How Autodata Became an API Platform for the Automotive Industry

In the early 1970s, Autodata was a modest publisher of technical automotive manuals that helped vehicle owners fix their own cars. Today, Autodata is a world-leading data and software company that provides online technical information solutions to automotive workshops worldwide and is powering an emerging generation of API-based solutions for tomorrow’s automotive market.

An Evolving Landscape

The company’s focus changed in the 1980s with the introduction of new vehicle technology that made it increasingly difficult for owners to service their own cars. Autodata very quickly saw an opportunity in the professional service and repair industry, slowly withdrawing from the consumer market but becoming world-renowned for its professional technical publications for workshops. Autodata’s professional workshop manuals were focused on the most essential operations for servicing and maintaining vehicles. Rather than needing hundreds of books for hundreds of different cars, a workshop required only a handful of books that would cover thousands of vehicles, incorporating subjects like clutches, timing chains, or fuel injection.

Throughout the 90s, both CDs and early online versions of Autodata’s products allowed the company to compile huge libraries of manufacturer-sourced information into single solutions – dwarfing the information that could be provided in hard-copy publications. However, having retained many traditional publishing traits, these solutions were slow to update and slow to develop. Workshop-accessible data was updated twice a year, across what had grown to 17 languages.

A New Era of Autodata

In 2014, after significant investment, a new era of Autodata was unveiled. The industry renowned workshop application became a more powerful and comprehensive online solution with new data structures, powered by Autodata’s own API solution.

This new platform enabled the business to entirely restructure their approach – aligning their data with how workshops actually operate. For example, rather than the traditional approach for service schedules, which would typically entail one page to cover the service instructions and many more to list details such as oil grades and quantities, brake pad thicknesses, etc., the new approach brought everything together in one interactive page, with notes, warnings, and even images. This new structure reduced the number of user steps required for this one function alone by 75%.

Max Lienard, Chief Strategy & Innovation Officer at Autodata, explains:
“The automotive market has changed rapidly as cars have become more complex. Yet only a few tools have evolved at the same rate to deliver the solutions technicians really need. This was a huge leap forward, allowing us to modernise our approach to create solutions for today’s workshops. We assumed nothing and tested everything – allowing us to really understand the pain-points of workshops and deliver new solutions that tackled the pain rather than just delivering what we assumed people wanted. This meant going right back to the fundamentals and re-inventing how we approached all aspects of data delivery.”

With over four decades of data needing to be restructured, covering 160 manufacturers and over 43,000 vehicles, going back to the drawing board was not an overnight task – especially considering how many wiring diagrams, instructions, lines of technical data, diagnostic trouble codes and service schedules this involved.

Why an API Approach?

The rate of change is accelerating, and today’s cars, vans, and motorcycles are more complex than ever. Throw into the mix autonomous technologies, connected data, and manufacturers making more changes to technical data for vehicles already launched, and it becomes a mammoth task just to keep up.

Autodata, however, wasn’t looking to just keep up: it was looking to push the boundaries forward and to lead a new wave of development opportunities for both businesses and consumers. The company not only recognized countless opportunities to deliver new solutions with its own data, but also to integrate with many other sources and technologies. Autodata could either push to become a software developer of numerous solutions – or, it could provide one powerful central APITrack this API that would enable hundreds, if not thousands, to build their own solutions.

A Cultural Shift

Changing the company’s approach from publishing to API-driven technology was going to mean more than changing a few processes. It was going to mean an entire cultural shift in a business that employs hundreds of people across eight countries.

Max continues: “Technological change like this was never going to be easy. It took more than three years of departmental changes; building entire new skill sets into the business; a complete restructure of our data and the development of a whole new system. We then needed to move an entire planet’s worth of customers from all legacy products onto our new system, which we did in 2015.

“Clearly this was not going to be achieved without some serious focus on the goals in hand. We adopted an agile management approach throughout the business – particularly with our API and product development teams. This allowed us to roll out MVPs (minimum viable products) and then analyze and evolve in live environments. Today we are our own biggest case study for those looking to develop solutions with our API, with our own workshop application alone making about two million API calls per day.”

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