A political platform is like the second verse of the Star Spangled Banner; everyone knows it’s there, but nobody knows the words. We could say the same for DMS technology. What is your DMS’s platform? Dealers are often kept in the dark when it comes to the technical layers of their DMS.
During a previous article, I discussed the database or “engine” that your DMS runs on, but the platform is more complicated. Technically speaking, a computer platform generally means the operating system and computer hardware, but this can be misleading.
New interfaces and tools allow application programs to run on multiple platforms. This has given rise to the terms cross-platform software and multi-platform software. Let’s use your iPad as an example. The iPad “platform” is a very specific type of hardware and operating system controlled by Apple. If I buy a new program that was designed to run on a Windows Tablet, then most likely I won’t be able to install it on my iPad. The software might be cross-platform and have an “App” for the iPad, or I could install it on my desktop computer and run it through a remote access tool for the iPad. Remote access can cause a delay, poor screen resolution and reduced performance, but it works.
Let’s talk about the platforms of newest DMS giants; Cox and Dominion. The Cox DealerTrack DMS is a very specific platform; IBM. DealerTrack uses a GUI interface from LookSoftware. According to LookSoftware’s case study online, Jim Jensen the Product Manager at Arkona (DealerTrack) explained, “Our main problem was that the host applications were perceived as outdated. Although the IBM System i platform under the covers is state of the art, many users still think it’s ‘old technology’ because of the look of the green screens. The younger generation of users demands modern applications – they are very unsure about how to navigate the 5250 interface.” By using the LookSoftware interface, DealerTrack’s IBM software developed by Arkona over 20 years ago enables users to have a better Windows-like experience.
Dominion’s new DMS, DMX uses a Microsoft platform and more specifically Microsoft Dynamics AX. Dynamics AX is an older ERP, originally called Axapta and was developed in Denmark in 1998 then taken over by Microsoft in 2002. We know from using Microsoft Excel, Word, and Outlook that although these tools are supposed to be on the same Windows platform; sharing info between them can be a challenge. Microsoft recognizes the challenge and for their ERP products like Dynamics AX to communicate with other Microsoft products like Dynamics CRM, they have a special Microsoft Connector. This tool has entity mappings that provide key integration of data in both systems. The basic integration can be extended and customized by adding new maps.
I realize this might be confusing, but mapping data will be necessary for most of the technology giants as they strive to provide a single technology solution to dealerships. If you have a DMS with a field like License Number, you’d want that to map in your CRM to either the customer’s driver license number or vehicle license plate number. Getting this mapping wrong is the most common complaint with third party integrations. You certainly don’t want your website to use the dealer cost field instead of Internet sales price when posting your new inventory online.
Some newer DMS providers like DealerStar solve this by having a single platform and database for both their DMS and CRM and developed their DMS using a cross-platform of Windows Server or Linux/Apache. Since it is web browser-based, it doesn’t require a GUI. Although these newer technology giants, Cox and Dominion and the legacy providers, CDK and R+R are moving towards being a single solution provider, most are hampered by the fact that they bought many different technology companies on different platforms. Their smaller business units like XTime, VinSolutions, Dealer.com and vAuto need to continue to generate profit and integrate with other DMS providers outside their own family.
What does this mean for dealers? Should you put all your technology on one platform, or keep a mismatch of databases, field mappings, and data sharing but get it from one provider? As speed and accurate mapping becomes more important in the future, ask about the platforms and technical layers before you buy a 3rd party product or change DMS or CRM providers.
Author: Sandi Jerome
Sandi Jerome is the owner of Sandi Jerome Computer Consulting. Sandi founded DealerStar, a web-based DMS. She is a former CFO, System Administrator, Fixed Operations Manager, and Controller with over 30 years experience in the auto industry.