Insert a bank card into an automated teller machine anywhere in the country and you can expect to get cash. The banking business has had network standards for years.
The same has not been true of the auto industry - at least until now.
DaimlerChrysler, Ford Motor Co. and General Motors have committed to computer network standards for their dealers. The standards are published in a 70-page guide the Big 3 are distributing to their dealers, 'Dealership Infrastructure: A common vision and guidelines for building an Internet-ready dealership network.'
Other manufacturers are expected to come on board. 'We have all been wrestling with the same issues,' said John Whitcomb, GM's director of process engineering for customer experience.
The obvious benefit to dealers is a big cost reduction in hardware and software. Because the manufacturers have had proprietary systems, multifranchise dealers need more than one personal computer to talk to the factories and generally several satellite dishes on their roofs.
'This is huge,' said Wes Lutz, president of Extreme Dodge in Jackson, Mich., who is involved in the National Automobile Dealers Association's efforts to set up common network standards. 'If you are a GM and Ford dealer you are going to have the same communication network with both factories on one PC.'
Communication also will be easier and more accurate. Standards eliminate the need to enter data several times to meet specifications for each automaker. And computer training will be easier because employees will not have to learn several proprietary systems.
'We will be able to move people around without a lot of retraining,' said Spencer Hondros, dealer principal of Villa Marin Pontiac-Buick-GMC Inc. in Staten Island, N.Y., and chairman of the GM's information technology dealer council. 'If a manager gets sick at a GM store I can get a Ford guy to cover for him.'
Most dealers lease their hardware for five-year terms. It will take time for the factories to achieve their goal of establishing an off-site central server linked to dealerships through high-speed Internet connections. Currently, dealer applications run from manufacturers' information systems servers in the dealership.
Still, it won't be long before dealer systems will run with the ease of an ATM.