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Inchcape Automotive Services Ltd


Integrated Microsoft Technologies Bring Wide Ranging Benefits to International Automotive Services Group



Inchcape plc is an international automotive services group with over 10,000 employees, operating in the UK, Europe and Asia. In the UK Inchcape have three main businesses: Inchcape Retail, Inchcape Fleet Solutions and Inchcape Automotive (IA). Its main manufacturer partners are Toyota/Lexus, BMW, the Premier Automotive Group of Ford, Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz. Following the acquisition of Eurofleet, Inchcape re-branded the business ‘Inchcape Automotive’ and implemented a wide reaching overhaul of its IT systems in order to prepare for the next phase of its development. A combination of technologies, including Microsoft .NET and Microsoft Business Solutions-Navision have given Inchcape Automotive greater control of its systems, information and assets, enabling it to realise significant operational and financial efficiencies and to enhance its service to its customers.


IA employs around 1,000 people on 12 sites throughout the UK and provides specialised services in the preparation of new vehicles and the refurbishment, storage and transportation of ex-fleet vehicles that are re-entering the market. Its customers include a number of the most well-known vehicle manufacturers, rental companies, fleet customers and retail customers.

Prior to the adoption of its new Microsoft-based management information system, IA was using a mixture of bespoke solutions across different parts of its business. This caused a number of problems and made it difficult to assess the real profitability of individual jobs and specific contracts.

From delivery timescales, quality of the finished product and how the finished vehicle is presented;
IA's customers demand high levels of service and flexibility and it is absolutely critical IA meets those standards. For example, the car rental companies have very high demand during the summer months but not so much during the winter time. The car manufacturers, by comparison, have high peaks in March and September when we see registration changes.

In an industry where margins are tight and competitors are a constant concern, IA knew it had to invest in its IT systems to stay ahead of the game. Peter Wilson, Group Information Systems Director for Inchcape plc, explains how important this investment is to IA: “Technology is absolutely critical to us. The demands of our customers means that we have to be able to work with them, link our business processes with theirs and ensure the free flow of information from company to company in a real-time manner. We needed a system, which could deliver a high quality of information for the decision makers in various operations. We also have to be able to take out of our own business any costs and non value adding activities, and this technology has really helped us to reduce those costs, particularly in the administration areas.“



The problems IA was encountering were related to the IT systems it had in use. But at the heart of IA was a series of proven operational methods that had helped the company to become highly successful and it was vital that the implementation of a new IT system did not eradicate any of these core strengths. Peter Wilson explained: “We had ambitious plans to capitalise on our successes at IA. It was clear that the existing systems were a barrier to growth and could no longer cope. We researched the market to assess suitable offerings. We needed a totally integrated flexible world class solution that could meet our needs both now and in the future.”

IA uses Windows XP®, Office XP®, Windows Server 2000®, SQL Server 2000®, Exchange Server 2000®. When the time came to investigate the alternatives for a management information system this made the selection of Microsoft Business Solutions-Navision® even more appealing; it would integrate with existing IA technology and would offer users a familiar Microsoft look and feel that would ease adoption across the organisation.

IA selected Microsoft Gold Certified Partner, Anglia Business Solutions to implement the Microsoft Navision system, to integrate it with existing systems and make it available to 240 users across the organisation. The core solution consists of the powerful Microsoft Navision financial, CRM, human resources and payroll modules. Anglia also developed modules for yard & storage tasks, as well as pre-delivery inspection, workshop, and parts inventory management. Underpinning the whole system a unique user configurable workflow engine delivers the business logic. The system captures all of the details associated with each vehicle: make, model derivative, colour, trim, fuel type, VIN number, registration, build specification, production date, registration date, mileage, customer specific number and agreement reference. It also tracks every process carried out on the vehicle, facilitating reliable management information reporting and ensuring accurate invoicing for all work carried out on each vehicle.

screenshot of IAS workshop menu in Dynamics NAV

Fig 1: Workshop Menu

All applications seamlessly integrate with the financial system to monitor and report on every cost and revenue aspect of the business. Mobile access to the system is facilitated via handheld devices running Windows CE.NET. The complete solution is deployed on Windows 2000 clustered HP servers using Citrix technology to deliver a secure enterprise wide thin client solution. The server infrastructure is hosted at a remote Internet Service Provider site with user access facilitated through a Virtual Private Network.

Peter Wilson outlines what this meant to IA: "We needed a flexible solution capable of handling any contract conditions incorporated by our automotive customers, which includes major motor manufacturers, car rental and leasing companies. This had to be totally user definable rather than hard coded, which would otherwise have required our people to be involved in the system programming. The workflow engine developed by Anglia meets this requirement superbly. Our Microsoft Navision solution will give us clear visibility of customer profitability, contract profitability and site profitability; information that was impossible to get with our old legacy systems. With that information, that visibility, the management of IA will be able to deliver high quality business going forward."


The total project has cost IA in the region of £3 million and is expected to give a return on investment within two years. In fact, the business benefits are already starting to make their presence felt. The most immediate benefit IA has seen is in terms of working capital control and debtor days, which have come down in the order of 30% to date.

Not only has IA seen significant tangible benefits, it has been able to share some of these gains with its customers, Peter Wilson says: "Within IA we had legacy systems that meant that every site had to have its own admin function to control the vehicles based within each of those operations. Now, with our latest developments we are able to centralise administration and significantly eat into the running costs. This means that from our customers' perspective not only have we been able to improve the service that we deliver but we’ve actually been able to make significant cost savings."

The new system will also enable IA to identify its most profitable contracts and those which are not as profitable. This will better facilitate contract negotiations as well as providing IA with the ability to configure its workflow to suit an individual customer's requirements, thereby offering greatly enhanced customer service. From this has come the means to track the location and status of every vehicle being worked on, which gives IA a greater level of control over its invoicing.

It is easy to see that for IA all technology investments have been business driven; there has been a clear business rationale for its spending decisions and the results are plain to see. The key business challenges that have driven recent decisions on technology at IA have been related to the need to react quickly to market conditions and customer demands, enabling IA to develop new service offerings to retain existing customers and attract new ones. Another key challenge for IA has been to differentiate its services from its competitors. One way in which this has been addressed has been in the development of real-time links with its manufacturer partners, which enabled IA to move vehicles through the supply chain at a far higher rate. This is one area where systems developments can clearly be seen to have helped a business stay ahead of its competition. Peter Wilson puts this into focus: "We need to be able to react to our customers demands over a very short time period, and by that I mean three to six months; gone are the days when we could spend a couple of years developing and implementing systems."

He concludes: "This technology has enabled us to grow our business. We've been able to develop new business models that our customers have bought into. We’ve also been able to use this technology to provide additional services to our existing customers, and in that way we feel that our ability to retain those customers has been greatly enhanced. Internally we’ve used the technology to re-engineer our business processes and this in turn has led to improvements in the services we provide our customers. There has also been a major impact on our cost basis, in as much as we are now operating far more efficiently than we ever used to."

Software and Services:

Microsoft Business Solutions-Navision®
Microsoft BizTalk® Server
Microsoft SQL™ Server
Microsoft Windows XP®
Microsoft Office XP®
Microsoft Windows Server 2000®
Microsoft Exchange Server 2000®
Microsoft Visual C#


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