Strange bedfellows bring new product to IT scene It's said that politics make strange bedfellows. Well, so do the Internet and dealership information technology systems.

EDS and IBM, who normally spar along with Reynolds & Reynolds and ADP for the dollars dealers earmark for IT hardware and software, have joined forces to help dealers and their employees find the information highway.

DealerPath, which was launched late last month and already is scheduled to be installed in 24 stores, is a blend of IBM's WebConnections and Whistle InterJet server technology and the automotive retail expertise of EDS.

While most dealerships across the country have a web site, the outgoing and incoming e-mail is delivered via portals such as AOL and Yahoo.

"Dealers are not providing infrastructure to get out to the web," explains Matt Parsons, marketing manager for the EDS Automotive Retail Group. "We assessed that there was a need in the marketplace for a safe, secure and controlled way for dealers to access the web."

DealerPath works independent of, yet integrates with, a dealership's information management system.

The system provides unlimited Internet access and e-mail for up to 100 users, yet managers can control access to prevent unproductive web access. It also provides a domain name and firewall security to protect your internal network and systems. Yet, DealerPath allows up to 10 users to access their e-mail from remote locations.

"One of things this does is create an environment where all of the salespeople are communicating with customers under the dealership domain name umbrella, rather than some other portal," says Mr. Parsons.

In addition to promoting a more consistent professional image with customers, DealerPath also is designed to promote productivity within the dealership by creating an Intranet that allows employees to communicate and prevent unwanted e-mail or "spam" from getting in.

DealerPath's hardware, which remains the property of IBM, is a simple-looking box that is the size of a toaster. It has one plug for the dealership's local area network (LAN) and an array of plugs that give dealers a choice in telecommunications media.

"This is as close to plug-and-play as we've ever seen," says Mr. Parsons. Dealers can use communications ranging from 56K analog, 64K or 128K ISDN, four classes of DSL from 128K through 1M to T1 from 128K to 1.54M.

Because EDS is using an existing IBM system that already is in use in thousands of businesses, the cost of using DealerPath is relatively low. The initial activation fee is $299. Monthly subscription fees range between $149 and $569, depending on the bandwidth the dealer selects.

"If you use one of the DSL options, you really are getting a great value," says Mr. Parsons. "If you do that, the monthly fee covers all telecommunications charges and that makes Internet access a fixed expense for dealers."

ISDN, 56K and T1 communications require additional fees.

DealerPath also can be used to host a web site, however, EDS says many dealership sites already offer more than the web site component of this system is capable of. It can, however, create a dealership Intranet web page that can make it easier for employees to communicate with each other and with other dealership departments.

EDS says it also is working on customizing the desktops of each user so the tools they need for their specific jobs are right there all the time.

In order to run DealerPath, a dealership must have a peer-to-peer or client/server Ethernet network running 10BASE-T or 100BASE-T and a hub to connect to the IBM InterJet server.

The store needs to have a minimum of one Windows 95 or Windows 98 computer that can run Netscape Navigator 4.5 or Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0 or later. Initial configuration requires access to an analog phone line to complete configuration.

The remote e-mail function requires an e-mail client that supports APOP or Microsoft Secure Password Authentication.