How Viva Energy solved integration problems to put customers first

The digital team at the Australian fuel provider built APIs that solve the business integration problems and helped to reshape the organisation’s interaction with its customers.

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Fuel provider Viva Energy Australia decided to embark on a digital transformation to bring its focus back to the customer experience, an effort which resulted in the digital team building APIs to solve integration problems and changing its development processes.

Viva Energy Australia was born after Vitol acquired Shell Australia’s downstream business in 2014, which included one of four refineries in the country. Viva Energy is the official Shell licensee in Australia and provides fuel for mining and transport. It has 1,200 service stations across the country and employs 700 people.

Addressing integration problems with APIs

When the organisation listed on the Australians Securities Exchange in 2016 it had already started to plan its digital transformation. The customer experience received special attention in 2017 after the organisation completed foundational work around integration, which resulted in the build of a “solid integration capability and platform”, says Viva Energy’s head of digital, Trond Abelseth—a “broad term for all kinds of data exchanges”.

Viva Energy built APIs for most of those integration needs, Abelseth tells Computerworld Australia. Using Red Hat Fuse, the APIs allow them to get information whenever they want, such as about customers or deliveries, not only as a response to requests but also for proactive customer interaction such as advising customers of their upcoming delivery status.

This integration enabled Viva Energy to refocus on the customer experience, which resulted in a new digital web framework to build customer facing online experiences and marketing automation. By automating the direct customer engagement, Abelseth says a “frictionless” experience was created across all lines of businesses, including Shell card, fuel, and lubricants, allowing business customers to self-service.

Keeping up with new tech within the budget

One of the key challenges when building new capabilities is that new technologies are always being launched. And that comes at a cost, such as the learning process to identify them, understand each one, understand how they work. and figure out the most cost-effective methods when architecting new solutions.

Cost is one consequence of choosing a solution, Abelseth says. Keeping an open mind helped and taught him a lot, especially that there are many options to solve a problem, especially when working in the cloud, so “we want to look at new ways to solve familiar problems.”

Moving components to a serverless computing architecture was one such test to see if that worked best for the organisation, he recalls. “We started with one way to solve a problem and realised, ‘Well, we can solve this problem in exactly the same way and maybe even better through maybe using serverless technologies for certain use cases’. And that was way more cost-effective for us.”

Another key point is understanding internal requirements and what is needed for each workload, for example, is it scalability or resilience that is more important? “It obviously depends on the workload, and some may need both or neither. Learning what is the most important, [be that] cost implications, what kind of technology to use, and what architecture will be the one for the workload that needs instant scalability. That is one of the key things,” he says.

Viva Energy has started to shift customer-facing workloads to the Microsoft Azure cloud. Viva has one private data centre in Geelong, but rather than moving its workloads to the cloud, Viva first started to build new workloads in the cloud, and then slowly began moving components and APIs.

Although Viva is using the Microsoft Azure cloud for some workloads, Abelseth says that he is looking at other providers for other things, and has started to work with Amazon Web Services and to explore hybrid cloud options.

“Don’t be afraid to adjust—that’s definitely something that we have found,” Abelseth says. “We test and learn on approach, products, and technology. Then we adjust when we see something doesn’t really work.”

Focus on people for better results

“We want to get closer to the customer,” Abelseth says. So, in their development work, the digital team begin the design with a product mindset and a customer-experience-first approach to understand the customer needs, which included building a customer-experience map to help the team to understand the components necessary to meet each specific need.

Systems containing customer data of use to the digital team is all accessible and connected so that everything can be found in one place. “Having a common language around our data is absolutely key for us. We can then combine different sources and services to understand our customer—either the customer themselves, or internal customers, [such as] salespeople or service representatives—who can then use that data to serve the customer better.”

The refocus on customer experience meant a shift of focus on staff, which included training on new technologies and training of architects. Viva Energy also hired people to fulfill their digital plans, including marketing automation specialists, full-stack developers, UX designers, and scrum masters. This saw the digital team grow from a team of four people to 20. With the right team, Viva Energy was able to make better use of its data to understand its customers.

Focusing on people also applies internally, Abelseth says. For example, he advises that teams find their own way of doing agile development to best use the agile methodology to suit the business. “Find your own flavour of agile.”

And empower your team. “One of the key things, I would say at the risk of being a bit of a cliché, is investing into people to own the problems and really come to the table and solve those,” he says.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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