CES 2023 Fireside Chat: Edo Segal, Amit Maheshwari, and Smith Codio

Amit Maheshwari from Tekion and Smith Codio from Microsoft joined the .metaverse podcast at CES to discuss how the metaverse is reimagining the customer journey in the automotive industry.
February 23, 2023
7 mins
reimagining the automotive journey
Edo Segal
Founder and CEO at Touchcast
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The metaverse is reimagining the automotive journey for dealers, OEMs and Customers alike. This episode the .metaverse podcast features a Fireside Chat recorded live at CES 2023, hosted by Edo Segal, Touchcast Co-Founder and CEO, who is joined by Amit Maheshwari from Tekion and Smith Codio from Microsoft to discuss the technology behind the customer experience and the importance of a strong partner ecosystem in order to impact the automotive industry at scale.

Amit Maheshwari is the Senior Vice President of Business Development at Tekion. As part of the executive leadership team at Tekion, Amit is responsible for creating strategic digital business opportunities across auto OEMs, lenders, industry solution providers, and new markets.

Smith Codio is the Director of Customer Experience of the Automotive, Mobility, Transportation (AMT) Industry at Microsoft. Smith has experience helping SMBs and large enterprises achieve their digital transformation goals across industries.

To listen to the full conversation, find the .metaverse podcast on any podcast streaming network, including Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Read the full transcript of this episode below.   

Ziv Navoth Hi, I'm Ziv Navoth and welcome to the .metaverse podcast. Today's episode is one of a series of fireside chats recorded live at CES 2023 surrounding how the metaverse is revolutionizing the automotive industry and the customer buying journey. In these conversations, we'll hear from a variety of leaders from Microsoft, Accenture, Fiat, Tekion, CNH Industrial, Wejo, PwC and ZF.

Edo Segal Welcome. We're here at CES 2023 with some of our best partners, Smith from Microsoft. I'll let him introduce himself and his role and Amit from Tekion. It really does take a village to take an industry that has been around for so long and help it through this transformation that we're all experiencing and it's really radical with the movement to electrification.

“ It really does take a village to take an industry that has been around for so long and help it through this transformation that we're all experiencing” - Edo Segal

It's allowing us to revisit how these platforms work end to end. So if you wouldn't mind introducing yourself briefly, maybe give a few words about your view of where we are in this curve of history of digitalization. 

Smith Codio  Thank you Edo. I'm Smith Cordio. I'm responsible for customer experience within the Manufacturing, Automotive, Mobility and Transportation group at Microsoft.

So I'm really super excited and pumped to be here at CES. I'm showcasing the work that Microsoft is doing with partners like Touchcast and also partners like Tekion, how we at Microsoft are supporting really very creative and innovative work coming from you both. 

Edo Segal  Thank you Smith.

Amit Maheshwari  Thank you Edo. I'm responsible for business development at Tekion and I've been in the automotive space for 25 years, doing a lot of application stuff. Been partners with Microsoft for a long time as well. And I will tell you the most exciting statement I just heard today that summarizes everything that we are going to talk about is when I asked one of my longtime OEM friends, manufacturer friends, who runs marketing for a very, very important brand, as to if he is going to be going to a certain auto show or not. And he said, yes, but the auto show now is here. And that's what summarizes what CES is and why we are sitting here talking about the future. So that's pretty exciting. 

Edo Segal I think some of our audience, they're very familiar with the automotive industry, but some of our audience is actually coming at it from the technology perspective and is curious about how industry is being affected by technology. And it always strikes me how important it's to have a partnership first mentality.

When you try to tackle these types of big problems. And for us, the alignment with Microsoft has been pivotal because aligning with Teams, aligning with Azure, aligning with all these services has allowed us to build on the shoulders of giants. But we've also done the same with Nvidia on the GPU level, and with Epic and Unreal Engine and of course with Tekion all the way to the front end and this amazing depth of the back office. Can you talk a bit about the type of problems that may be under the hood that those in the industry might understand and those that are periphery might not. It'll be very interesting to see how you solve those.

Amit Maheswari  That's a great question, Edo and I'll just give an example whether or not most people here understand automotive and below the hood, a lot of them have had the experience of buying a car or getting a car serviced. And even today, after so much investment and discussion in the auto retail world, manufacturers, lenders, dealers, if you really ask somebody do they want to go and buy a car, the answer is not really.

