CIO50 2018 #26-50: Vinnie D’Alessandro, Silver Chef
In 1995, ten years after the company was founded, Silver Chef launched a funding solution called Rent-Try-Buy, to enable small businesses to procure hospitality equipment without the need for a large upfront capital outlay.
Since then, Silver Chef has listed on the Australian Securities Exchange; expanded to New Zealand and Canada; and helped more than 33,530 people realise their business dreams.
As the company tells potential customers: “Start living your dream today. We have your equipment funding sorted.”
The firm continues to innovate in order to help its customers, be they restaurants, baristas, café-owners, small business owners or builders. Customer experience is key.
In early 2016, the Silver Chef technology team – under the leadership of head of technology Vinnie D’Alessandro – ran a session to “reimagine our online approval form to improve the customer experience”.
The form was a complex document that required up to 98 pieces of personal and business information in order to apply for finance.
“This data would then be manually reviewed by our customer services team to approve the customer for finance,” D’Alessandro explains.
In 2016, a proof of concept was stood up to create an Online Pre-Approval with the goal of delivering a provisional approved finance decision based on only 10 pieces of data.
A real-world trial took place at a Fine Food event where the company processed 36 applications of which 14 received automated pre-approvals.
“This was the genesis for the Silver Chef Online Application project and delivered us key learnings that would aid the development of an enhanced platform with greater capabilities,” D’Alessandro says.
The result is Silver Chef Online Application, released this year, which enables Silver Chef customers to receive approval for credit in less than two minutes and without human intervention.
The platform, which is built Salesforce Sales and Community Clouds, integrating with multiple applications and data providers, was designed to be used by Silver Chef partners, hospitality equipment dealers, as well as internal customer service staff.
The application form has a bespoke business logic engine that takes collected data points and makes an automated credit decision based on our internal risk policies and historic customer data analysis, while security verification for customers is done via email and SMS.
The business benefits have been significant. With fast approvals, equipment is able to be funded in less than 10 minutes, and settlement times have reduced by 20 per cent in Australia, and 48 per cent in Canada. Data quality and visibility has also improved leading to better insights of the company’s credit decisioning process. Leveraging the same architecture, the Online Application will be rolled out to the New Zealand based business in the new year.
But rolling out technology isn’t in and of itself a measure of success, D’Alessandro says.
“The success of technology is not measured by the products, platforms or equipment delivered, it’s measured by the capability it offers its customers, partners and people,” he explains.
Silver Chef Online Application has had an undeniable “cultural impact” within the organisation.
“Automated approvals have freed up our customer service teams to focus on analysing referred applicants; those that didn’t receive instant approvals. These require a human decision-making process that assesses our customer’s potential rather than just financial history,” D’Alessandro says.
“We have also seen the relationship with our dealers evolve from a transactional nature to a more collaborative partnership model.”
Within D’Alessandro’s small, highly skilled team, the focus is on “business outcomes not just technology".
"The focus has also been on leveraging strong strategic partnerships with vendors such as Salesforce and SaaS focus to deliver a market leading technology capability for the hospitality industry,” he says.
To that end, the technology function hired three staff from non-technology roles elsewhere in the company who “have become integral members of our team” D’Alessandro says.
”We’ve also seen opportunities for members of our technology team to apply their skills in other areas of the company”.
“We are focusing on business-led transformation, rather than seeing the evolution of the business purely from a technology aspect,” D’Alessandro says.
“To be successful in a technology leadership role, you need to have a strong grasp of the commercial and cultural aspects that make the business tick. Without this knowledge of the inner workings of the corporation, you’ll be focusing on technology outcomes rather than business outcomes and customer experience,” he adds.