With the growing importance of technology, dealers realize the need for the “latest and greatest” easy-to-use technology that better connects with customers.

They realize the need in order both to serve their customers better and keep pace with today's progressive consumers.

It's part of an evolution that started years back for the automobile industry, as early as the 1960s, when the first in-dealership computer services were offered to retailers. And just 20 years ago, the world was largely still in the mainframe era. The PC was still a novelty.

That was then …

Since automotive retailing came into its own, dealers recognized the need for innovation — both technological and non-technology based — because such innovation would logically help them do business better and more efficiently. When true technology came along and became available, though, that's when things really started to change in dealership operations.

The evolution of computer operating systems in the automotive environment got its first real boost in 1963 when the first computerized accounting system designed specifically for auto dealers was made available. More innovations were introduced throughout the decade, including data processing services, parts inventory control systems and data transmission.

The '60s quickly became the '70s, and computers went from filling an entire room to being placed on a single tabletop. These “minicomputers” became the basis for dealership management systems as we know them today. Turnkey in-house computer systems and “super-micro” technology further escalated a dealership's capabilities in the early 80s. And then came the 90s and the Internet.

This is now …

Dealers today have available to them a plethora of technology tools. But, as opposed to retailing of yesteryear, consumers are armed with those same tools, including the Internet. What the Internet has done for the consumer is give them information and, ultimately, negotiating power like never before.

Dealers have indicated that they are ready for the challenge. They have even indicated what tools, from a technological standpoint, they need to meet this challenge and, ultimately, get the returns on investment they desire. For example, today's retailers have indicated they want to:

  • Make better use of the information they have already collected so that they can sell more cars;

  • Develop better relationships with their customers, the automotive consumer;

  • Improve their operational efficiencies so that they can make more money.

Car companies are echoing the same wants and needs for technologies that will bring them in touch with the consumer and integrate their operations with the individual retailers.

Dealers and car companies want a “hybrid” e-business and CRM environment that is based on both applications at their business as well as applications and services over the Internet.

All of these factors reflect what the consumer most wants: a positive experience that makes the most of their time and easily allows them to get the information they're after.

These results can all be accomplished with the right software integration and flexibility. In the past, this integration was only available through a piecemeal of software packages and hardware units. Technology and tools like Microsoft® .NET are now available.

What these tools can do is enable disparate applications and systems to communicate via Internet interfaces. For example, .NET-enabled applications are able to exchange data and information over the Internet, enabling an enterprise — in this case, a dealership — to more easily integrate desktop and server-resident applications with dynamic content provided by third-party suppliers.

This type of technological architecture provides automotive retailers and car companies with new tools that will fundamentally enhance the way they interact with customers, enabling communication anytime, anywhere and with any device.

It will also create significant new opportunities that increase sales while increasing customer satisfaction. For example, dealership employees will be able to receive alerts or reminders about new sales leads and key customer activity events such as lease expiration.

This architecture and the integrated and flexible systems it supports are at the forefront of today's technological evolution. It has taken the industry generations to get to this point. But now that we're here, you owe it to your customers to take advantage of this technology.

Jeff Almoney is Reynolds and Reynolds' chief technology officer, responsible for research and strategy development.