By Steve Johnson
If the automotive sector were to vote for the most fundamental IT developments of the past decade, the internet and high-speed data connectivity would probably dominate. The freedom that these developments allow – dealers moving away from investing in and managing their own servers towards operating on hosted servers in ‘the cloud’ – is a fundamental shift with a significant impact on automotive IT.
What is cloud computing?
Cloud computing is essentially using the internet to connect a network of remote servers that store, manage, and process your data, rather than a local PC or a server physically located in your business premises.
Although cloud computing and hosting services are not new, the combination of high-speed connectivity, massive (and cheap) server power, a need to harness external data sources and new consumer demands have brought the technology into its own.
NEED TO KNOW
♦ Cloud-based, hosted systems free up time
♦ Dealerships’ IT staff can focus on other issues
♦ Cloud reliability means little server downtime
AM talked to dealers and providers of dealership management systems (DMS) to understand more about how cloud computing affects their operations. There are five key areas: resources, technologies, costs and financials, protecting the business and supporting future requirements.
Over time, many dealers have found that running their IT system’s infrastructure has taken focus away from running the business. Although most dealers have some in-house IT resources, cloud computing frees them from the requirement to take care of servers, data back-up and storage, and network infrastructure.
It is also the direction most providers are headed. Although some companies, such as Ebbon-Dacs, Gemini and Pentana, continue to offer in-house server options alongside hosted alternatives, most are moving further towards hosted products. ADP’s Autoline Drive is only available via the company’s private secure cloud platform, hosted in its own data centres and Pinewood’s Pinnacle DMS, which uses a Microsoft platform, is fully web-enabled.
Hosting centres have more specialist skills, in-depth knowledge and experience than in-house IT staff to support systems for 24/7 operation. The pressures of keeping up to speed with technologies, accreditation standards and ever more complex data security issues are also taken care of.
For in-house IT staff, cloud computing means more time to focus on getting more from the software, delivering more ‘application value’ and supporting business goals.
Peter Manning, Cambria Group’s IT consultant, said: “Our hosted DMS has clearly helped the group grow rapidly. The key for us is that we don’t have to employ the skills to support increasingly complicated servers.”