Congratulations! You've just installed T-1 lines at your dealership, increasing bandwidth for Internet connections. No more dial up. No more long waits for downloads. You're all set, right?
Well, for a while. But bone up on the next technology revolution getting ready to overtake the business world — wireless applications.
It will likely come in steps. It will be common for dealerships first to have a hybrid of wireless and wired applications in about 10 years, predicts Clif Mason, senior director-DMS applications for Automatic Data Processing Inc. (ADP).
“As dealerships invest in new facilities, they might want to take an increasing look at wireless technology,” he says.
Wireless technology occurs on two levels.
The first are local area networks (LANs) referring to a group of connected computers housed throughout one location. ADP says it already has the ability to wirelessly connect all of a dealership's computer hardware.
The second are wide area networks (WANs) which often connect separate LANs that are geographically dispersed. The cost of setting up a WAN can be significant, but it's free after that. Philadelphia is considering installing a city-wide WAN that its businesses and citizens can access. It is a future that is almost here.
Although wireless applications for the showroom and sales department get most of the attention, wireless probably will have its greatest impact on the fixed operations and inventory management, if current products are any indication.
Already some dealership service departments are using hand-held devices for vehicle service and repair information. The technician doesn't have to waste time searching for the binder holding all of the repair information, or waiting for an available computer terminal. The information is literally at hand. It speeds things up, and faster repairs mean more money for both the dealership and technician.
ADP has had a parts scan application available for seven years. About 1,000 dealerships use it. It is typical bar coding that makes inventory management more efficient and accurate by eliminating manual entry of part information and allowing cycle counts.
Another available application is VehicleScan. Although slow to take off in new car dealerships, VehicleScan is widely used in motorcycle and recreation vehicle dealerships.
Here's how it works: A lot attendant places a bar code on the vehicle and scans it as it comes off the truck. The scanning device is then plugged into a computer and downloads the information directly into the dealer management system (DMS). No more writing vehicle identification numbers in by hand, a tedious and often inaccurate process.
A future application that quickly is gaining ground is RFID (Radio Frequency Identification). It is considered to be the next generation bar code, but much more powerful.
Today, RFID is used for supply chain management initiatives for retail giants such as WalMart and Target.
Before long, car dealerships will use RFID technology.
It consists of a tiny computerized tag (affixed to the product) that in some cases has the memory equal to personal computers of 10 years ago. The larger the tag, the more information it can hold.
A person needn't individually scan each product. Instead a tag reader captures the product information and relays it to an antenna that downloads it into a management system. Tag readers are mounted on objects such as poles. As products are unloaded, the reader captures the information. Or a staffer with a hand-held reader walks along, capturing the information.
Inventory management becomes real-time, accurate and less time consuming.
RFID technology opens a variety of other applications for a dealership, says Beth Ayotte, director of alliances for ADP.
The challenge is coming up with a way to “marry RFID with an application such as VehicleScan,” she says. Eventually auto makers may tag vehicle as they're assembled.
For now, ADP envisions supplying dealerships with tags that can be placed on vehicles as they are unloaded off the trucks. Just what information should be placed on the tags is a question that's as yet unanswered.
A few years from now, a dealership will manage its vehicle inventory with the push of a button, says Ayotte. Antennas throughout the dealership property will scan the entire lot, capturing all of the vehicle information. That will then be downloaded to the DMS.
Mason says dealers are becoming increasingly aware of RFID. “Once you talk about it with them in the business context, they get it,” he says.