Caltex Australia is driving up its investment in technologies including petrol payment apps and automatic number plate recognition that could bill drivers without them having to leave their cars.

The chain’s chief information officer Viv Da Ros said three million Australians use Caltex each week, but it needed to focus on a growing demand for convenience and rethink how it engages with drivers to increase loyalty.

Mr Da Ros was recruited by Caltex in 2016 to spearhead a tech overhaul and said it had made a concerted effort to challenge traditional concepts of what a petrol station can be, and was now trialling number plate recognition technology so customers can be billed automatically rather than having to stop to pay at the petrol station.

Mr Da Ros said he hoped the number plate technology would eventually be rolled into a monthly bill so drivers would no longer have to pay each time they fill up.

“We anticipate change well. We have the humility to change, and we are early adopters of technology, I would say, in order to drive and deliver that vision,” Mr Da Ros said.

“We want to make it really simple for our customers to shop with us just like the way that you pay for your TV subscription or utilities bill at home … You don’t pay for it each time you use it, you use it and you get a bill at the end of the month, so why can’t we do something similar?”

Family advantage

Mr Da Ros said Caltex’s app would also now let drivers pay for their petrol quickly at the bowser, rather than having to go inside the petrol station, something that would make life easier for those with children in the car.

“If I go to the [petrol] station with my two girls in the back of the car, I can fill up. I don’t need to unbuckle them out of their safety seats and take them into the shop to pay. I can pay on my app,” he said.

As part of the tech improvements, Caltex has migrated almost all of its digital infrastructure to Microsoft’s Azure cloud, which Mr Da Ros said had enabled it to develop new digital services faster.

“Over the last two years, we have really focused on setting up what we call a ‘digital enterprise architecture’ from a technology perspective, which is really the foundation enabler of all the wonderful things we want to deliver to our customers,” he said.

Mr Da Ros declined to say how much the project had cost Caltex, but said the tech side of the business gets a “significant piece” of the petrol company’s spending.

‘Convenience business’

Caltex has also sought to rebrand itself as a convenience business rather than simply a petrol station in consumers’ eyes.

In 2016, Caltex’s chief executive Julian Segal told The Australian Financial Review he wanted to introduce technology that would allow customers to use the app to organise their dry-cleaning and choose what they wanted for dinner. They could then drive to Caltex to be greeted by an attendant who would deliver their order, along with their favourite coffee.

Although Caltex now has 59 so-called “Foodary” outlets across Australia where customers can order coffees through the app and buy fresh food, Mr Segal’s plans have not yet come to fruition.

“That is our company vision. Vision by definition is aspirational. I think we are making some very good headways in that direction,” Mr Da Ros said.