CRT Insight Feature: to Cloud or not to Cloud.....how SaaS is asking new questions in platform outsourcing

Fuel retailers have fuel card programs: end of. They squabble about whether they are commercial businesses run as part of a b2b portfolio, or whether they're a core part of a fuel retailing business (they're both, which is kinda the problem). Sometimes, they even set them up as standalone financial services businesses, pretending they know how to run a standalone financial services business (they don't). But - one way or another - they all have fuel card programs.

Well, sort of. Because, sooner or later the realisation dawns that a fuel card program is expensive. Or complicated. Or out-of-date. Or difficult to manage. Or infested with 1,274 homemade electronic data interfaces to other in-house systems which are, err, expensive, complicated, out of date and difficult to manage. Or, even, that Bob - who designed and set up the 1,274 interfaces - is leaving the company and nobody else knows how to work them. Oops.

 

So, you set up a project to define what the next generation solution should look like. You run an RFP. Different suppliers come and tell you how fab their software is, how it'll replace every one of the 1,274 interfaces and meet all your customers' needs. You choose a box, and hire a bunch of systems integrators to plug it in and play with it. Job done. Or is it?

 

A marriage not made in Heaven 

 

Just consider it: a global strategy firm advising a downstream energy giant in the selection and contracting of a heavy and complex piece of software to install and run on its own servers, all guided by a systems integrator managing the processes and the interfaces to core ERP and GL systems. These are big beasts locking antlers - some of them on time-based billing.

 

Is it any wonder that managing the project becomes the project? Is it any wonder that the labyrinthine complexity of such a process makes some of those fuel card businesses dream of the days of moderately complicated, out-of-date platforms and multiple interfaces. Come back, Bob - all is forgiven. Honest.

Don't take our word for it. You don't have to look far in Europe's metro stations to find people who've escaped the Shell-CGI-Fleetcor construct or the Esso-WEX-Radius party, staggering around in a daze, wondering what hit them and singing Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street" to themselves.

 

Why?

 

Traditionally, IT governance rules in large energy companies are pretty sacrosanct. The data are ours, the data are valuable, the data are confidential - and the data will sit on our servers and nowhere else. Regardless of the fact, for example, that third party acquiring and switching is well established and has been for years, data ownership and sanctity has been a sacred cow. Moo.

 

That's remained true even as it's become clear that keeping hold of data is one thing: managing and manipulating it cost-effectively, imaginatively and using it to create added customer value is a whole new ball game. There's little point having a whole bunch of jealously guarded data on your servers if you're not capable of doing anything useful with them.

 

So is the Cloud better at fuel transaction data? 

 

You know the volume and grade of fuel bought. You know the (supposed) odometer reading. You know what other products were bought on the card, and can separate them out. You may be able to identify the specific driver who made the transaction or the vehicle the fuel was put into. And - if we go a back a decade - knowing all that gave you a big advantage. Those data were valuable, powerful. They created a competitive edge and locked in customer loyalty.

 

Now? So what. The world has moved on apace. New tunes are going to be played with data which will mean proprietary fuel card stuff is only going to be worth anything when combined with intelligence coming from other sources: from GPS, from the telematics unit, from the driver's mobile phone, from the leasing company, from the pump, from completely different payment sources - you name it.

 

Will retailers want to be bothered with a closed-loop program for fuel cards and separate processes for B2C cards and other payment methods? Of course not. They'll want one bendy, super-capable gateway which can do the lot and switch the right transaction into the right place.

 

Now we can see the Cloud facilitating such multi-source data convergence effectively. But the more traditional self-hosted methodology? Get outta here - not happening.

 

"Jack be nimble, Jack be quick........"

 

What might ultimately move the whole shebang towards SaaS is the pace of transformation. 

 

After decades of tortoise-like sluggishness in real innovation and change, refuelling is starting to move fast. New and cleaner fuels (from LNG to hydrogen to electricity), new payment methods (from mobile payments to e-money to vehicle recognition) and brand new, converged offers as expense management firms enter the market and OEMs get stuck in to fuel and driver management - all of these will transform fuel payments faster than we expected.

 

Add to that a growth in the power of dealers - as majors sell off tranches of forecourts (or whole networks) and dealer groups consolidate - and you can expect those dealers to start looking for their own solutions - easy-to-manage payment and account processing which enables them to take back and retain their own commercial fuel customers.

 

Change will come fast and will not spare the cumbersome, the slow or the complacent. As it develops, the processing solutions which win will be those which are responsive and pliable. The providers who win will be those who permanently look ahead to re-engineer new releases and vibrant new functionality - keeping pace with market evolution.

 

At CRT we're not gamblers. But if we were, we know where our money would go.

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Over the coming weeks we'll continue to look at technological developments in our industry one-by-one and assessing the impact they will be having on Europe's fuel and fleet markets. Come back here every week to read more. Next week: "Fuel cards.......really? How long does plastic have left?"

 

To find out more about our work supporting companies in Europe's fuel and fleet markets, please visit our website at www.crt.europe.com.

 

To enquire about, or register an interest in our definitive report "Commercial Refuelling in Europe: Insight into Today, Outlook for Tomorrow" please contact us via the website link above or email me on npa@crt-europe.com. Intended to serve as a detailed guide for financial investors, a reliable tool for strategic marketers in the sector itself, and a handbook for new entrants and solutions providers, the report includes:

 

Insight into Today

Market size and growth, country by country

Structural segmentation of the market, and size of segments

Sale channel and channel margin analysis - segment by segment

In-depth look at today's competitive landscape (refiners, retailers, dealers/franchisees, independents, solutions providers)

Detailed look at Europe's Top 5 markets

Outlook for Tomorrow

Key trends driving market evolution

Internationalization: drivers, impact and implications

Digitalization: drivers, impact and implications

Outsourcing: drivers, impact and implications

Comparative strategic scenarios

The fuel payments market in 2022

 

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