• March 4, 2024
Driving Scale Through Automation

For much of its history, the auto retailing industry was hyperlocal. Car and truck dealerships were locally owned “mom-and-pop” shops, so the businesses tended to be small and uncomplicated. In recent years, though, several companies have established huge networks of brick-and-mortar along with digital ecommerce technology, growing organically and acquisitively into Fortune 500 organizations.

Lithia Motors, Inc.—doing business as Lithia & Driveway—began its history as one of those locally owned small businesses when it opened in 1946 as a single dealership in southern Oregon (where it remains headquartered today). Today, it operates more than 350 stores in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. and employs more than 20,000 people. It is currently the largest seller of new-vehicles in the U.S. and is consolidating the largest automotive retail network globally.

Inspired by its mission Growth Powered by People, Lithia & Driveway’s various business units have evolved and inherited hundreds of manual processes that keep the organization afloat. As growth has accelerated, the push to modernize those processes has become more important, according to Lance Howell, Lithia & Driveway’s financial information systems manager.

“We’ve grown significantly through acquisitions over the last few years and it’s been an inflection point for us to evaluate our current processes and understand how we’re doing things today,” Howell explains. “As we did that, it became apparent that our ability to automate and improve internal processes have become a business-critical area. As we’ve worked through that growth stage, and are now doing the same processes with a larger store count, it has pushed us to consider and implement more automation.”

Getting Off the Line

Howell says Lithia’s finance and accounting teams engaged in a period of cost-benefit analysis in an effort to evaluate intelligent automation providers and how those providers would perform automating some of the processes they had identified as likely candidates for automation. They chose Power Automate because, among other factors, it easily integrated with Lithia’s internal network and cloud infrastructure, which were also provided by Microsoft.

According to Heather Richardson, product manager for the financial information system at Lithia, one of the early successes that enabled her to become a company-wide champion for automation software was a simple process that downloaded the thousands of invoices downloaded daily by the accounting and finance department from sales of cars at Lithia-owned dealerships around the world. It cut the time required to process those invoices in half, making Richardson a believer.

“Automation is fairly new for us. We’re still figuring out how best we can make it work for our company,” Richardson notes. “But we have done demonstrations for our finance and accounting teams where we have shown them what has been and is being built, to get those teams thinking about their current processes and about how the software can benefit them. How can we help you remove the manual components?”

Another exercise she has her teams doing is thinking about processes that don’t exist yet, but could with automation.

“Doing these demonstrations, showcasing those items and asking teams to think in a future oriented way has been very successful for us.”

Getting Up To Speed

Automation knowledge and expertise doesn’t just appear, even if you’ve identified the benefits and started implementing a strategy. Richardson says Lithia’s development team is excited about the opportunities to build automations, but some on the team don’t have experience with the technology. The company is working with BHFE Solutions—a consulting partner Lithia engaged to fill the gaps while internal staff builds that expertise.

“They definitely have been a good source for training,” she explains. “We certainly want to nurture our internal developers and give them the opportunity to gain experience. We also have processes that are super complex, and we use BHFE in those instances where we need these complex processes built quickly. We can grow our internal team and utilize BHFE to do more complex stuff until we’re ready as a company to do it on our own.”

As Lithia continues on its automation journey, Howell says it’s not necessary to hit a home run—from an ROI standpoint—right at the beginning. Automating simple processes—getting a few small wins at the beginning—is his biggest piece of advice for companies exploring intelligent automation technology.

“Identify the right processes first,” he says. “Make sure the processes you’re looking to automate are ones you can successfully implement instead of the ones that might have the highest return. Our first focus was just to be, not necessarily cautious, but calculated when starting out. Taking your time up front can kind of save a lot more difficulties later on.”


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