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The series: We look at decision makers among Canada’s mid-sized companies who took successful action in a competitive global digital economy.

Want to create a quote for equipment financing in a few seconds instead of several minutes? There’s now an app for that.

Last December, National Leasing Group Inc. launched an app that its partner dealers can use to quote financing rates to customers who want to lease equipment – whether that’s a farm tractor, a bulldozer, or a blood analyzer for a medical clinic.

National Leasing Group Inc. created the industry’s first quote-building tool that provides variable pricing based on the type of equipment and an industry’s risk profile. The app also lets dealers pull up reports on their customers’ equipment portfolio and see which machines are coming to the end of their lease, creating a sales opportunity. National Leasing’s Joel Druwe (above): The decision to invest in a new app was backed by market research. (Photo courtesy of National Leasing)

The Winnipeg-based financing services provider had been looking for ways to ease the sales and financing process for its countrywide network of equipment dealers. So at the start of 2015, it pulled out eight employees from different departments and created a team to brainstorm ideas.

“They were given a challenge: to build a technology product that would make it easier for our vendors to deal with us,” recalls Joel Druwe, director of marketing and communications at National Leasing, which has about 350 employees across Canada. “As soon as the idea for the app was presented, we acted on it – we assembled a team to build it and do the development.”

The result: the industry’s first quote-building tool that provides variable pricing based on the type of equipment and an industry’s risk profile. The app earned National Leasing a technology award last summer from the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association. In addition to building quotes, the National Leasing app allows dealers to build and tap into a customer and quote database, says Mr. Druwe.

“They can create a history of the quotes they generated, so if a customer comes in looking for a Bobcat [tractor] and you don’t hear from him for a couple of weeks, then you can call and follow up,” he says.

By making technology a core part of their business, companies can reduce operating costs, meet the needs of millennial customers, and avoid getting blindsided by innovative disruptors in their market, according to Rahul Kohli, a Calgary-based partner and consultant at PwC Canada.(Photo: violetkaipa/ Getty Images/ iStockphoto)

The app also lets dealers pull up reports on their customers’ equipment portfolio and see which machines are coming to the end of their lease.

“That’s a sales opportunity,” says Mr. Druwe, who notes that building the app took the good part of a year and a six-figure dollar investment. “We’re now giving dealers access to that information so they can reach out to their customers again and potentially put them into a new piece of equipment.”

Like virtually all forward-thinking companies, National Leasing recognized the important role of technology as a business driver, notes Rahul Kohli, a Calgary-based partner and consultant at PwC Canada.

By making technology a core part of their business, companies can reduce operating costs, meet the needs of millennial customers, and avoid getting blindsided by innovative disruptors in their market, says Mr. Kohli.

In past years, it’s generally been harder for mid-sized companies to make significant technology investments because they didn’t have the nimbleness of small companies or the deep pockets of large corporations, he adds.

“But in recent years, what we see happening all across the country as cloud-based technology has become more accessible, more simple and more cost-effective is that technology is more readily being adopted,” says Mr. Kohli. “This is especially the case in small and mid-sized businesses, which, unlike large businesses, don’t have to worry about existing infrastructure that might weigh them down.”

Regardless of their size, companies looking to make significant tech investments face a number of risks: Projects that take longer than expected to finish may no longer be suitable or relevant by the time they’re rolled out, and the employees or customers who are meant to use them may be reluctant to give up their old way of doing things, says Mr. Kohli.

“That’s why you need to have strong business leadership throughout the project, with key subject matter experts who are given the appropriate amount of time to devote to the project,” he says. “Change management should also be a key part of the project because processes will be redesigned and people need to be comfortable doing things differently once the new technology is launched.”

It’s important to make sure the new technology is viewed by everyone in the company as a business improvement project and not strictly an IT project, according to Darryl Deen, chief executive officer of Toronto-based IT solutions provider D-Tech Consulting Inc. Any decision to invest in technology should be based on a solid understanding of the business problem the technology is meant to address, adds Mr. Kohli. (Photo: Volodymyr Grinko/Thinkstock)

Darryl Deen, chief executive officer of Toronto-based IT solutions provider D-Tech Consulting Inc., says it’s a good idea to have a project advisory board that includes key clients and other external parties who might be future users of the new technology.

“Get their input on how they would apply the technology,” says Mr. Deen. “This gives you a rich collective of ideas, plus now you’ve got their buy-in on the technology and they’ll be more willing to use it.”

It’s important to make sure the new technology is viewed by everyone in the company as a business improvement project and not strictly an IT project, adds Mr. Deen. This is why it’s good to get employees from different parts of the company involved, as National Leasing did with its quote-building app.

Mr. Kohli at PwC says any decision to invest in technology should be based on a solid understanding of the business problem the technology is meant to address. While that may seem like common sense, not all companies approach tech projects with a clear purpose.

“Sometimes organizations decide to make a technology investment because they’ve heard about this great app or tool, or they’re trying to keep up with what their competitors are doing,” says Mr. Kohli. “But they’re not really looking at what their organization needs and how the technology will impact their business – will it create efficiencies or get them a greater share of their customers’ wallets?”

At National Leasing, the decision to invest in a new app was backed by market research, including conversations with dealers and employees, says Mr. Druwe. While it’s too early to gauge the impact of its new app on sales, National Leasing now boasts more than 250 users on its new tech platform, which Mr. Druwe says generates between $30-million to $40-million in quotes each month.

National Leasing continues to improve its app and has plans to link it directly to an automated credit screening and approval system.

“We’re betting the future on this,” says Mr. Druwe. “With the next generation joining the work force and boomers retiring, we are anticipating shifts in the market and we want to make sure the products and services we offer continue to meet the needs of our customers.”

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