Show Me Your Spreadsheets

Show Me Your Spreadsheets

Tonight, guest writer Mets Kramer resumes his blog posts on digitizing your dealership with “Show Me Your Spreadsheets.”

Show Me Your Spreadsheets

Over the past couple of years, I’ve spoken often about the Digital Dealership, a dealership with equal digital presence to the it’s physical (bricks and mortar) presence.  The idea of the Digital Dealership is not to remove the need or option for a physical interaction with customers, but to support the growing demand for a more digital interaction.  

While the transition to or addition of more digital customer facing channels is growing, many dealers still struggle to digitize their internal operations.   Working more digital or electronic is a natural desire for many dealers and their team members.   Most of us spend our whole day staring at a computer screen, or 2, to transact the business in an efficient way.  

The most common digitization of the dealership starts with their accounting.  This standard activity for all companies seems the easiest and, often, most justified area to bring in software to support the business.  Yet, after this common function most dealers struggle to take the next step.  I believe many dealers struggle with this step because the right approach and the value and importance of the transition to a digital dealership platform is not clear.  

Going forward I’m going to use the word “platform” to refer to all the information systems, software tools, data and IT infrastructure used by a dealer to execute the daily transaction of the dealership.   A platform doesn’t have to be a specific or singular software tool. 

There are a few main aspects to a dealership platform that I’d like to layout in this blog to help dealers determine an approach to improving the digital landscape in their dealership.    These aspects include the obvious, software, but also include Information in general, identity management and finally integration. 

First, let’s take a step back and think about what happens naturally in a dealership.   It’s important to recognize that everyone in your team is trying to get their portion of the work done.  Given just a PC/laptop they tend to find methods to accomplish their tasks.   The most common answer is Excel.  I love and hate excel personally, it’s a great program, intuitive and useful for lots of things.  When I work with new dealers, my first question is often, “Show me your Excel sheets”.  

Excel, despite the fact it shouldn’t be used as a business system, highlights one really important aspect of the business, INFORMATION.  People use Excel to save, store, look up and update information.  We all know how much chaos is caused when an excel sheet gets deleted.  All that information is LOST.    This proves that INFORMATION is the foundation and the most important aspect of your dealership platform.  It supports all your transactions, information typically needs to flow from one area of the dealership to another and, intrinsically, everyone knows it’s the one thing they don’t want to lose.  

With the idea of INFORMATION’s importance in mind, let’s look at the most common focus of the digitization of the dealership, SOFTWARE TOOLS.    I call software products “tools” because I want to distinguish the tool portion of the software from the Data or INFORMATION that’s stored in the Software.  

The most common approach to going digital in a dealership is to go looking for a SOFTWARE TOOLS.  It’s like we’re all technicians when the Snap-On truck shows up.  We admire the software interface (UI), we listen to the promises of problems solved and we see the SOFTWARE TOOL as the solution and often don’t know what questions to ask during a demo. 

SOFTWARE TOOLS are just that, they are a tool for interacting with your INFORMATION.  Throughout the time you use a tool, you are creating that component we agreed is the most important, INFORMATION.  As time goes on what we want to do with the INFORMATION may change and this is where the Software Tool often fails.   For Dealers looking to improve their internal digitization it’s important to approach Software evaluation by separating the software tool from the information.  Just like we don’t hire technicians based on the size of their toolbox, we should keep a similar approach in mind to Software.   A Software Tool is disposable.   Yes, you heard right, the tool should be considered disposable.  It will serve its purpose for a while, but then will need to be replaced.  Many dealers have experienced this, but hit a major problem caused because the tool contains the thing they value, INFORMATION.  If your information can’t be transferred you might find yourself locked in, this can be especially pronounced when that tool is a Dealer Management System. 

So, what should dealers do when faced with a need in the business to improve efficiency of process and visibility to information?   Ask the following types of questions 

  1. Ask Questions during the demo about YOUR process needs and how the SOFTWARE will handle these situations.  Ask the person giving the Demo to illustrate.
  2. Ask how and where the data is stored and how it can be accessed aside from using the tool 
  3. Ask how the INFORMATION can be extracted/exported/dumped from the Software
  4. Ask questions about the Next thing you’ll want the software to do after you solve the first problem.

So, in summary, INFORMATION is the most valuable part of your dealership platform.  SOFTWARE TOOLS help you create, view and interact with the INFORMATION.   This brings up the next aspect that is often not understood by dealers without dedicated Information Systems people; INTEGRATION.  

INTEGRATION allows one tool to talk to another tool and access the data.  It can either query the data and use it, or it can even update and add data.   This can be done in the following ways

  1. Direct Database access – if your software tool stores data in a common, accessible database like SQL, MySQL or similar then other tools can read the data. 
  2. APIs – Application Program Interfaces – These are basically hidden pages or screens in your Software that allow other programs to mimic the actions people make.  

If you’re looking at a platform solution that doesn’t have methods for direct access to your INFORMATION, an API or some way to move data to your own database you’ll likely end up finding this a roadblock or hurdle to INTEGRATION of other platform components.   It will in time cause you to be locked in potentially or lose valuable data when you switch.   The truth is, all of these options are possible in modern digital platforms.   

In my next blog I’ll continue to look at important things to consider when looking at SOFTWARE TOOLS, how good choices enable removing silos and duplication.  I’ll also introduce the final piece IDENTITY Management and how this can simplify and improve the flow of your Digital Dealership Platform.

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