Carsales uses AI, Amazon Web Services to drive innovation

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This article appeared in the March 2018 issue of CRN magazine.

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Carsales uses AI, Amazon Web Services to drive innovation
Jason Blackman, Carsales

Launched in 1997, Carsales was one of Australia’s early digital disrupters, and has since become the nation’s largest online automotive classifieds business.

Under CIO Jason Blackman, the company migrated to the cloud about two years ago to enable more rapid iteration and innovation – a move that appears to be paying off.

Carsales’ Cyclops image recognition tool took out the best consumer IT project at iTnews’ Benchmark Awards. Can you describe that project and how IT suppliers helped you deliver that project?

Cyclops categorises images based on the content of those images. It uses an AI model that allows us to identify whether the photo is of a boot, an engine, the front passenger seat, the driver’s side, the passenger’s side, etc. It allows us to really improve the user experience.

Cyclops was built using open source software and is hosted on AWS. We migrated our website from a hosted environment to AWS in early 2016 and before that used them for DR. We chose AWS because it clearly had the best cloud platform and pricing back then, and since then they’ve expanded their portfolio and toolset, which has helped us to continuously innovate and improve our product offering for our customers.

How does Carsales select its IT suppliers and partners?

We select our suppliers based on the value they bring – and this is not limited to price alone. We look at two main areas initially: platform and people, and then we focus on the  price. The platform must meet our needs, and we must have access to either their talent or talent for the platform must exist more broadly.

We look to enable our staff to learn new technologies as fast as possible, so this access is important to us. We also use suppliers for commodity items or services – things that don’t add any differential value to the business, but are simply needed for operations. Anything that gives us a competitive advantage, we tend to keep very close, inside the business.

What does an IT supplier or partner need to do to impress you?

Their team culture needs to be congruent with ours. We enjoy ourselves, but have a genuine desire to get the job done – and that job is delivering great products for our customers.

Fitting in with our team and engaging with them continuously is key. We value the advanced education piece a lot. It helps us continuously develop our team.

What do suppliers or partners do that annoys you?

Incessant sales. We have a job to do, and while a supplier’s latest product might be great, continuously plugging it wastes everyone’s time. If there’s a genuine use case for it then our team will drive its adoption. 

What advice would you give to any IT provider wanting to work with you in future?

A focus on people is extremely important, but maintaining product relevance to our business is also important. We’re a very adaptable organisation – we pride ourselves in this – so our suppliers need to be able to move and adapt with us too.

Will your use of IT partners increase in the future?

We’re always on the lookout for efficiency gains or services that can help free up our team from mundane tasks and allow us to focus on delivering great outcomes to our customers.

So our utilisation of suppliers will generally increase as we grow and invest in researching new and innovative products for our customers.

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