The data load on dealership IT infrastructures has grown with the proliferation of mobile and connected devices, including personal downloads and livestreams by Wi-Fi-connected customers. - Photo...

The data load on dealership IT infrastructures has grown with the proliferation of mobile and connected devices, including personal downloads and livestreams by Wi-Fi-connected customers.

Photo by Rawpixel via Pixabay

What would happen if your internet or phone carrier suffered a catastrophic outage, and your employees couldn’t send emails, access software programs, or make phone calls for several days? What would happen if your entire IT network and all your files were held hostage by ransomware? How much money would you lose?

You may sell and service vehicles for a living, but the reality is you’re a technology company every bit as much as you are a car company.

Do You Have an IT Strategy?

When dealers fail to take a proactive role in IT management, they open the door for behavior and decision-making that aren’t always in their best interest. The worst thing is, they have no idea what the state of their IT infrastructure is, until a catastrophe occurs.

Like the dealer that had to pay $135,000 to gain access to his own data, because a virus had infected his network.

Or the dealer who was fined over a million dollars because his IT staff had installed unlicensed software on over 200 computers.

Or the dealer who discovered he’s been overpaying $5,000 a month for an internet connection.

Or the dealer who discovered that his IT guy had been stealing from him by submitting new equipment receipts for reimbursement, then returning the equipment for cash.

You get the picture. I could name hundreds of incidents like these that could easily have been avoided with a defined IT strategy in place.

Five to ten years ago, most small to mid-size dealerships ran pretty efficiently with a standard business internet connection and IT equipment purchased at big box stores. The role of IT manager was usually filled by whomever had an interest or technical ability. Quite often this person was a current employee, or an employee’s family member or friend.

One reason this has changed is because of the “internet of things.” The number of connected devices in your dealership has tripled in the past few years and is expected to triple again in the next few years. The data being routed through your network by all these devices requires state-of-the-art equipment, massive amounts of bandwidth, and constant monitoring.

Additionally, dealers face the growing threat of cyberattacks. According to Total Dealer Compliance, only 30% of dealers currently employ a network engineer with computer security certifications and training, and 70% of dealers are using outdated anti-virus software.

How IT Supports Business Objectives

Digital sales and F&I is here, and as you weigh your options, you must also consider the IT upgrades you will need to make. Servers, switches, PCs, and routers that were manufactured more than five years ago do not have the processing capacity to handle the large amounts of data involved with online vehicle transactions.

In the service department, connected cars, mobile tablets, diagnostic equipment and cloud-based software are putting heavy loads on wireless networks. Additionally, your customers often watch videos or live TV on their personal devices as they wait for their vehicles. Inadequate IT infrastructure can lead to slowdowns in service bays, dissatisfied customers, and frustrated technicians.

Minimum benchmark recommendations to support service-department wireless needs include a fiber optics internet connection and Gigabit network switches to ensure that the data throughput can efficiently reach end user products.

Additionally, you will need anywhere from six to 30 enterprise-grade wireless access nodes in your service department, depending on the size of your shop and your overall data usage. To determine the appropriate wireless coverage for your dealership, a wireless site survey is recommended.

When it comes to technology, dealers can no longer afford to do business as usual. Your IT infrastructure is mission critical to your success; therefore you need to take a proactive role and develop a defined IT strategy.

Erik Nachbahr is president and founder of Helion Technologies, a national IT services provider for automotive and heavy-duty truck dealerships. Email him at [email protected].

Originally posted on Auto Dealer Today