TOP 10 IT trends in automotive business in 2014

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Automotive industry ERP solution Elva DMS

02/17/2015

Last year, I worked with 30 to 40 countries. In the light of these activities, I’ve decided that it would be interesting and useful to make a summary of all incoming inquiries and create TOP 10 most popular topics of greatest interest to automotive industry customers in the context of the DMS (Dealer Management System). Based on their inquiries, I’ve created a summary of IT trends in the automotive industry and described them in my blog.

There are still fundamental things which customers are interested in and which remain the same every year. They are related to car service, spare parts and car sales. Also, the constant requirement is that the system must be integrated with the financial data and the accounting system.

Last year, most requests came from the following sectors: car dealers and other vehicle dealers, service companies, transport companies and heavy vehicle companies. Consequently, my observations and conclusions are based on those sectors. So, here are TOP 10 things, in addition to the usual functionality, requested by automotive industry companies from around the world over the year.

1. Mobile solutions for the automotive industry. How to use tablets and other mobile devices for data processing in the automotive industry?

Companies are increasingly using mobile devices in their daily operation. Consequently, there is a desire to expand the functionality and give their employees the opportunity to use mobile gadgets for processing data in the system. Most of the inquiries were specifically about the management of sales and stock data for spare parts that would provide for the possibility of viewing the catalogue of spare parts on a mobile phone, as well as issuing an invoice to a customer or making an order and arranging the delivery of goods via a mobile phone. Another requested option was the opportunity for the customer to sign the order on the phone.

There have also been requests for options regarding car recognition. This implies the possibility of scanning barcodes and getting information on the vehicle: who is the owner, what is the status of the company with this owner and other information.

Moreover, customers are interested in the survey options that make it possible to assess the condition of the car and sort out specific parameters, which may be particularly related to insurance cases.

In general, the inquiries related to mobile solutions range from quite simple, such as a possibility to connect to the system from a phone or other mobile device via a web browser, to more general requests regarding an increased ease of use of the phone for data management. The system cannot always display data on the phone in an equally good way as it can display such data on the computer screen. The main challenge is the size of the screen. This is why a lot of customers appreciate the availability of a special application for Microsoft Dynamics NAV and Elva DMS that is targeted to work with the system in a clear and presentable manner by using a phone or another mobile device.

In turn, companies operating in Asia, the Middle East or Africa are interested in offline solutions. This means that the data are processed in the mobile device application without using the Internet and later synchronized with the central database. Most often, customers show an interest in compatibility between the system and the mobile devices running the following operating systems: iOS (iPhone, iPad), Android and Windows Phone.

2. Vehicle service planning in the automotive industry. How to manage and optimize service planning?

Vehicle service planning has always been a relevant topic, but today more and more companies view this function from the point of view of how to use it in an increasingly effective way. It is no secret that such planning is not a simple thing. The situation changes depending on how timely or untimely the customers are to show up for service. Here, it is very important to analyze the service keeping in mind what was planned – how it was supposed to happen – and how it happens in reality. The responses should be compared and the biggest mistakes should be identified.

Another very important aspect of planning is time planning in respect to certain employees (repair shop time clock). There is standard time in the industry, which is pre-defined time for completing specific work, and there is also actual time, which means the time that was actually required to perform the work. This gives rise to the inquiries which were particularly apparent last year: How to calculate wages? What parameters should be viewed? Where to get the data on how long a particular serviceman worked on the specific order? What are the cash receipts from this order? What are these figures compared to other servicemen?

Today, companies want to see these comparisons, calculations and analysis of each serviceman, including repair-and-servicing hours spent and the work carried out in order to use this information as a basis for setting up their salary and/or bonus system.

This point is especially important for those companies that run more than one service. The system capacity can be broken down and used across various sites, allowing for centralized planning and reviewing of work within different locations.

3. Free access to the system. How to connect to the system from anywhere?

The current situation in companies is that employees are on the move and often choose to work from home; besides, outsourcing arrangements are used as well. This leads to an inquiry as to how employees can simply log on to the system and work from anywhere. The system must be easily accessible through a web browser without installation. This means that we can go on vacation, use a hotel computer and connect to the system without the need to install any additional software on that computer. The security aspects of such access to the system are essential too.

