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By Mike Esposito, President & CEO
As a dealer, the thought of going through a DMS data conversion is probably daunting. If it isn’t, it should be. Data conversions are very difficult and if anyone has told you differently, they’re lying. However, if the potential to save thousands of dollars a month is a strong enough motivator, a sound data conversion strategy will ease the process of switching from one DMS provider to another. The first steps toward a successful strategy include:
The first thing a dealer should do to prepare for a DMS data conversion is to assign one person to take responsibility for interfacing with the DMS vendor for all aspects of the conversion. This person should be very familiar with all the applications and how they are used. Most often this is the Office Manager, but it could be a technical support person. In essence, this person will act as the Project Manager and should have excellent communication and organization skills.
When switching providers, it is critical for the new provider to have access to all the applications in order to extract data. Therefore, the point person must understand how that access is granted.
The first consideration here is data ownership. Though every DMS provider will insist that the dealer owns the data, it is important for a dealer to get these sentiments in writing. Your existing DMS vendor should be willing to put into writing that any representative of the dealer’s choosing has access to the data. If the provider isn’t willing to do this, don’t walk away. Run.
That settled, the second consideration is being able to provide the new vendor with access to your data. Just because it’s your data doesn’t ensure that you’ll have access to it. Having witnessed hundreds of conversions, I have seen many instances where the existing DMS provider has discovered that the dealer is planning to switch, and strange things start to happen with the data; modems unexpectedly shut down, access is banned, data gets corrupted, etc. My advice is, if you are planning to switch DMS providers, do not inform the existing provider of your decision until after the conversion is complete.
Meanwhile, the new vendor will need to know whether access to data is granted through a modem or network; what the passwords are as well as other log-on information. If your existing DMS is on ASP, you have to ensure that the vendor you are selecting can gain access to the ASP. Some DMS providers require more in-depth information for access to the servers. Some require additional software to be purchased in order to gain access. All these issues need to be addressed between you and your new DMS supplier before data conversion can start.
Data conversions would be much simpler if every dealership used the defined fields as planned within every application. Unfortunately, this is almost never the case. This is why it’s critical for the dealership point person to know how the applications are used. If a dealer has been with one DMS provider for a number of years, it’s very likely that users have created or customized fields to fit their own needs. For example, ten years ago none of the systems had a field for key codes (the code that a dealer needs to create a new key for the customer if the key is lost). So users either selected another field, such as trim (i.e. we don’t record trim so let’s use this one for key codes); or they created a field (i.e. blank1), and recorded the information there. When your new DMS supplier pulls the data from your existing system, if they do not know about these “custom” fields they will, in many cases, miss them. To prevent this, the dealership contact person should enlist every department manager to provide a list of every user field in the application, how it’s been customized and what type of information is contained in that field.
If you’ve ever moved after say, ten years or so of living in one location, you’ll know that one of the most dreaded aspects is facing the boxes of stuff that have been sitting in various closets, the contents of which you haven’t seen in years. Yet it has to be done. Why drag a bunch of junk to a brand new home?
Changing from one application to another is similar. Why bring outdated or duplicate information into a brand new system? For this task, a dealer should seriously consider hiring a data cleansing service or selecting a DMS provider that can provide that service or is affiliated with one. In addition, the point person should sort through the dealership processes and decide how they want the new system to support them, i.e. if an Office Manager has been thinking about combining several different schedules into one, now is the time to do it.
In the next article in this series, I’ll discuss the next step: sitting down with the new provider and asking exactly what information in each department will be converted (hint: don’t assume it’s everything). Also, I’ll give a department by department rundown of what the minimum expectations should be and what some of the consequences are if the dealership isn’t properly prepared.
In the third and final article of this series, I’ll conclude with some tips for the actual conversion process through pre-pull and live pull. I’ll discuss issues that typically arise, how to prepare employees and what to do if problems occur.