Not long ago, a dealer whom I've known for many years asked me point blank: “So why should I invest in upgrading my store's infrastructure with things like PCs, a LAN, TCP/IP, and business-grade Internet connectivity?”
What came to mind is the following analogy:
Years ago, it wasn't uncommon to enter a dealership service department and see vehicles sitting on floor jacks or technicians lying on creepers.
You probably couldn't find power and air tools or computerized equipment for vehicle diagnostics, 4-wheel alignment, and emissions verification and calibration.
Over the past 15 years, items such as lifts (sometimes two per technician) and air tools powered by compressors the size of small cars have become the norm. So have sophisticated handheld diagnostic computers that can pinpoint electronic glitches while providing instantaneous access to online service bulletins and service manuals.
When I asked this dealer why he invested in these ‘state-of-the-art’ technician tools, his answer was that service technician productivity significantly improved through the use of these tools.
He noted that his best techs would find work elsewhere if this basic level of modern tools wasn't provided.
If he could clearly see that, without modern tools his service department would probably come to a halt, why couldn't he see that his other departments needed similar support? It's just that the ‘essential tools’ are different in information technology.
Many dealers find it hard to see a direct link between information technology and staff productivity. But there is a strong connection.
Sales people need to communicate with customers and prospects via the Internet. Parts counter people need access to online locator services for out of stock components. Warranty administrators submit hundreds of claims a day to OEM-provided dealer web portals. Business office managers perform advanced financial analytics using common products like Microsoft Excel.
Following our discussion, this dealer admitted that, for vehicle service operations, it was easy for him to equip his store: OEM partners outlined the essential tools needed to support technicians.
Information technology, by comparison was relatively new and confusing. Finally, the disconnect had been illuminated.
The good news is that there is a listing of many of the essential IT tools that dealers need to implement.
It was developed through a collaborative effort by Ford, DCX and GM approximately two years ago.
These tools are defined and explained in a document titled “A Common Vision and Guidelines for Building an Internet-Ready Dealership Network.” It's also known as the Olympus document.
Unfortunately, most dealers and their staffs with whom I speak have yet to acquire a copy and make the effort to understand it.
Ultimately it is the job of dealers and their management teams to ensure that they have the right tools to support business objectives. Yet, all too often, IT tools are quickly overlooked or misunderstood
Here are the essential tools
Microsoft Office suite: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook
A network linking dealership computers that also connects to an always-on, high-speed Internet service
Security measures that include a firewall and spam filtering.
For a more specific description, and to download a copy of the Olympus document, go to www.edsarg.com
Matt Parsons is vice president of sales and marketing for EDS's Automotive Retail Group. He's at [email protected]. This article is part of a study, “Center Stage in the Future of Automotive Retailing: Information Technology and the Internet,” in the “white paper” section of www.edsarg.com