Are information technology (IT) problems slowing your business down? If your dealership experiences frequent network crashes, slow Internet or complaints from employees about technologies that don’t work properly, it’s time to do an assessment of your IT infrastructure.
The world of technology evolves at a rapid pace, so if your dealership hasn’t been keeping up it’s likely that your IT infrastructure isn’t adequate for current business operations. We recommend that IT assessments be performed on an annual basis, or any time you are considering purchasing a new technology or software for your dealership.
Annual IT assessments provide dealers with the following benefits:
- Identify the cause of recurring problem(s) so they can be fixed once and for all
- Provide forward guidance so you know exactly how much to budget for IT in the coming year
- Reveal unnecessary fees and areas where you can take advantage of economies of scale, reducing recurring monthly charges
- Ensure that your other technology investments, such as your DMS, CRM or shop tools, perform optimally so you can maximize your ROI
- Keeps your business and customer data safe from both external intrusions and internal thieving
IT assessments can be conducted internally, or you can choose to hire an outside IT company to do them for you. If you choose to do it yourself, here is a laundry list of items that should be included in your annual review.
Carrier bills include your monthly bills from your phone carrier, Internet Service Provider (ISP) and network maintenance from your DMS provider. If you’re not paying attention to these bills, you may be paying hundreds more than you need to every month.
When was the last time you talked to your ISP to see if your dealership is getting the right amount of broadband for optimal productivity? Due to recent deregulation, a fiber optics solution is now an affordable option for many dealerships. Additionally, your dealership should have redundant Internet with two separate ISPs in the event of a network outage. Ask your ISP to test your broadband connection and make recommendations based on data usage and speed.
When was the last time you shopped around for a new phone carrier? Sticking with the ‘tried and true’ carriers like AT&T, Verizon or Centurylink isn’t always the cheapest strategy. Smaller, competitive providers can sometimes offer a better deal. Does your dealership have more than one location? If so, make sure you’re getting discounts for economies of scale. Additionally, review bills to make sure your carrier is not charging you for extra phone lines you don’t need and other errors.
If you’re paying your DMS provider for network maintenance, you’ll really want to scrutinize their bills for unnecessary charges. Do you know how many IP addresses your dealership has? Are you paying to maintain equipment you no longer own? Charges on these bills should be closely monitored and negotiated.
Are you 100% confident that your IT network is secure and all your data is safe? Not many business owners are. Conducting annual risk assessments for your network’s security is highly recommended.
Start by reviewing your existing security policies, guidelines and procedures. Are there any new threats or vulnerabilities that should be addressed in the coming year? Include any new government laws and regulations that pertain to security requirements.
Next, review the configuration and usage of your network architecture, remote access systems, servers, firewalls and external network connections. This should include a list of all your security systems in use such as antivirus, spam control and network monitoring. Ideally you will have a map or network diagram showing how all your security assets are configured and interconnected.
If you don’t have an employee who is knowledgeable about security protocols, you may want to hire a data security consultant to conduct a risk assessment for you. This is an area that’s too important to overlook.
Does your dealership have adequate wireless coverage for all of your employee devices and technology tools? If you’re considering any new technology in your dealership, and particularly for your service department, be sure to understand the impact it will have on your wireless network.
More than likely you’ll have to add several new enterprise-grade routers. Many manufacturers are now requiring the installation of Cisco/Meraki routers in dealership service departments, which is helpful. Having adequate wireless coverage is critical for many systems to work correctly, as well as for employee buy-in and productivity.
Review the configurations of your server(s) on an annual basis. If your dealership doesn’t have any servers, you may want to consider transitioning to a centralized server setup.
When employees use standalone PCs with local administrative rights, you have no control of what your employees can install on those PCs. This poses a huge security risk. A centralized server is more efficient and allows one person to control admin rights for every employee.
If a PC is older than five years or is crashing repeatedly, it’s time to replace it. Keeping track of PC installation dates allows you to accurately forecast how many PCs will have to be replaced every year. A brand new PC costs less than $1,000 now, which is a minimal investment that quickly delivers ROI in the form of increased employee productivity.
If your dealership has more than four employees you should be using enterprise-grade, managed switches. Sometimes I see dealerships using consumer grade, unmanaged switches that a staff member purchased from a place like Best Buy. These are completely inadequate for the high levels of data usage in business.
An inadequate number of switches, or switches older than three years old, can significantly slow network speed. If your ISP is telling you that your Internet speed is good and your wireless coverage is adequate, but your employees are still complaining about slow Internet, it’s likely you need new switches. Also 100 Mbps switches are obsolete now; make sure all your switches are 1 Gigabit.
Conducting annual IT assessments provides a number of benefits to dealers that directly impact the bottom line. Instead of viewing your IT budget as a cost to be controlled, you’ll quickly realize it’s an investment that can deliver significant ROI.
Author: Erik Nachbahr
Erik Nachbahr is President and Founder of Helion Automotive Technologies, the nation’s leader in automotive Information Technology (IT) management. Since 1997 Helion has grown to become the nation’s largest managed technology services provider for auto dealers. With over 28,000 computers under management across 700 dealerships and body shops, Helion ensures best practices for productivity, security and compliance.