What are the most important feature and functionality offerings that dealers should expect from their dealership-management system?
UCS Executive Vice President Dan Agan: The first is full integration throughout the system as well as complete interfaces with the dealerships' manufacturers. This improves the dealership's efficiency and productivity by providing a free flow of information between departments, more accurate data because the data is only entered once, and a better experience for the dealership's customers.
In a perfect situation the dealership should not need to go outside the DMS to obtain the functionality necessary for their employees and customers.
A second important feature would be that the system allows dealers to use their own preferred processes. Without a process-driven suite of software applications, the dealership is run by the easiest way to get things done instead of the best and most profitable way to get things done.
Third, customer data from the system should be as clean and accurate as possible so the dealership can use that data to market, make decisions and achieve the highest level of customer satisfaction.
Last, the dealership should expect a support structure to provide consistent training and ongoing consulting at the dealership's location, so the software utilization can be maximized.
What about customer data? Does it belong to the customer, the dealer or your company? What about rights to access this information?
Agan: The data in the dealership's DMS system belongs to the dealership and their customers.
We have addressed the dealership's need to access their data through numerous different download and upload applications we offer, as well as offering a service to assist the dealership in collecting their data and making it available to other approved third parties. We also have an application form available to third parties that would like to integrate into our system.
We do not collect or transfer data that is in our clients' UCS System without written approval from the dealership.
We hear stories where dealers renewing their contracts find they have been charged for applications never turned on or installed correctly. How do you keep that from happening?
Agan: I do not think it's possible or practical for a dealership to use every feature that a new system offers, in the first 30 or 60 days of use. The learning curve is too great, and it can take a long time to become extremely proficient with a new system. But, over time, usage can grow dramatically.
We try to ensure this happens through a program we offer at UCS. Our regional system consultants visit most dealerships every few weeks and focus on utilization of the UCS system.
On the issue of usage, most dealers claim they get only 50% of their system's capabilities.
Agan: I agree that system utilization is not at 100% for any one client. However, 50% would be low for some dealerships. Educating dealership personnel, especially given continual changes in the dealership and employee turnover, make it an ongoing challenge for both dealership management and UCS.
We have designed many services in our system to improve utilization. I think many of our clients get 90% of what they want and need. Again, our Regional System Consultants program is a free service we offer our clients to help achieve this.
Many dealers are confused with the vendor's monthly bills they receive, and the sales reps often cannot explain the bill themselves. How does UCS address this?
Agan: We don't see this as much of a problem. In the case where the dealership questions their billing, our sales representatives are more than willing to meet with our clients and explain the billing and answer their questions. All of our sales people not only have new-prospect responsibilities, they also have an assigned existing client base, so part of their responsibilities is to call on and assist their existing clients, not merely sell to them and walk away.
What approach has UCS taken with regard to managing a dealer's data and turning it into meaningful reports to run the business effectively?
Agan: UCS provides several standard reports designed around best-practice principles. These reports have been developed and refined over many years and give dealership personnel meaningful information from which to manage their departments.
Many dealers say extracting data from the DMS and providing it in a format they can use is a difficult process, if not impossible.
UCS has many tools for the dealership to extract data from their systems. I think unreasonable allegations have been made that UCS makes data extraction difficult.
In reality, this claim stems from the fact that UCS does not have a dial-up diagnostic modem (a risky and insecure method many third-parties use) at each dealership for support purposes.
Currently, we provide data collection services for over 60 third-party companies, in which our clients have asked us to collect and transfer data on their behalf. In addition we have many software applications available on the UCS system that allow the dealerships themselves to extract or upload data.
There is a perception that UCS is a proprietary and closed system. Are you saying UCS is willing to work with third parties?
Agan: You have asked me several things. Do we have a third-party interface program? Absolutely.
Do we approve third-party vendors? Yes, we do.
Can a third-party company apply to integrate with us and extract data from our system? They certainly can.
But, you also asked me if we are only too happy to work with all third-party vendors. Just as a dealer would not make available a few acres next door to his dealership to allow another competing dealership to open, we also are not going to offer integration services to third parties that are competitors.
So a competitor could be another computer company or third party that does finance and insurance?
Agan: If a third party offered an F&I product that directly competed with our F&I software, I do not think we or any other business would gladly make it cheap and easy for that competitor to compete.
What does UCS offer that helps service personnel generate more revenue and make valid recommendations to each customer? How are you able to manage and track this activity?
Agan: We have several applications that help dealerships sell additional business in the service department. One of the most important is Service Pricing Guide. It provides a database of operation codes including any dealership defined codes, labor times and associated parts.
How does UCS assist dealers with managing their human resource tasks and obligations?
Agan: With a fully integrated human resource software application, timekeeping software and payroll software applications. The human resource application is robust and offers features like vacation accrual, compliance checklists, benefit eligibility tracking, 401(k) reporting and managing property issued to employees.
What is the biggest challenge facing information technology providers today?
Agan: Attaining a high level of utilization of the system. There are so many features and benefits in the UCS System, and the turnover of dealership employees is high enough that it is hard to optimize training and keep utilization high on a continued basis.
Scouting Report — What the dealers have to say:
There are several. One is the parts and service side of their business. More flexibility, easier reports, and user friendly are key attributes of the UCS system.
— Johnny Harrison, dealer, Lexus of Glendale (CA)
UCS has an amazing audit trail. Whether you want to know who did what and when, or whether you are trying to track a transaction or process.
— Sara Lattuca, controller, Lexus of Glendale
Areas Needing Improvements
Since they have so much to offer it would be good for them to have more training included in their monthly charge. I find myself so overloaded with the system that a monthly refresher from them would be great. UCS tries to stay ahead of the pack with programs and system changes, but they just do not seem to do as good a job in the training aspect of the programs on a regular basis.
— Johnny Harrison
UCS tends to pull their neck in with changes/modifications. Sure they ask you for ideas but I rarely see a modification come through and on the real important stuff UCS will often tell you they have not had enough demand or requests for the modification.
— Sara Lattuca
UCS At a Glance
Philosophy: To provide the most advanced, comprehensive system available for the computing and business needs of automotive dealerships. Our focus is to provide the very best, most complete system — not the cheapest, but the very best.
Headquarters: Houston, TX
Enhanced CRM software
Client server software on a tablet PC
National Do Not Call software
F&I menu selling system
New graphical analysis reports
Technician bar code scanner