4. Simplified system interface. How to make the system efficiently usable for every employee?

Last year, a very special request coming from companies was related to the user-friendliness of the system. More and more customers are looking for systems where the user interface is customizable to their needs so that all the functions performed on a daily basis are enclosed in a single window. This is known as the dashboard. For example, if the user of the system is the service manager, this user requires that all relevant information associated with service management instantly appears in the system window. Such information may include open or closed job cards, a list of cars waiting in queue or other basic KPI data.

In parallel, customers are willing to use the same DMS for various work-related things, such as sending of internal messages to employees or e-mails for information exchange. This requirement basically means that users do not have to switch between different modules, which take time to carry out their everyday work. These days, it is important for users to remove any unnecessary information from the screen that is not required for the performance of their direct duties and display everything that is needed in a single window.

From the user’s point of view, it is essential that he or she can change and adapt the system screen or dashboard to his or her needs by adding or removing features.

In the day to day work, users also want to create their own customized document views, which can be used, for example, for reports, invoices or orders.

5. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system designed for the automotive industry. How to systematize working with customers in the automotive industry?

One of the industry’s most relevant issues today is the customer relationship management. Over the recent years, this topic has joined the list of top priorities for any business, but last year, unlike in previous years, companies operating in the automotive industry expressed a desire to obtain a CRM system which is completely built in the existing DMS, rather than choose an external system and try to integrate the data. This is due to the increasing role of digital marketing, double transmission of data and the opportunity to obtain the data online.

It is also required that the system is able to process data on contacts, business partners, customers, etc. and create campaigns or other interactions based on the fundamental contact information or the vehicle, as well as on the financial information relating to the company: how often the customer has visited the company, what is the status of the company, what is the turnover of this contact in your company, etc.

Last year, requirements for a CRM system also included a sales management system which can be used by the sales director for managing and supervising other sales people. This involves the possibility to plan work and evaluate performance from the point of view of the customer relationship management: how many offers have been created, how many calls have been made and what is the final output?

Generally speaking, customers require that the data can not only be processed based on the contact information, but also on the vehicle, service history, etc. This feature may be used to create campaigns aimed specifically at target audience, which can be selected based on the contact’s data regarding the vehicle and service history.

6. Integration with Microsoft Office 365. How is it possible to use Microsoft Office 365 together with DMS in the automotive industry?

Another top priority that has not changed for many years is the customers’ desire for the system to be integrated with other tools which they use in their daily work. This is mainly Microsoft Office. It is very important for the customers to be able to view the data in Excel and make the analysis outside the system. It is also essential to open and save various documents, such as invoices, offers or contracts in Word and PDF format. Moreover, a substantial requirement is the use of e-mail systems, such as Outlook, for sending information directly from the system.

A novelty that appeared last year and is now becoming more and more relevant is the ability to use integration of the DMS with the cloud services of Office 365.

This feature gives the customer the benefit to continue using the familiar work environment, while increasing the operational efficiency. There are significantly greater opportunities to share data outside the system. The main advantages are as follows: analysis possibilities using external tools; a wide range of information presentation possibilities; rapid sharing of data; and cloud services integration between the DMS and Office365 software.

Right now, Office 365 also offers SharePoint integration on advantageous terms that is most relevant to document management and various workflows.

7. DMS as a rented service. In which case it is better to choose DMS as a cloud service?

A growing number of companies around the world are interested in the possibility of using the system in the Cloud (also known as hosting, cloud hosting or renting). This is explained by the current business trends, as companies find this service profitable, as well as fashionable. The idea is quite simple: if you need electricity, you are not going to build your own power station, right? So, if there is a desire to use IT services, why maintain your own servers and relevant staff?

Using the system in the cloud is not only more profitable, but also much safer, because data maintenance and processing is in the capable hands of professionals.

The current trend shows that cloud services are becoming increasingly popular in regions such as North America and Western Europe, while users in Asia, the Middle East and Africa are still inclined to opt for locally installed (on-premise) systems. This fact is strongly influenced by indicators, such as Internet security and speed in a given region. And this also determines whether it is feasible and appropriate for a company to use cloud services.

