Changing dealership management systems is such a complex process that some dealerships have likened it to a heart transplant.
CDK Global Inc., one of the largest DMS providers in the U.S., has always planned its clients' DMS conversions around on-site installations, said John Akalaonu, its senior vice president of customer delivery.
The Hoffman Estates, Ill., company would send a team into a dealership to offer training and troubleshooting as the store went live on a new system. That worked — until the coronavirus pandemic hit this spring.
Within weeks in March, states imposed business restrictions that shuttered showrooms, and companies limited travel. People were asked to stay home to limit the spread of the virus. To adapt, CDK began to install DMS and other products virtually.
Akalaonu said almost 30 percent of installations for CDK's Drive DMS product were fully remote from March until the end of June. The share is smaller today, he said, as COVID-19-related restrictions have eased. But CDK intends for the remote process to improve and outlast the pandemic.
"Necessity is the mother of invention," Akalaonu told Automotive News. "If we, in a pre-COVID world, would have said we're going to do a DMS conversion fully remote, probably the customer, our sales team, even my own team, probably would have laughed me out of the room. Because it was just such a foreign concept."
Staff Reporter Lindsay VanHulle talked with Akalaonu, 39, about the remote process. Here are edited excerpts.
On how product installations worked before COVID-19:
The Drive DMS conversions, our fixed ops products — they've always been planned around an on-site presence. So the install model, in essence, was the customer would sign a contract, we would start to work with them, there'd be some kind of data collection and back-and-forth on understanding how they want to be set up.
There would be the remote portion of the actual system configuration, the keyboard work, while the customer is doing some remote training prior to the go-live. The week of go-live, we would then have folks on-site [as] an immediate resource for them [during] their first days actually in the system.
On learning an on-site process wouldn't work in a pandemic:
There was just a very human concern about dealers not wanting folks from across the country or even outside of their work group coming in and potentially exposing them. It was very dynamic for quite a few weeks there as the different states were taking different approaches and changing them almost hourly. We can't just shut the business down, so we got to be able to find a way to continue to deliver, not just for the business but also for our customers — particularly those in the middle of moving to CDK.
The team slept maybe a total of five hours in 72 hours but came up with a way [to] do these complex installs and be able to give them the same level or better of quality and do it fully remote.
On creating a remote process:
The first part was just getting us over the mental block of, "Hey, we've never done this remotely." There were so many things inherent to being on-site that we just kind of took for granted.
For our customers, a lot was a learning curve on the technology side. We had to put together [a] kind of guide to give them on, "This is how you dial into Zoom. This is how you share your screen." It was having a process and a schedule that we could be successful in, but also make sure we're available for the customer at any given time because we didn't want them to get stuck there in that car deal.
In that first week, we came up with a minimally viable process that allowed us to start doing stuff the following week, and then we iterated on that over the next couple weeks as we really formalized it.
On improving the technology:
We want to continue to innovate. We want the remote model to be kind of the beginning of the conversation, vs. an alternative. And there's things we have to do to build the confidence in the market [so] that people will want to do that. There's things we're looking at, at how we can get customers more excited about it.
I would love to figure out a way to do this fully remote model but better utilize mobile technology, so you don't necessarily have to be sitting at a desk in a dealership on Zoom.