Two years ago, Sharon Kitzman wrote about the three crucial components dealers must consider when selecting a new dealer management system (DMS). Her expertise in the technology goes back to the early stages of her 25-year career in the automotive industry. Auto Dealer Today caught up with the vice president and general manager of Dealertrack DMS to learn more about her experience and the ongoing evolution of the systems.
ADT: Sharon, when did you join the auto industry?
Kitzman: I hate to go back in time that far but I started in the auto business in 1992 with a little company you may have heard of: Reynolds and Reynolds. I spent about 16 years there until I was recruited by Dealertrack.
In 2007, Dealertrack was about to acquire the Arkona business. They were focused on the sales and financing space but contemplating DMS and looking for folks who had DMS experience. And, of course, last October, Dealertrack was acquired by Cox Automotive.
ADT: Did you build upon the existing platform or start over?
Kitzman: Luckily, no, I did not have to build from scratch, as we took the Arkona platform, modernized it and renamed it Dealertrack DMS.
At the time, Dealertrack’s core competency was in the credit space. As a result, when the DMS modernization yielded a different tool — something very new and different for Dealertrack executives — they had to be educated on the broad spectrum of the DMS’s capabilities: accounting and payroll, fixed ops, and OEM integration.
Additionally, we had to transition Dealertrack to a subscription-based sales process. We felt that’s the relationship Dealertrack has to have with the dealer long-term.
ADT: And you must feel these moves have made Dealertrack a better partner.
Kitzman: That is exactly what happened. And now Cox is excited to have a DMS under their banner. We think of it as the heartbeat, the system of record, the digital database for the dealership.
There are a lot of software solutions that go into the retail environment, all looking to integrate data back and forth. So their entire customer base is in the DMS. Their entire list of assets, the service history, parts inventory, any documents that were scanned or captured electronically.
ADT: Has fixed ops always been part of the DMS?
Kitzman: The DMS started in accounting, as a way to get the financial statement to the car companies. Most dealers are focused on selling new vehicles and the F&I process, so the DMS bled into those departments first. But it has been in fixed ops for a long time. It holds data records that can be mined for future services that might be needed on the vehicle.
The interesting thing about fixed operations is that, whatever is going on in the market, good or bad, there is always business in fixed operations. Sales might ebb and flow in the front end, but fixed ops is highly profitable for the dealer and holds the potential for new business operations.
ADT: When you wrote about the DMS selection process in 2014, you listed the benefits of hosted vs. in-house systems. Is the cloud-based approach a hard sell for dealers?
Kitzman: Our commitment and I think where we differentiate ourselves is that we will keep them high-tech and will have a high-touch approach to that. We were cloud-based from the beginning and remain focused on the cloud today. Cloud is here to stay. And we’ve been excited about how we can leverage that differently to the customers.
Mobility in the form of tablets and smartphones is entering the market by storm and entering all aspects of the business in a different way. We are browser-agnostic; they can choose their mobile device of choice. And it has been exciting to see different things customers have been able to do with that as well.
ADT: Have you found functions you didn’t predict?
Kitzman: Absolutely, yes. With mobility as an option and with our open database design, Opentrack, we allow third-party vendors to connect to the DMS. Our dealers have leveraged those same APIs [application program interfaces] to develop their own software applications to differentiate themselves from their competitors.
I was just visiting with Trevor Gile, the general manager at Motor Cars Honda of Cleveland. He took a look at our DMS and saw an opportunity to leverage the technology to differentiate himself in his market. As an example, he partnered with Hunter and BP Oil and put together a service experience that’s very unique and completely transparent. The customer can leverage mobile tablets to interact with the technician working on their vehicle. He had the application written that still leverages our open data platform and connectivity.
ADT: Shouldn’t that make dealers concerned that someone can hack into their DMS from the cloud?
Kitzman: Anytime you’re talking about data, security is top of mind. We are the only DMS that is 100% cloud-based. Think about a dealer with a server onsite who is allowing third parties to access that. If you’re in the cloud and you rely on your DMS partner to connect you and monitor those connections, and you know we have the highest standards in place, that really takes that burden and puts it where it belongs: on the technology provider.
ADT: What’s next for you specifically and for the DMS in general?
Kitzman: Great question. Now that we’re part of Cox Automotive and we have access to a broader set of solutions, our focus is on finding unique integrations we can leverage to create better efficiency gains. For the DMS, we’re shifting gears a bit based on research we conducted about a year ago. Dealers told us they have so much software in the dealership right now that they don’t know if they’re using it to its fullest extent.
So instead of a new widget, we would like a higher-touch service model. We want to reach out on a regular basis and ask dealers to tell us what we can be doing better, assess our utilization, and help us increase utilization over time.
It’s like buying a treadmill. It gets used really heavily for a couple months and then you start hanging things on it. That’s how I think many dealers think about software. It’s certainly how I think about the software on my computer, on my phone. Having somebody proactively reach out to me and saying, “Hey, Sharon, you can use this in a different way,” that would be a game-changer.