I can do something else. So the experience after spending billions and billions of dollars is still not really – the needle is moving, but very, very slowly. So from our perspective, what is important is not just the experience that you give as an OEM or manufacturer to a consumer, when they're researching a vehicle, they're excited about, but also how do you make sure that all the other pieces of the ecosystem that are available to make the delivery happen, whether it's lending, whether it's the dealer, whether it's the salesperson, whether it's the person who delivers the vehicle. It's all aligned. 

“ The challenge is that we do not have data that is consistent across all these different components and it's one of the hardest problems that has to be solved. ” - Amit Maheshwari

The challenge is that we do not have data that is consistent across all these different components and it's one of the hardest problems that has to be solved. And I think we are getting closer with some of the technologies that even Tekion depends on with Microsoft as well as what we have here with your technology, Edo, at Touchcast, we are going to get there.

There are three or four hundred different application providers just in the United States and Canada, let alone Europe and Asia that 20,000 dealers use. So you can think about the massive problem of synchronizing this data to deliver this experience. How would you feel if you had an amazing metaverse experience with an OEM and you love that car and you pretty much almost came to purchase and you think you have bought it and then you go to the dealer and they go, “No, no, no, no, no. We need to redo the numbers and you gotta wait outside for two more hours. And by the way, we said the delivery would happen this day. It's not gonna happen this day. And we found an issue with something in your credit”, we want to get rid of all that.

And that's why we are sitting here together. 

Edo Segal  Right. And this is a kind of a profound point that people that are not in the industry might not realize. I guess a good way to visualize it is if you've ever purchased a flight ticket online. It's a relatively simple process, a few clicks and you have your flight ticket.

If you are at the counter with a United sales agent, and you're trying to buy a ticket, if you see their screen, they're on a screen that looks like Doss from 1993, and they basically spend 15 minutes typing like they're writing a novel to do the same thing you did with three clicks on that website.

So in many of these systems that are massive investments, there's the front end and then there's the underlying systems that use punch cards and cobalt, right. That go back many, many years and it's never a good time to just start over. And now is a moment in this industry where it is that moment.

It's really important because companies have license to go to Tekion and start everything really afresh in some way. Right, is that a good reference? 

Amit Maheswari  They do. And I would say that we are always so quick to blame certain constituents of an ecosystem. Oh, it's the OEM's fault, or it's the lender's fault, or it's the dealer's fault.

The reality is not the case. Everybody is a business person that is doing what is best for them and what they believe is best for their customers. But what happens is in this whole situation with the legacy systems, you end up saying, is this the right time for us to move? So technology is maturing, but technology always matures.

“At least in the auto business, it might sound like a cliche, but Covid really made a big difference…because it ultimately helped dealers, manufacturers, and also customers realize they can actually transact and buy a car on a remote basis” - Amit Maheshwari

I will tell you, at least in the auto business, it might sound like a cliche, but Covid really made a big difference. And it made a big difference because it ultimately helped dealers, manufacturers, and also customers realize that they can actually transact and buy a car on a remote basis, and maybe if Covid was not there, they would not have been pushed to get to that point and just not make that change.

So if you really think about what has happened relative to the way the transaction is executed, I will tell you it has not been pretty, it is clunky. But what it has done, it has made dealers and customers and OEMs realize that you can make this transaction happen without all the stuff that was going on that took 3, 4, 5, 6, 8 hours.

And now we can really roll in the real technology, the experiences on top of the change that is already happening. 

Edo Segal Right. At Touchcast, we're very fortunate to be at the top layer of this pyramid of Tower of Babel. We're very fortunate to have partners like Tekion, Annata, and others that help us bring these experiences to that fluidity that we're all aspiring to. For those of you that are not familiar with what we do, we are basically facilitating the extension of what you just alluded to Amit, where people had been given license to purchase a car remote without going to the dealership. But when they did that over let's say a standard teams call, they would just be people sitting in their home office talking to you and the value of the experience of seeing the vehicle in the showroom - these are amazing toys, really, right? Now has been brought back into the communication through this miracle of the metaverse, scaffolded by these AI capabilities that make these dealers superhuman because they're now supported with all this content. 

So it really is an exciting moment and it's powered by a Teams. So how do you see that, Smith, developing? 

“From a technology perspective, we need to obviously have an end goal of: how do we make the experience better for our customers.” - Smith Codio

Smith Codio  Oh, this is fascinating. From a technology perspective, I mean, yes, we need to obviously have an end goal of “how do we make the experience better for our customers”. But from a backend platform perspective, Microsoft for the last 10 or 15 years have been investing in building the right building blocks to enable such experiences. For instance, Microsoft Teams, which is really a platform for creators to build collaborative applications.