Another important factor to be considered is labour costs. In regions where labour is cheaper, companies choose to employ in-house IT managers or use IT outsourcing and maintain in-house servers. On the other hand, in regions with more expensive labour costs it is more profitable and safer to use cloud services.

Many customers are worried about how they will be able to use the system if the Internet is suddenly down. It should be noted that nowadays mobile Internet is available almost everywhere, while offices have fixed Internet access (wireless or via cable) and a wide range of opportunities to create other parallel Internet channels. Therefore, in any case, access to the system is not closed.

From a business point of view, cloud services are now definitely selected by all the companies that are new or that are opening new branches and therefore require to have the system. At this moment, the advantage of the cloud compared to an on-premise system is that the company does not face high initial costs. A cloud service provides that a fixed price per user is charged every month. By contrast, installation of an on-premise system involves the purchase of the system itself (the licences), as well as a server that must be configured.

At the same time, an on-premise system is still a popular choice, and its topicality is not likely to undergo a major change in the next 5 years.

8. BI tools in the automotive industry. How to analyze data in a clear and presentable manner and monitor KPI?

Requirements for data analysis and their processing after the data have been saved in the DMS are becoming increasingly stringent. Businesses demonstrate a growing interest in analyzing not only the standard daily processes, but also making much more complex calculations. Moreover, the requirements regarding what data must be analyzed and from which perspective they should be analyzed are becoming more and more varied. A customer today cannot pinpoint what he wants to analyze tomorrow. Therefore, it is required that the customer gains the opportunity to create analytical reports independently based on his own needs, without the involvement of the system supplier.

Such BI tools are required for virtually any project. The common feature is that the customer wishes to analyze data not only from the DMS, but also from many other systems simultaneously. Often there is a situation where an entrepreneur owns not just one, but several companies operating in different sectors, and he wants to put the data together in a variety of ways and look at them from different perspectives, particularly when it comes to finance and financial consolidation.

To this end, it is important to have a sufficiently large selection of the available tools: from a simple data cube for SQL with Excel as an analysis reporting tool to ready-made standardized tools, among which the customer can select the most appropriate one.

9. Web shop in the automotive industry. How to ensure a seamless information exchange between the online shop and DMS?

These days, the Internet is one of the most important sales channels. Until now, DMS have lived separate lives from websites and other Internet sales systems. Today, however, customers require that the web shop should be part of the DMS system and that no double transmission of data to any of the various systems is needed in connection with online sales. It is essential that orders from the online store immediately appear in the DMS and that, for example, the warehouse can automatically set aside a spare part or another item for this order and start the workflow for picking of goods and their delivery to a particular client.

I can distinguish 2 types of customers in this regard:

  • Spare parts wholesalers who work exclusively with partners – other companies. In this case, it is important that a website automatically reflects specific prices for each customer that are established in the contract, finds the actual quantity of goods available in warehouses, provides additional information about previously placed orders and the possibility to copy them over to the new order, and also displays the financial information on unpaid orders and credit limits.
  • Dealers of used and new cars, where one of the most important aspects is the ability to quickly publish the latest offers online and the opportunity to communicate with the potential customer through the online store.

10. Field service. Which approach to choose for monitoring field service?

Last year, we received several inquiries from heavy vehicle companies carrying out off-site service for their vehicles. The biggest challenge is associated with the organization of work in external service centres. An important aspect in this regard is an opportunity to view the exact location of each service outlet on a map that is determined by using GPS tracking solutions. This ensures easier, more accurate and more flexible planning of service requests from customers. Besides, significant aspects related to organization of off-site service included the use of various equipment for processing of service data, the possibility to book spare parts for a particular vehicle remotely at the warehouse and the option to create new service orders (job cards) from mobile devices in the future.

Looking at these trends in the automotive industry leads to the question: What are the future trends for DMS? The overall conclusion is that companies are willing to simplify their daily work with the IT system as much as possible, while making business processes more efficient and spending less time on concrete actions, without double transmission of data in different systems. It is equally important to work with the system and manage business processes from anywhere in the world in order to minimize the dependence on the office.

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by Alvils Tabaks

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