance on advanced technologies that the Company is dedicated to.
“From the new system perspective, it came about after taking a long hard look at what cost us money in the business, before investing significantly into how we could improve our own efficiencies,” Price notes. “This has also been the case through investments in a customer portal, supplier portal and smartphone apps which encourage the customers to actually do a lot of their own work.”
Not to be misconstrued as a hardship, the majority of customers and suppliers are more than happy to skip the middle man and input information safely and directly – knowing that the risks attached are reduced greatly – but have never truly been given a platform to do so in the past.
They similarly then have their own easy access to update and change facets of their offering in real time, with EFM’s app geared towards service scheduling, driver management, vehicle inspections and technical repair inspections, amongst other things.
“An allowance user is also one of the most exciting of the new products, optimising that side of the process for customers and suppliers; acting as a virtual dealership where they can log in and find all the necessary specifications and prices for their fleet,” Price continues. “It also opens up the opportunity to do the same for all of our risk products, like our fleet tracking for example.
“We give customers their own customisable service and maintenance plans, and tax them at source, rather than them going to a dealer to get someone else to source it.
“We see this as an exciting opportunity and the feedback on allowances so far has been amazing. Customers get better deals, the service is there, and we’re now making money in an area we weren’t previously involved in.”
Despite being present across much of the SADC region for the best part of two decades, further international growth and influence is one factor expected to manifest as a result of the technological unveilings and structural evolution of Eqstra Fleet Management.
Leveraging international partnerships, the Company has been able to fast-forward to what it perceives as the optimum solutions most sought-after in the market, and this strategy is already paying off, with customers willing to go through their own transitions to find more effective ways of managing their fleets.
“There is always pain in change but we have a much better, more transparent model now, and our plan is to now expand geographically alongside the new system when it comes in,” Price says. “We wanted that to be working smoothly before we drove into Africa, but with the new system allowing us to work with a completely new methodology, we will be able to quickly take our learnings into new countries.”
Complementing the business’s traditional footprint of South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland and Zambia will be re-established offices in Kenya and Tanzania, as well as already earmarking clients in Mozambique, Nigeria and, in the longer-term, Ghana.
Establishing a full branch and country manager in each operating country, Africa is by no means the limit either, with the quality and extent of service also more than prepared to tackle international markets via existing business partnerships and inevitable market demand.
“Customers are finding various operators but no one-stop shop for managed services in places like Europe and also in Brazil, South America or Mexico, where there would be opportunities to take our services,” Price concludes. “There will also be opportunities in the Middle East, China and India due to the services and systems we now have in our repertoire that allow us to work at very sophisticated levels.
“The world has completely changed over the past six years, but with the right technology and the right focus, there are so many more opportunities than there were in the past.”