Cloud-Based BI Environment Revs Up DealerTrack's Dealer Management System
DealerTrack operates the largest online credit application network in the U.S., connecting dealers with lenders throughout the country. It is also a leading provider of software and services for the automotive industry, with cloud-based solutions that enhance efficiency and profitability for auto dealers, lenders, OEMs, agents, and aftermarket providers. DealerTrack’s Dealer Management System (DMS) helps thousands of companies manage their retail businesses, from selling vehicles to handling inventory to producing financial statements.
Auto dealerships and large equipment manufacturers value DealerTrack DMS for its comprehensive functionality and lightweight, on-demand deployment model. While the Software as a Service (SaaS) solution includes numerous built-in reports, DealerTrack DMS customers lacked parameterized reporting options and were not able to create reports from scratch. They only had rudimentary tools for visualizing business data in charts, graphs, and dashboards. These deficiencies led DealerTrack to purchase Information Builders’ industry-leading WebFOCUS business intelligence (BI) software.
“Our standard reports were powerful but static,” admits Chris Low, director of Product Management for DealerTrack’s DMS division. “Our clients were demanding more – and better – reporting capabilities than what we could develop ourselves.”
DealerTrack evaluated nearly a dozen BI products before selecting WebFOCUS. After a careful analysis, it determined that the WebFOCUS architecture is ideal for SaaS and cloud deployments since it is based on a highly scalable reporting server that is accessible from any web browser, with no special software required at the dealerships. WebFOCUS also works well with the IBM iSeries platform and DB2 database, which made it easy to integrate with DealerTrack’s existing infrastructure. For advanced end-user report development, it selected Information Builders’ Visual Discovery and InfoAssist products. To allow users to schedule reports for automatic execution, DealerTrack chose WebFOCUS ReportCaster.
“We especially liked WebFOCUS’ guided ad hoc reports,” says Low. “One guided ad hoc template can generate hundreds of different types of reports, with endless filtering, sorting, charting, and visualization of the data. WebFOCUS provides a superior end-user experience.”
A Need for Insight
Selling cars is a complex, capital-intensive business. A dealer may carry dozens of different models. Each car has tens of thousands of parts and each part has a designated lifetime. The dealer isn’t just selling vehicles, but relationships with customers that include many years of service and countless transactions.
“We use Information Builders’ BI technology to help these dealers identify their best customers, pinpoint up-sell opportunities, and run their back offices as efficiently as possible,” Low explains. “Embedding WebFOCUS within DealerTrack DMS helps dealers to make smarter, more profitable decisions related to vehicles, parts, customers, sales, inventory, and finance.”
Information Builders Professional Services helped train the DealerTrack staff and assisted with the initial development effort. After that, one developer used WebFOCUS to build a dashboard-driven reporting environment called DMS Reporting. He completed a prototype of the entire system in just one month.
“We needed to create a user interface that reflects our brand so we framed WebFOCUS report templates within an on-demand reporting environment that looks just like our other DMS applications,” says Low.
WebFOCUS enforces the existing log-in procedures and access restrictions resident in DealerTrack DMS, so users only see reports and dashboards that they are authorized to see. For example, the parts manager can analyze parts data and the controller can see the general ledger. The correct security credentials are applied when each user launches the DMS Reporting module. Data is constantly synchronized between the DMS server and the reporting server, both of which reside on the iSeries computer.
“Dealers want to see current data. If you are running 80 repair orders and 200 parts transactions every day, when you cash out you want the latest data reflected on your reports – up to the minute,” Low notes. “Our real-time reporting architecture makes this possible.”
DealerTrack is in the process of rolling out DMS Reporting free of charge to all of its dealers. Hundreds of dealerships currently access the on-demand reports and dashboards, and dozens of new dealers are being added each month. The environment includes four primary dashboards: General Dealership, Parts, Service, and Vehicle.
The Parts Dashboard (Figure 1) presents essential information in a series of six charts and graphs. The buttons at the top of each image let users display that particular data set as a pie chart, bar chart, line chart, or scatter graph.
While the Parts, Service, and Vehicle Dashboards provide query and reporting capabilities to personnel within these business domains, the General Dealership Dashboard presents high-level information for the general manager, such as how much cash is in the bank, how many vehicles are on the lot, how many repair orders are open, and the current accounts payable balance. All of these metrics are presented on a single screen, so the manager can monitor the business at a glance.
Clicking on the Report Builder tab lets users run parameterized reports from within five categories: Parts Inventory, Customers, Service, Vehicle Inventory, and Accounting. For example, the Parts Inventory report helps service personnel restock inventory; the Sales History report helps sales managers make better purchasing decisions; and the Customer Activity report helps dealers launch targeted promotions.
Guided Ad Hoc Reporting
With WebFOCUS guided ad hoc technology, users can easily choose columns, sort criteria, measures, and output formats to generate their own personal reports. A single guided ad hoc reporting template can generate thousands of different reports to meet a multitude of business requirements, enabling users to select, sort, and visualize the data in colorful charts and graphs.
The WebFOCUS interface makes it easy to select fields, qualify data, and choose output formats such as HTML, PDF, Excel, or Active Technology reports. Active Technology reports enable users to sort, filter, and visualize the data even when disconnected from the network. PDF and HTML reports are presented in a fixed format. Excel reports incorporate all of the features and functions of Microsoft Excel to let users analyze and manipulate the data.
Any report can be saved and later accessed from the “My Reports” tab. Users can also schedule reports to run automatically so they obtain results via e-mail. “Many people run certain reports once a day, once a week, or once a quarter,” explains Low. “These users can ask the system to run their reports at certain times – generally at night when there is less contention for server resources.”
While the guided ad hoc reporting environment is sufficient for most users, some large dealerships have a central IT department with a resident business analyst. These experienced users often want to create their own reports. To gain advanced report-building functionality, customers can purchase the DMS Advanced Reporting module – based on WebFOCUS InfoAssist and Visual Discovery – which allows them to create their own dynamic charts and use many end-user reporting functions.
“WebFOCUS Visual Discovery gives us a competitive advantage,” says Low. “Using our guided ad hoc reports, dealers can answer specific questions,” he continues. “Where are the four vehicles in my lot that have been here over 120 days? How are they priced and how long have they been here? Users can easily sort and filter the data to answer specific questions, rather than scanning through pages of granular data.”
So far, the response from DealerTrack’s customers has been tremendous. “The new BI tools put DealerTrack two generations ahead of the competition when it comes to getting the data that we need,” said an auto dealer in Dubuque, Iowa. In one instance, a dealer asked if DealerTrack’s new reporting environment could replace all of the custom reports that the dealership had built previously. Low showed him how one guided ad hoc report did the job of 99 existing reports.
“We are experts at building SaaS applications but there is no way we could have built this entire BI environment so quickly without WebFOCUS,” he concludes. “DealerTrack is now well positioned to gain market share in a highly competitive sector of the software industry.”