Building on a long track record of service innovation, ExxonMobil engaged an IBM® iX® team to help design and launch Exxon Mobil Rewards+, the first smartphone app offered by a major fuel retailer for digital payment at the pump. The solution’s IBM Cloud™ platform drives down costs and scales effortlessly as the app’s user base continues to grow.
Exxon Mobil Corporation needed expert design guidance and powerful cloud infrastructure to bring its idea for a smartphone app to fruition and provide a secure, streamlined user experience.
Every interaction with a customer is an opportunity to build brand loyalty, and for decades, ExxonMobil has been introducing innovation where its most important customer interaction takes place — at the gas pump. From debuting the first pay-at-the-pump service in the 1980s to launching radio frequency identification (RFID)-enabled touchless payment in the 1990s, the energy company has long been an industry leader in transforming customer experience.
ExxonMobil’s most recent effort to innovate and enhance service delivery was sparked by the ongoing consumer shift away from credit cards and toward digital payment options. “Consumer expectations have been changing and evolving — why shouldn’t the fueling experience also be an area for innovation?” says Devin Miller, Digital Development Manager for ExxonMobil. “With digital technology, we saw that we could continue differentiating our brand beyond having superior products.”
To make the customer experience at the gas pump faster, more convenient and better aligned with current consumer preferences, ExxonMobil decided to create a smartphone app for a streamlined and security-focused fueling payment process. “We wanted to make things more personalized and take friction out of the buying experience,” says Miller.
With a clear vision for transformation, ExxonMobil’s marketing organization sought a partner with technical expertise to help bring its idea to fruition. “To allow our team to focus on marketing components and consumer experience, we needed an expert to help us meet our objectives from a technical standpoint,” says Miller.
In addition to requiring expert guidance in designing and developing a customer-centric smartphone app, ExxonMobil needed cloud infrastructure designed for flexibility, resiliency and security. As the user base for its app expanded, the company would need a supporting IT platform to scale effortlessly along with it.
“After the initial ‘wow’ with an app, that experience becomes an expectation,” says Miller. “And it’s an expectation you need to deliver on every time — there’s not a lot of patience for maintenance windows or downtime.”
Turning to long-time collaborator IBM, ExxonMobil engaged iX, the specialist design team within IBM Services™, to help develop its offering. To design an app around user needs and behavior, iX began by gaining a direct understanding of the customer experience at the gas pump. “Consumer research is super important and it’s exactly what IBM did,” says Miller. “The team went to the gas station, observed people, asked them questions and engaged with them. It sounds so simple, but it’s critical if you want to build in a certain way.”
Combining this research with ExxonMobil’s own business objectives for the app provided initial design parameters for iX’s prototyping and development work. “Our methodology allows ExxonMobil to operate much as a startup would in building a new product,” says Alon Kronenberg, IBM iX Chief Technology Officer and Industrial Leader. “It’s an agile development approach performed in two-week sprints, which gives us a tremendous ability to shift gears as project priorities develop and business realities change.”
To establish the flexible, security-rich hosting platform ExxonMobil’s offering required, iX orchestrated a migration from the company’s private hosting environment to more scalable IBM Cloud infrastructure. Working closely with IBM Managed Security Services, iX coordinates the delivery of rigorous, multi-layer protection for the environment, including monitoring and threat mitigation that evolves with changing risks.
The fast, easy scalability of the cloud platform allows iX to quickly adjust or extend the environment’s security capabilities. “Being able to spin up new pieces of infrastructure in a very short time gives us a lot of flexibility to add targeted security mechanisms as needed,” says Kronenberg.
Container-based cloud for optimal scalability
During the cloud migration, IBM moved ExxonMobil’s workloads to a container-based architecture managed with the IBM Cloud Kubernetes Service. With the Kubernetes service, the IBM team managing and operating the ExxonMobil environment can respond to increased demand in near-real time, launching additional containers to expand capacity.
“If the system determines that we’re hitting certain thresholds in terms of utilization, we spin out more containers instantaneously to spread the load across,” says Kronenberg. “IBM Cloud Kubernetes Service is a game-changer in terms of our ability to scale up, and it also adds a great deal of resiliency to our solution.”
The solution stack for ExxonMobil’s digital offering also includes IBM Db2® on Cloud software to provide database capacity that expands as needed and IBM MobileFirst® Platform Foundation for iOS middleware to run and manage the app on user devices.
Additionally, the solution incorporates the IBM Watson® Campaign Automation platform to support ExxonMobil in rolling out and tracking targeted marketing campaigns based on customer location, preferences, loyalty tiers and other key data points.
The IBM and ExxonMobil collaboration produced the Exxon Mobil Rewards+ app, which combines the benefits of the energy company’s loyalty program with the convenience of a mobile payment app. With the first-to-market solution, customers can locate nearby Exxon or Mobil stations, pay for gas from the comfort of their cars and earn rewards points. In addition to protecting users against the dangers of credit card skimming at the pump, the solution leverages cloud security to streamline the fueling process for busy drivers.
“We’re letting customers spend an extra couple of minutes in a car that’s air conditioned or allowing them to hang out and talk to their kids in the back seat,” says Miller. “All they have to do is hop out and put the nozzle in the tank. Customers might not have even considered the friction in the process until we provided a better option.”
And it’s an option consumers are embracing in numbers. The Exxon Mobil Rewards+ app has millions of downloads and as its user base continues to expand, ExxonMobil’s marketing team can rest assured that its supporting cloud infrastructure will scale seamlessly to accommodate it.
“With IBM Cloud, we’re never worried about overloading any part of our infrastructure,” says Miller. “The capacity is there and the solution just scales as we do. We don’t have to go off and rack any servers or worry about any hardware pieces. And the best part is that we don’t have to pay for any hardware until we need it.”
Additionally, the IBM reputation for reliable, security-focused cloud infrastructure is highly beneficial for ExxonMobil in teaming with other companies to roll out new initiatives or promotions. “We get into discussions about how secure and reliable our platform is,” says Miller. “When we say IBM is our cloud provider, it takes the tension out of those conversations.”
The launch of the Exxon Mobil Rewards+ app marks another successful milestone in ExxonMobil’s long history as a service innovator. “As we show consumers a simpler, better way to pay for fuel, they in turn reward us with their business,” says Miller. “But again, we need to keep earning that business every day. To do that, we’ll continue relying on IBM to help us provide a safer, more secure experience for our customers.”
ExxonMobil is one of the world’s largest companies and an industry leader in energy production and chemical manufacturing. With its history rooted in a single successful oil exploration over a century ago, the corporation now operates or sells products in over 50 countries around the globe. In the current era, ExxonMobil works to meet the world’s energy demands while teaming with private- and public-sector organizations to address the risks of climate change. The company maintains corporate headquarters in Irving, Texas and employs more than 70,000 people.
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