I've spent much time lately visiting dealerships. Within minutes of arriving at a particular place, I find myself evaluating an element of the dealership's philosophy towards employees by simply examining the information technology being used.
What does a dealership's IT environment have to do with its attitude regarding employees and their morale? More than you might imagine.
Walk around your dealership. Look closely at the tools you are providing to your team to conduct business on a daily basis. Watch how your team members interact with the devices sitting on their desks.
Try to imagine what it's like to do their jobs with the technology you have provided.
How fast is the data-processing speed of the system your employees are using?
When they press a key on their computers, are they able to work at a speed matching their skills and volume of work that needs to be performed?
Do they constantly wait for screens to refresh and jobs to be run?
Are they able to easily access the applications they need from a single device to satisfy their job requirements?
Do they have to move from green screen terminals to PCs or from their desks to a specific location for Internet access?
Do they have to constantly load and unload pre-printed forms into outmoded, impact printers, or does the store have laser printers that use plain paper and multiple trays to deliver the right document to the right location?
I analyzed IT's influence on employee morale after talking with Mark Rush, general manager of Ron Rush Lincoln-Mercury in Columbus, OH. We were discussing a recent upgrade he had made to his in-house system.
Mark, who is intelligent and a member of NADA's IT Council, certainly understood the financial effects of IT on his bottom-line.
What he had overlooked, however, was the impact of his store's level of IT equipment on his employees and their attitudes about working for him.
His comments illustrate his new understanding toward IT and its multi-faceted effects on his business operations:
“I recently upgraded my entire facility to utilize TCP/IP, in addition to providing all employees with high-speed Internet access. The most surprising outcome from my investment in IT tools was the reaction of our employees. I never realized how frustrated they were in trying to use antiquated hardware, software and communications solutions.
“My people were energized by the fact that I was willing to invest in their abilities via the technology they used day-to-day.”
Most employers don't realize that a poor IT environment may affect employees and the related overall success of the business.
I appreciate that business owners want to squeeze every bit of value out of the investments they have made. But when does a tight-fisted IT spending policy start to have a negative impact?
Dealers should get in the habit of purchasing several new PCs per year or per quarter (depending on the size of your store), and then ‘cascading’ older equipment down the chain of systems users.
This ensures that your most powerful IT users constantly have the most powerful tools, and eventually, the oldest piece of equipment in your store will still be viable for use by novice users.
This also helps you to avoid facing massive hardware upgrades at set intervals, and levels your IT expenditures to a cost approach that's more fixed than variable.
Having an IT infrastructure plan is the best way to ensure your underlying business support tools don't become an albatross, holding back the ultimate potential of your people and your business.
Matt Parsons is vice president of sales and marketing for EDS' Automotive Retail Group.