Sofico Eyes U.S. Market to Advance ERP Software Solutions

Jan, Tell us about Sofi­co.

Sofi­co is pri­vate­ly held com­pa­ny based in Bel­gium. We have devel­oped soft­ware solu­tions for car leas­ing com­pa­nies for 26 years. Typ­i­cal cus­tomers are ALD, GE and cap­tive finance com­pa­nies. We devel­op, main­tain and mar­ket our soft­ware, Miles. We have cus­tomers all over the globe — var­i­ous Euro­pean coun­tries, Aus­tralia and New Zealand as well as Japan and South Africa. We have our first cus­tomer in the Unit­ed States and are look­ing to fur­ther devel­op the U.S. mar­ket.

Your glob­al reach is impres­sive; tell us more about your soft­ware solu­tions.

The basis for our suc­cess is the fact that we focus on one par­tic­u­lar niche mar­ket, car leas­ing. We began in 1988 with our first solu­tion, which was called Lease­base. It is now at the end of its life and we have our new­er prod­uct, Miles. Miles is a sort of ERP sys­tem for leas­ing com­pa­nies cov­er­ing the whole life­cy­cle of a leas­ing con­tract, from the con­fig­u­ra­tion of the vehi­cle at the start of the quo­ta­tion process, all the way through to the remar­ket­ing of the vehi­cle after con­tract ter­mi­na­tion and all of the process­es in between. The reg­is­tra­tion, report­ing — even the gen­er­al ledger — is includ­ed in the sys­tem.

Miles is ful­ly inte­grat­ed but is based on open stan­dards and the most recent tech­nolo­gies. I always men­tion how a lot of com­pa­nies are still work­ing with sys­tems that are 20–30 years old and were devel­oped before the Inter­net. Peo­ple some­times laugh but it makes a huge dif­fer­ence. Miles was devel­oped in 2001–2004, so we are ful­ly inte­grat­ed. The web front office and mobile apps we offer run on the same data­base as the back office.

What are your plans for the U.S.?

I came over here a cou­ple of years ago and decid­ed quite quick­ly that it was not yet the right time for us to enter the U.S. mar­ket. Now,  I have the impres­sion that things are pick­ing up and I think the tim­ing is right. We have our first U.S. client, but it is nev­er good to have only one client in a very big region so we are now try­ing to expand our pres­ence. Our first step is to get an under­stand­ing of how busi­ness in the U.S. is dif­fer­ent from Europe. At the end of the day we are in the same busi­ness but some details are very dif­fer­ent, just like Aus­tralia works dif­fer­ent­ly from Europe. I am try­ing to gain some insight into the mar­ket and com­mon prac­tices in order to ‘Amer­i­can­ize’ our sys­tem and fine-tune it to the specifics of the U.S. mar­ket.

What makes Sofico’s soft­ware solu­tions unique?

I think Sofico’s unique posi­tion lies in the fact that many leas­ing com­pa­nies today, main­ly the very big leas­ing com­pa­nies, have very old sys­tems. Actu­al­ly, they don’t have just one old sys­tem; they have a patch­work of lega­cy sys­tems. These are all con­nect­ed to each oth­er which make it dif­fi­cult to main­tain, but even more dif­fi­cult to bring new prod­ucts and ser­vices to the mar­ket in a cost effec­tive and time­ly man­ner. I believe that, today, soft­ware sys­tems for the leas­ing mar­ket have become almost a com­mod­i­ty. With Miles, we can deliv­er that basic lay­er, the com­mod­i­ty, to all leas­ing com­pa­nies.

On the oth­er hand, the cus­tomer expe­ri­ence is becom­ing more impor­tant. That is some­thing which we can joint­ly devel­op with our cus­tomers or which our cus­tomers can do by them­selves based on the back office sys­tem that we pro­vide. I don’t think there is any added val­ue any­more in leas­ing com­pa­nies devel­op­ing their own sys­tem from scratch. It is basic; it is almost the same for every­body. It is all about pur­chas­ing a vehi­cle, fund­ing that vehi­cle and adding ser­vices. Whether you look to Aus­tralia, to Japan, to the States or to Europe, it is all about the same busi­ness. As I said though, there are sub­tle dif­fer­ences.

Japan­ese leas­ing com­pa­ny Ichi­nen recent­ly select­ed Sofi­co to imple­ment Miles. How did this trans­ac­tion with Ichi­nen come about?

One of Sofico’s strate­gic objec­tives is to grow, both in vol­ume and geo­graph­i­cal­ly. There­fore, we con­duct­ed some mar­ket research from our Aus­tralian office. While the mar­ket in Aus­tralia is quite small, we have a very big share of that mar­ket. So, we looked at growth sce­nar­ios based out of Aus­tralia, focus­ing on the Asia Pacif­ic region. We vis­it­ed a num­ber of coun­tries and at the end of the day, Japan seemed the most mature mar­ket and there was a very big need for mature, ful­ly inte­grat­ed sys­tems.

One of the specifics of the Japan­ese mar­ket is a reliance on old lega­cy sys­tems. As a result, a lot of things are done man­u­al­ly, so a ful­ly inte­grat­ed sys­tem like Miles can be suc­cess­ful over there. Obvi­ous­ly, there is a big chal­lenge because of the lan­guage. You have to speak Japan­ese. There is no way to con­duct busi­ness in Eng­lish, so sup­port from Bel­gium or Aus­tralia is lim­it­ed. For Sofi­co, this was a very big invest­ment. Both in terms of mon­ey and effort because every­thing from mar­ket­ing mate­ri­als, Miles itself, the train­ing mate­ri­als, every­thing had to be trans­lat­ed into Japan­ese.

We built up very good con­tacts with a num­ber of prospects as well as the Japan­ese Fleet Asso­ci­a­tion and, after about one year, to our very first cus­tomer in Japan, Ichi­nen. Ichi­nen is a fleet of about 100,000 con­tracts and it is one of the top ten play­ers in the Japan­ese mar­ket.

What sorts of trends are you see­ing in the glob­al mar­ket­place?

Actu­al­ly I don’t see very many glob­al trends but I do see some very spe­cif­ic trends in Europe. A very impor­tant one is mobil­i­ty. Com­pa­ny car providers are mov­ing away from a bud­get that is cen­tered on a car and instead focus­ing on a bud­get that is cen­tered on a per­son. In this case, an employ­ee has a mobil­i­ty bud­get instead of a com­pa­ny car. This bud­get can be used towards pub­lic trans­port, taxis, rent­ing a car, scoot­er or a bicy­cle and so on, depend­ing on the need of each trip. I think that in the U.S., cer­tain­ly in big cities, mobil­i­ty could also be a solu­tion to help alle­vi­ate con­ges­tion prob­lems. How­ev­er, I under­stand that the U.S. is a very big coun­try and I don’t think mobil­i­ty will be rel­e­vant for the rest of the coun­try.


Jan Bouck­aert is Busi­ness Devel­op­ment Man­ag­er at Bel­gium-based Sofi­co. Jan has over 25 years of expe­ri­ence in the inter­na­tion­al leas­ing and fleet man­age­ment indus­try. He uses his exper­tise to help Sofi­co real­ize its strate­gic objec­tives.





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