The Retail Integration Squeeze
Demand for more and better dealers systems has never been higher and shows no signs of letting up. Pressure is coming from many directions including:
- Higher consumer expectations
- Greater need for increased efficiencies within the dealership
- The connected car and the vast data that it creates
- Changing models of vehicle ownership and mobility
- OEMs requiring improved Business Process Integration (BPI)
- Non-traditional investments in automotive software companies
Taken together or individually, these factors will have a positive transformative effect upon the entire retail experience and ultimately the industry itself. The consumer will enjoy more options for mobility and a better buying experience. Dealers will become more efficient and profitable and the manufacturers will enjoy the fruits of these changes as well as acquiring better, real time data to make improved business decisions. So far so good. But to make this scenario happen in a seamless fashion, your industry must tackle one of their biggest stumbling blocks; fast, efficient and flexible retail integrations.
No where is this challenge greater than when you have limited IT resources available for integration programs. You are squeezed between an increasing demand on one side and an integration strategy that does not scale on the other side, and in many cases, your integration process has already reached it’s breaking point.
So how can you keep up with the rapidly accelerating integration demands with your limited integration capabilities? Here’s a quick road map to put things in perspective and maximize the resources that you already have.
#1 First Things First
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by integration and the myriad of decisions associated with it. So first, take a step back, do a quick review and then prioritize. Begin by making a list of all of the current and planned integration projects and assign them values based upon:
- Consumer demands
- Retailer demands
- BPI requirements
- Competitor challenges
- Revenue recognition time frame
Everyone will assign different values based upon their particular business model, dealer relationships and economic situation. There really is no right or wrong answer, it’s about organizing your priorities so that you can apply your limited resources most effectively. Think of it in terms of the 80/20 (Pareto) Principle. Know that 20% of your effort will generate 80% of your results, so make sure to identify the correct 20%.
Once you have assigned values, you should have a hierarchy to follow. One caveat is that if you have an integration project that is very nearly complete, you should consider completing it, even if it is not high value. Why? Because you need to be able to move forward without distractions. There’s nothing worse than trying to sprint with a ball and chain strapped to your leg.
#2 Up To The Task?
Now that you know which integrations to pursue, it’s time to look at your retail integration process. If you are outsourcing, it’s important to make sure that your IT partner is providing you with a team that fully understands your business, your priorities and the ins and outs of automotive. Integration (especially involving multiple DSPs) is very nuanced and the devil is really in the details. A customer repair order and a warranty claim are not the same, and your IT vendor should know the difference. If your IT partner does not measure up, this needs to be addressed before going forward. These concerns should be less if you are using an internal team, but a quick review with an eye towards filling in any gaps makes sense at this point.
#3 Shifting Left
Next, it’s time to tackle your highest priority integration. Virtually all integrations begin with a series of business and technical requirements that become a specification. Whether working with a single specification or multiple, it’s fair to say that this is the most important step in the integration process. Do not go forward until you are sure that your specifications are complete and error free. If not, you will end up moving forward and discovering the problems during certification or rollout. Think of an integration as a recipe. If you are a restaurant, and your starting ingredients are spoiled, serving your dish to your customers will soon create two problems:
- The need to discard your dish and start over
- Very unhappy customers
The problem of poor specifications getting into the certification or rollout phase can be avoided by adopting a “shift left” strategy. If you think of integration as a continuum with specifications on the left, and certified integrations being rolled out on the right, then by testing early and often, problems are identified on “the left” before they enter the next phase. This saves valuable IT resources by avoiding duplicate work and ensures that the end user receives a product that satisfies their needs without causing any disruptions.
#4 The Right Tools
A solid QA process requires the right mindset (identifying problems as early as possible) and the proper tools to implement the testing process. Because there is very little room for error, teams with limited IT resources are especially dependent upon clearly defined processes and tools that automate the development, testing and certification of interfaces.
Ideally, these tools will be easy to use, customized for retail integration and be able to automate most of the processes. Working within a digital, collaborative environment that houses all relevant documents in one place, allows multiple users to work simultaneously, and maintains version control and change history is also essential.
#5 Build For Today, Plan For Tomorrow
Last but not least, “future proof” your integrations. This will eliminate the need to keep revisiting past mistakes, and ensure that you continue to gain momentum. Start by taking a holistic approach, and view integration as an overarching program that is fully integrated with your company’s vision and objectives, rather than a series of one-off projects. With the correct procedures and tools, and by applying important lessons learned along the way, many aspects of an integration can be “recycled” for use in an upcoming initiative. This is another powerful form of leverage that your small IT team can greatly benefit from.
Having limited IT resources is indeed a problem, but it’s not insurmountable. By applying a few key principles, you can overcome this hurdle and maximize your integration strategies. Success breeds success, and if you can effectively execute your current integrations, it will be easier in the future to ask for and receive more resources. Just remember that if you do hit the IT “jackpot”, the same 5 rules will always apply.
- Have A Solid IT team
- Shift Left
- Use The Right Tools And Processes
- Programs vs. Projects