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Microsoft Inching Closer

August 7, 2007

Inching closer to its expected dealer management system (DMS) unveiling early next year, Microsoft revealed yesterday how a Wyoming dealer is leveraging the software maker’s current technologies for an Internet leads solution that’s increased the dealership’s Web traffic by 20 percent.

John Reed, director for Automotive Retail Solutions at Microsoft Corp., said the company is on track toward unveiling its new DMS solution at the 2008 National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) show. Regarding yesterday’s news, Reed said Microsoft demonstrated how one of the company’s add-on solutions can work with current DMS offerings. As for the Wyoming dealership, Reed said it demonstrated a cost-effective way of putting its data to work.

“What we see is there are so many kinds of different business practices and processes that a dealership would like to introduce,” Reed explained. “And there’s lots of economical ways to use standard technologies, not big broad-ranging solutions that take years to develop.”

And that’s exactly what brothers Chuck and Bob Ruwart realized. The owners of the Wheatland, Wyo.-based Laramie Peak Motors and Bob Ruwart Motors dealerships wanted to provide an enhanced way for customers to view their combined inventory. The solution proved to be an integrated Website that leverages Microsoft’s SQL Service 2005 and Microsoft Visual Studio 2005.

“We can’t afford to have an outdated Website showing cars that were sold the week before,” said Bob Ruwart. “If people are driving an hour to get to us, the car they saw on the site the night before had better be there.”

The Ruwarts were originally running their dealerships on a shared Reynolds and Reynolds computer. They hired Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Crile Carvey Consulting Inc. to create a custom middleware solution that pulls inventory data from the Reynolds and Reynolds computer and populates it into the SQL Server.

“We’re in a highly competitive industry with tight margins,” Ruwart added. “The Microsoft technology enabled Crile Carvey Consulting to deliver a solution that built on what we already had, rather than requiring us to ‘rip and replace,’ which would have been prohibitive. This was an incremental expense that’s delivering a big payoff.”

That “big payoff” was a single site that brings the brothers’ used-car inventory together, providing visitors with up-to-date photos and data on cars from both dealerships.

“It’s a good example of something that’s cost effective to build,” Reed said. “Once they get that data into a single server database, they could start dreaming up other applications to implement.”

One application the Ruwart brothers are dreaming up is being able to remotely monitor inventory. Reed said data stored on the SQL Server could be extended to Windows Mobile 5.0-powered Smartphones, allowing sales personnel to check the inventory database while walking a customer through the dealership lot. This solution could also be used with SQL Service Notification Services to alert sales personnel of changes in inventory.

Reed envisions other uses as well. One would be allowing general managers and sales managers to remotely monitor how the business is doing. He can also see dealers using this solution for marketing campaigns, such as a brake inspection campaign. At the very least, the remote monitoring could allow personnel to access customer data and suggest other services when the customer checks into the service lane.

“If I’m checking a customer into the service lane, I could check his or her service history and send a little alert to the sales department that I have a customer in for a couple of hours getting their vehicle serviced,” Reed explained. “The salesperson can then stop by and in a non-threatening way talk about next year’s models.”

Moving forward, Reed said Microsoft will continue to work with developers and dealerships globally on new dealer applications. These would work as add-on solutions until Microsoft rolls out its own DMS solution, which Reed expects will roll out after next year’s NADA convention. At that point, Reed added, dealers will have the option to move to a new DMS.

“We’re pretty much on track [with our DMS],” said Reed regarding its DMS pilot program. “We’re not making public who the customers are, but we expect to go through those pilots and complete them around NADA timeframe. We’ll go into initial release after the next NADA. So far, market response has been phenomenal.”

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