On Oct. 28, 2021, Wheels, Inc. and Donlen LLC merged into one company. Athene, a major financial services company, is the new primary stakeholder of Wheels Donlen.
Wheels Donlen represents a highly complementary merger to allow a single entity to offer enhanced mobility solutions and fleet-related products and services. One top priority is to develop a common platform for the two merged companies, which currently operate on separate and independent platforms. After a six-month in-depth investigation involving a cross-functional group inside legacy Wheels and legacy Donlen that interviewed or surveyed more than 1,000 clients, Wheels Donlen developed its strategy to create a single-fleet platform. Shlomo Crandus, CEO of Wheels Donlen, spoke with AF Editor Mike Antich to provide more details on the strategy to create a new single platform. Below are excerpts from the interview, and the entire video interview can be seen here.
AF: During the six months following the merger announcement, a combined Wheels Donlen team has been busy developing a platform integration strategy and you’re now ready to discuss it. Can you give us a high-level overview before we discuss the details of the strategy?
CRANDUS: I’d love to talk about it. So if you think about it, we needed to decide how to implement our technology over the next few years. What we’re going to do is start with the Wheels architecture. We’re going to build into this architecture the more unique and high-value features from the Donlen system and will invest in one technology. And when you think about how technology evolves, when you zoom out five years, you have new technology anyway. And while we’re building this, we have commitments we’ve made to some clients on our legacy platform. We’re going to honor these high-value commitments that we’ve made.
I also want to talk about how we came to this decision. Over the past few months, we identified a cross-functional group of leaders inside legacy Wheels and legacy Donlen. They represent our operating areas, the IT area, and probably most important is our client experience areas. They were tasked to put together a plan to bring the two systems together. Then we interviewed 62 clients who are either super users of legacy Wheels’ FleetView or legacy Donlen’s FleetWeb systems. We also included clients who are already on both systems to get their feedback We surveyed over a thousand clients and took the results from all of this work to make our decision. We also completed side-by-side comparisons of the systems and heard from owners of individual products and processes. As we evaluated the platforms, we also reviewed processes that both companies use.
I can’t begin to communicate how much the teams cared about getting this right. The platform work has been a huge priority, and we have taken a significant amount of time to get to the right answer, and it hasn’t taken away from work that we do for clients. We’ve done a ton of work at night and on weekends. We’ve kept all of our staff from both companies so that we can focus on this integration.
AF: That’s a very comprehensive analysis that the cross-functional team conducted. What’s impressive is that it was developed in six months. Will there be new products and services that are going to be developed for this new platform?
CRANDUS: We’re always thinking about new products and services. The starting point for bringing new services to our clients is really putting in new products that either Wheels or Donlen have that the other didn’t. So we have products like our reimbursement product, garage management, and pool management.
We have different approaches to reporting that we’re going to build into our new platform and our strategy is to continue following our approach to invention that allows us to adapt to client needs and address client requests almost in real-time.
And while we’re executing our strategy, we’re going to continue listening to our clients because we know that we’re going to adapt. Part of it is going to be changing plans that we’ve already put in place. But part of the adaptation is because the world changes. And while we’re doing this, there will be new features that we’re going to need to build that we don’t see today or haven’t thought about today.
AF: When will clients start to migrate to the new platform?
CRANDUS: We’re going to be very intentional about the migration because we recognize that a change like this subjects clients and us to risk, and sometimes it makes people anxious.
I want to start out by saying nothing is changing today. And that relates to the technology. It also relates to the people who work with our clients. What we’re going to do first is focus on how we manage data at our two companies because as we migrate over, we want to make sure that the data looks the same and can still be analyzed both by us and by our clients.
We’re also going to make sure that the billing is consistent as we move to from one platform to the new platform. And we’re going to focus on high-value services once we’ve done the base work. Then we’ll start working with clients and migrating them over. I can tell you that we’ve had a handful of clients already raise their hands to say that they are ready to move over. In some cases, it’s clients who already operated on both Wheels and Donlen platforms. In other cases, it’s newer clients, and there are some third cases where clients looked at the market, they knew of some features that we have on FleetView, and they want to get that benefit.
AF: It’s an exciting time. So what’s next? Where do you go from here?
CRANDUS: Before I get to where we go from here, as we do move clients, we’re putting together a very extensive readiness approach that includes process maps and checklists. And our goal is to efficiently move clients over in a way where they’re not disrupted. It starts with training our own team members and training our clients. And then once we’re ready, we’ll be able to move clients over as quickly as possible.
Once we’ve done that, then we can think about where do we go from here. In a lot of ways, not much is going to change from a client perspective. We’re going to continue to work on client needs as normal. We’re going to focus on continued evolution and invention related to electric vehicles, connected vehicles, and better use of data to make decisions.
We’re going to have a separate transition management team that’s going to be focused on the integration so that our client-facing teams can continue focusing on clients the way they have for the last 57 years for legacy Donlen and 83 years for legacy Wheels. We will continue communicating with clients about new features and new processes, some of which will be related to the integration, while others won’t be related to the integration. They’ll be normal updates that we make all the time.
One thing that I should say is we will continue reinforcing our culture. That starts number one with client success, getting it right for our clients. Taking a long-term view and having fun as we deliver services and new thinking to our clients.
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