The fear factor kicks in when you face a hissing cobra, hang from a cliff by your fingertips and, for many people, switch to a new computer-operating system at places of employment.
It is John Grace’s job to address the latter as division vice president-production for Dealertrack, a provider of dealership-management systems to car dealers.
The DMS is core to how modern dealerships are run. All data runs through it, from sales to repair orders to inventory, pricing and payroll.
A dealership’s “we’re-switching-systems” announcement can evoke dread among employees who because of their familiarity with the existing one think it’s just fine.
“There is a lot of fear involving a DMS changeover,” says Grace, who has overseen hundreds of them at dealerships of all sizes in the U.S. “Fear can be a terrible demotivator, despite the opportunities technology changes can bring.”
One of his duties is to bolster dealership employee morale by trying to change feelings of apprehension into perceptions of new prospects that successful DMS conversions can create.
Dealership conversion fears – running from management to the rank-and-file in various departments– often center on the potential of data losses and business disruptions.
Not every dealership goes into conversion shock however. Grace cites some stores that have gone through the process systematically, willingly and happily.
Learning from experience is important, not just to Dealertrack clients but to the company itself. “Our installations are going better and we’ve improved dramatically, but I’m not afraid to say we could get better,” Grace says. “There is always a friction point. But is it causing a flaming inferno or just a little heat?”
An example of a conflagration? Not having connectivity between applications and the DMS for an extended period.
This month, Dealertrack will roll out DMS 360, featuring a self-service portal where dealers can get support and interact with one another, such as asking and responding to DMS questions.
The new function allows them to open a new support case and track the status of an existing one. They can search by topic for DMS-related articles.
In overseeing DMS installations, Grace’s goal is seamless integration. As easy as that sounds, it’s difficult industrywide. That’s because platform conversions involve so many components.
Ultimately, he strives to install a system that takes a backseat to a dealership’s core function of selling and servicing vehicles.
“Let the technology be in the background, not the foreground,” he says, eschewing “buttonology.” A dealership should use technology, not obsess about it. “Our goal is to minimize disruption and make it another day, but it’s not always as simple as that.”
Proper orientation and training is vital at the user end. Dealertrack puts a lot of effort into that. Employee training is mostly online, self-paced and monitored by Dealertrack to make sure no one is skipping classes.
If they are, the dealership management hears about it. “This isn’t a way to give 30 lashes to someone, but rather to emphasize that without this training, you won’t be able to do your job after we make this technological change,” Grace says.
Training also includes webinar classes for employees of individual departments. They do run-through exercises in what’s called “the sandbox.”
Finally, field people are dispatched for the actual installation. Part of their job is to “answer those oddball questions, because you can’t cover every possible aspect in an online training seminar,” Grace says.
It takes only about 30 seconds to see if someone is comfortable with a new system, he says. “Sometimes there is fear. Sometimes there is excitement. And sometimes it is your job to turn fear into excitement.”
His resume of prior employment includes serving as vice president-operations for Tastingroom.com, where he developed (in a barn) an anaerobic wine-decanting system that allows wine to go into sample bottles without altering its quality.
“I relied on basic chemistry and physics to build that system,” he says. “It represented a technological change of its own. The common-thread question of any such changes is, ‘How do you get over the hump?’”