So what you've been able to do with Microsoft Teams is the work that we are doing internally with Microsoft Mesh. So we have Microsoft Mesh to make it easier for those immersive experiences to be possible; to be integrated within that existing collaboration platform.

And then, in addition to that, from a scalability perspective, our cloud infrastructure has been redesigned and optimized to support the kind of scale requirements. And that's why we’re super excited to have customers like you who are building really immersive environments, immersive experiences that require new technology or more optimized technology from a performance perspective.

So we have been making the right investment to empower and support customers like you.

Edo Segal  And choosing the right partners for players like ourselves and for Tekion is really important. It's a highly competitive environment, and you can think of it as being commoditized, but there are certain things that Microsoft has done extremely well that, for us, it's very important, obviously the security compliance of using Teams as a trusted provider. You can technically create video conferencing in many, many ways, but you don't benefit from the intrinsic trust that exists between companies and Microsoft and that framework and that scale. And probably most recently, is the maturity of GPT3 and the massive investment that Microsoft has made into OpenAI.

And we as practitioners have been working with GPT for over three years. ChatGPT suddenly come on the scene so now everybody's seeing it like: “Oh my God.” And we've, we had this, oh my god moment, already three years ago. But now we have the ability to bring that into these enterprise use cases because it's all built on the same framework running on Azure.

And that's an incredible opportunity to revolutionize things and make things much more efficient, much more effective. 

Amit Maheshwari  And I would say the same from a Tekion perspective. Maybe a slightly different view on this is, I don't think most people here would even know they, they, they probably won't even imagine the fact that many, many dealers today still run in on-premise servers to do transactions. Can you imagine this with 2023. And the speed by which we have been able to move that from a Tekion perspective, as well as using Azure in the back and using some of the features of Azures that are more advanced, Elastic, Surge, etc. It's just been amazing for us to scale very quickly. And start that transformation way faster. 

Edo Segal  It's natural for them. Yes. Because they already have an IT leg with Azure, right? 

Amit Maheshwari  Correct. And also the scale. Because we work with a lot of manufacturers where they'll say, okay, let's do 30 dealers, 50 dealers, 100 stores.

Now that's good. Okay. In the next three months, get it to 2000 stores. So obviously the infrastructure and the partnership here really lets us drive that. Plus there are these manufacturers that we work with that are global. And they have data limitations and protections and stuff and because of the partnership it's much easier for us to deploy that.

Smith Codio This is where Microsoft really shines. Because we're partner led and we were close obviously with partners like you to make sure that we listen and bring that feedback loop back to our engineering team. We've been on that journey for many, many years where we said we are kind of trying to verticalize the company. In addition to building cool products, we actually working closely with our partners so we can align with some of the deep industry expertise that you guys bring to the table to help us optimize the platform.

So from a localization need, how to help you grow to really support the need of different markets. To the privacy requirements, how do you actually handle customer data? Think about the amount of data getting generated in the immersive metaverse or Web3. So Microsoft is reinvesting to create the pillars from a security first, privacy first data governance.

So we have a set of applications and platform development that we are making to enable you to do that safely and in compliance way. 

Edo segal Indeed, indeed. And it does take a village. The ability to package all this goodness in the program like the ones you're leading is, I think, instrumental for the customers that are challenged with so many fronts to be able to make decisions and know that they're with trusted partners.

Smith Codio I think you have a key here. So my team with Microsoft, is a very focused industry team on manufacturing, automotive. So our role is to set the strategy for Microsoft. How do we go to market with our partners? From a Tekion to a Touchcast, identifying the right business outcomes, and then building the right ecosystem from a platform and a partner to make sure that we can help you to really scale and grow that business fast.

Edo Segal  That's wonderful. So, on behalf of myself and Amit, Smith, personally, we want to thank you for your passion. It's not easy in a big company to have the level of passion that you bring to every one of these opportunities, like you're in a startup. So it's really been amazing to watch and we're really grateful.

Smith Codio Thank you. There's a big team and a strong leadership supporting that. I'm just one of many, so I'm just representing the hard work of so many people today. So I'm super excited to be here. 

Edo Segal Looking forward to next year, we'll be in a much bigger Holodeck here together. And we'll be celebrating a lot of amazing success.

Smith Codio  Thank you. Appreciate it.

To learn more about the metaverse, tune into the .metaverse podcast.

You can listen to the .metaverse podcast on all podcast platforms, including Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Anchor.

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