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Piet Maes, Sofico: ‘Tomorrow’s mobility is all about providing possibilities and making life easier’

“Miles” from Sofico is a software package for car leasing companies. ‘We have focused on mobility from the outset’, Piet Maes explains. He is the co-founder and CTO of Sofico. ‘We stand at the intersection of mobility, IT and the leasing & finance world. All these are rapidly evolving markets on which we are keeping up with all the developments.’

The Miles software package is designed to assist the car leasing companies with the services they provide for their clients. So to be able to offer them all the tools they require, Sofico has to have an in-depth knowledge of the needs in the mobility chain: from the mobility users to the mobility providers and everyone in between. ‘We deliberately talk about mobility’, Piet Maes stresses, ‘because our sector is in the business of offering optimal mobility. Using cars, yes, of course, but using other means of transport, too. And the cars do not always have to be linked to a specific driver in the traditional manner. We see far more possibilities and we are preparing for the way the market will evolve over the next few years.’

Company cars no longer linked to one specific driver – how should we picture that?

​​​​​​​Piet Maes: ‘There are various possibilities, such as car sharing within an organisation, or peer-2-peer sharing. With the first option, the organisation provides a pool of cars that staff can use for both professional and private purposes. This system has a number of advantages, especially when you think about electrification. First of all, electric cars are fairly expensive to buy.

By putting them in a pool, you will optimise use: the more kilometres they do, the better the investment pays for itself. Secondly, you remove some of the resistance among users, the so-called “range anxiety”, by ensuring that a car with a fully charged battery is always available. Have you already driven a long way and you come back with a flat battery? No problem, take another car. Thirdly, the organisation can provide charging infrastructure, both on the company premises and at people’s homes.’

What should we understand by “peer-2-peer sharing”?

Piet Maes: ‘Again, it is advantageous to optimise the use of electric cars, since they are fairly expensive. Why should your car be standing idle on your drive just when you neighbour needs one? Or on the car park at the office when your colleague is travelling? We see a future for systems that enable you to lend out your car, initially to people you know, in confidence. Some of our clients already offer that:  our Miles platform supports peer-2-peer sharing. The settlement with the person with whom you share the car is taken care of automatically and is deducted from your own invoice. The more you lend out your car, the cheaper it is for you to drive yourself. For that matter, new subscription formulas allow drivers to do more than just lend out the car: it is also far easier to switch between cars. Always like to have the latest model? Or do you want to adapt the car to a changing family situation? All that is possible with this system and the right person has the right car at the right time. That, too, is shared use.’

Doesn’t sharing a (company) car between private individuals cause problems? If the vehicle is damaged, for instance?

Piet Maes: ‘As with everything else, good arrangements make good friends. We consider the issues together with the end user and ensure, for instance, that all existing damage can be seen in the app. When you get to the car, you just go over it to check for damage. That has to be a reflex. If you find a new scratch or dent, then you take a photo, directly with the app. The primary user can confirm that this damage was already there. That is why it is so important for us to keep a finger on the pulse of the market. Our Miles platform has to be able to support these things even before our clients roll them out.’

How do you do that – not just follow these developments closely, but even predict them?

Piet Maes: ‘We not only have smart IT experts in house, we also have our own specialists who are developing a future vision of mobility. It’s in our DNA. We have been fully focused on mobility right from the start. In addition, we keep our eyes open. We have a strong network in the sector. Plus we operate all over the world, with a global vision but a very local presence.’

So you are focusing on a highly promising future for flexible and shared car use. Are you working on other projects for tomorrow’s mobility, as well?

Piet Maes: ‘Of course. As I said, our focus is optimal mobility. That means efficient, convenient, economically advantageous and with a minimum impact on the environment and liveability. Cars definitely have a place in the mobility of the future, but we have to learn to weigh up which is the best means of transport for each journey. To make that possible, end users need to be supported with a package of possibilities. For some, using public transport, for others electric bikes. But assisting end users doesn’t have to be limited to that. Just think about what KBC is doing with “MoveSmart”. Various means of transport, yes, but accompanied by support services such as having your car fetched for a tyre to be changed, support with roadside assistance, etc. There are so many services related to mobility and we anticipate them and support them on our platform.’

Sofico, silent force in Zwijnaarde

Although not as well-known as other names in the Ghent IT sector, Sofico is one of the area’s biggest independent software houses. A total of 350 people work there (worldwide) and no fewer than 50 new people have been hired so far this year. ‘We aren’t resorting to temporary unemployment this year. We prefer to use the opportunity to speed up the implementation of a number of innovations. We are constantly on the lookout for talented people. In fact, we are in the process of finalising conversion work to extend our offices here in the Zwijnaarde Technology Park. We take care to ensure that the office is more than a workplace: a meeting space that makes the balance between remote and on-site working easier for our staff.’

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