We all know that feeling when you walk into an auto dealership that's on top of its game. The interior is gleaming. The exterior is impeccable. The service department is clean and humming. The sales staff is professional, organized, and hitting their goals. Even the coffeemaker is state of the art!
But I know a secret. In many dealerships, in the back rooms and behind the walls, lurks a red-headed stepchild. An afterthought. Often overlooked, it only gets attention when it causes a problem.
That red-headed stepchild is your information technology (IT) strategy. Let's face it. You're probably not devoting as much time to it as your Daily DOC, checking the numbers daily, weekly and monthly to ensure you're on track. You're probably not showing it off like those fancy software programs you invested in to help you achieve your sales and service goals.
I understand the red-headed stepchild can be complicated. You know how important it is, but you're just not sure what to do with it! Still, that doesn't mean it's okay to ignore it.
Signs that you are ignoring your IT strategy include:
- When employees complain about their slow computers, you send your IT guy to Best Buy to purchase ten new computers, and hope that solves the problem.
- When customers complain about the Wi-Fi connectivity in your lounge, you send your IT guy to Best Buy to purchase a new router (dealerships require enterprise-grade routers, not residential routers)
- Your phone system or network occasionally goes down, or your Internet provider has an occasional outage. Doesn't everyone's?
- You believe that your current firewall and security software will protect you from hackers, so there's no need to have a corporate security policy.
The good news is creating an IT strategy isn't terribly difficult. You just have to know the right questions to ask, such as:
- What is the lifecycle of our current IT equipment? For example, a network switch lasts eight years, PCs and servers typically last five years and routers last seven years. However, equipment may need to be replaced sooner if there are business reasons to do so.
- How much does it cost to maintain and replace the equipment? Every time you purchase new equipment, allocate a budget for its future maintenance and replacement. Budgeting in advance can help guard against big, unexpected expenses.
- What are the business reasons to replace IT equipment? As dealerships rely more on cloud-hosted software services, and as new technology in vehicles and mobile tablets require more bandwidth in the service department, your IT infrastructure needs to be upgraded to handle the huge increases in data. Every time you consider a new software or technology, ask the vendor what the bandwidth and other IT requirements are. Factor the cost of IT upgrades into the cost of the new technology.
- Which pieces of equipment are under warranty and when do those warranties expire? In case something happens to the equipment, is it more cost-effective to purchase an extended warranty or to replace the equipment?
- What are the current and future projected costs of licensing for all your software programs? Are there ways to reduce these costs, such as re-negotiating with vendors? Are you still paying licensing fees for users that have left your company?
- What new technologies coming down the pipeline should you be aware of? Advances in wireless devices, collaboration tools, teleconferencing and other technologies could soon make email and other existing technologies a thing of the past. Are you planning to experiment with any of these new tools in the near future? Most are designed to speed up decision-making and increase customer satisfaction, two important priorities for many dealers.
- What is the best way to secure my dealership's data, including sensitive customer information such as credit card and social security numbers? Believe it or not, the biggest threat to your customer data is probably your employees. Scammers try to trick your employees into downloading malware, viruses or to click on websites that can steal your information. Unfortunately these schemes have resulted in many instances of employees inadvertently granting hackers access to networks, bypassing the very firewalls and security software meant to keep them out. When this happens, consequences are expensive.
Knowing the answers to these questions will help you craft a strategy to ensure your IT infrastructure can always support your business goals and keep your data safe. Creating a spreadsheet that includes a list of IT inventory, lifecycle and replacement costs will help you budget and save money in the long run.
Pretending your IT strategy doesn't exist won't make it go away, so stop ignoring that red-headed stepchild! A proactive approach is far more cost-efficient than a reactive approach.