Wednesday, April 06, 2011

DMS = Dealer Management System

Every auto dealer has, as its information backbone, a DMS. The two big players in the United States are ADP and Reynolds and Reynolds. Not a penny moves around inside a dealership without being tracked somehow on the DMS. Want a part? Need to generate a parts invoice or service repair order. Want to pay a technician? Need to do that on an opened repair order. Want to calculate payments on a used car? You’ve got it, you do that in the DMS. All said data from the three departments are then funneled into the accounting department for scrutiny and application to a P&L statement. That all makes sense.

At Charles River Saab, we use the Reynolds and Reynolds system. I have used it for so long that it seems rather normal to me. However, I bet that if I were to hire a new employee who was young and had never worked with this system before they would be dumbfounded by it. Nothing about it is intuitive. Nothing about it is consistent. Want to close a function? Sometime you press S, Enter. Sometimes E, Enter. Sometimes END. Want to go to the next page? Sometimes you press N. Other times F. Want to go back a page? Sometimes it’s B, other times, its P, Enter, [page number], Enter. Who wrote this stuff? Obviously, lots of different people who never used the system and didn’t talk to one another. Mouse? What’s that for?

This came to mind today when I sat with a nice representative from R&R who came in to show us some new functionality on the system. Sounded good to me. After going through a few new shortcuts—again, if you don’t know they are there, there’s know way of knowing they exist—I got down to asking questions. I have had two that have bugged me since I first encountered R&R in 1988: what about word wrap; what about spell checking?

You probably think that I can’t be serious. Here we are, in 2011, and in thousands of dealerships across the country, auto dealer employees are struggling with a system that requires that they hit “return” at the end of a typed line, like they were typing on a Selectric. Remember those? Worse, especially in this business, is the lack of spell checking. Words and language matter to me, and while I have no particular gift for the written word, and am largely ignorant of grammar and usage (other than the ability to know when something sounds incorrect), I always tried, in my days as a service advisor, to prepare service invoices with clean, concise, correct English. I would like to have advisors everywhere do this, but some of us just have better spelling than others. Oh, and if you make a mistake in R&R, you can’t glide your mouse over it and fix it. Remember, no mice allowed. Have to go back and re-write the entire entry. At the end of some long days, I know that I let pass “ajdusted” or “isntalled” as entries.

In 1988, I went to R&R headquarters in Dayton, Ohio, for training. The system we were using at that store in those days was pretty crude. Essentially, the computer was used in service to create a repair order header (name, address, phone, VIN, plate etc) and then the complaints were all hand written. Once the customer was in the system, at least you could bypass all that header writing in the future. More important, some amount of crude vehicle history was stored, and all the parts and service information could be entered into accounting, but this was done manually. It was 1988, and that was a start. The system was capable of much more, but that dealership hadn’t bought-in to such a degree. The training was excruciatingly boring. Most of the people in the class had never touched a computer before. Hard to imagine now there ever was such a time. I had a leg up on the others. I had been using a Macintosh SE30 at home for a time. It even had MS Word loaded on it. During the class, I asked why the R&R system didn’t word wrap. I was met with a blank stare by the instructor, and he provided some lame excuse. Nobody else in the room knew what I was talking about. I wasn’t completely sure the instructor did.

When I came to CRS in 1989 we were running an ADP system that was fully implemented—no hand writing required. A year later we switched to R&R. Still no word wrap. It must be coming soon, I thought. As years have become decades, R&R still does not word wrap, and as a reflex, I always ask anyone from R&R when it is coming. At this point, I don’t care what they say….I won’t believe them. The R&R system is a very powerful accounting and data management tool, but everything else about it is hideous. I can’t believe that someone out there, even Microsoft (I thought they had floated the idea to try?), hasn’t jumped in to give us better product and break this duopoly.


Dan said...

Only those who have been forced to work these abysmally outdated software systems, or old mainframe programmers can even begin to relate to this post!

Might there be a modern GUI that normal people can use? Maybe. Someday.

I doubt it...

Swade said...

Sounds like you need to hook up with a programmer and take advantage of an opportunity.

Just make sure you leave out word wrap on the first version so that everyone can be familiar with *something* in the more modern system.

AeroV6 said...

I've been a service advisor for 10 years and have been saying these exact same things all along about R & R.

Anonymous said...

This is really sad, because automatic wordwrap is incredibly trivial to accomplish, even if it does mean writing your own stdio libs.. everyone else has done so, so it can't be THAT difficult to port, even if it's to an old IBM mainframe.

Johnny said...

frankly, I got sick of using R&R, I started publishing my vehicle showroom via google code...but then found some little thing called ... free but with the price of a little extra paper work :P