Article

Is Your DMS System Ready for Star?

August 2006, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Sandi Jerome - Also by this author

As a little bit of background, STAR was organized in May 2001 and has grown to include about 98 percent of the OEM that the 8 major DMS members support. The goal of the STAR Group is to use voluntary information technology (IT) standards as a catalyst in fulfilling the business information needs of dealers and manufacturers while reducing the time and effort previously required supporting this activity. It is a non-profit, auto industry-wide initiative to create voluntary IT standards for how manufacturers, dealers and customers communicate with each other. This will result in lower costs, more accurate and timely data and increased levels of customer satisfaction.

What this means in plain English is that instead of having 33 different manufacturer formats to transmit a simple warranty claim - there will be one standard that the DMS providers can use to communicate with all the different manufacturers.

As part of its standards activities, STAR has developed open data exchange standards for both batch file transfers and XML messaging to simplify the transfer of information between dealers, vendors, and manufacturers. The Data Transfer Specification (DTS) provides manufacturers, Retail Systems Providers (RSPs – or DMS providers as we call them,) and other dealership software vendors with standard interfaces designed to reduce the complexity of daily dealership communication system (DCS) data exchange, such as vehicle and parts ordering, warranty repair and financial reporting.

Although creating the standards for data exchange and XML standards are two of the most important functions of STAR, there are a few others.

LAN/WAN/NET - Develop specifications for an open dealership IT infrastructure in order to:

  • Minimize complexity of an automotive dealership’s LAN/WAN/Internet environment.
  • Provide access to all computer applications from any dealership desktop PCs.
  • Leverage a common dealership IT infrastructure to improve support and manageability for dealers, manufacturers and DSP vendors.

Security Guidelines - Develop dealership guidelines covering security, access, content and recoverability of business information and provide a summary of the IT security guidelines for dealers.

Desktop Profile - Develop common guidelines for managing the desktop PC including browsers, plug-ins and LAN connections.

According to Tom Campisi of Toyota, the STAR Communications Chair, “Making the standards is the objective that got the snowball rolling. The other objectives add to it and keep it growing.” He reported the following current status of the STAR objectives as of 6/14/02:

Objective #1: - To define the standard XML message for dealer-to-OEM business transactions (i.e.: Parts Order, Sales Lead Credit Processing)

STAR has defined 12 draft XML standards for dealer-to-OEM transactions, which are awaiting STAR and OAG approval. Three of these (Sales Lead, Vehicle Service History and Credit Processing) will be approved within the next month.

Objective #2: - To define a standard IT infrastructure (ebXML) to support these messages between dealers and OEMs

STAR partnered with XML Global in January 2002 to build an ebXML messaging test bed based on the STAR Infrastructure specification, which is about 95 percent complete. To date, Toyota and Honda have successfully sent ebXML messages to and from the testbed.

Objective #3 - To standardize the IT infrastructure at dealerships

STAR is planning to adopt a "Dealership Infrastructure Guidelines" document that Ford, GM, and DaimlerChrysler have authored as the STAR Dealership Infrastructure Guidelines. This document details Internet access methods, LAN configurations, PC hardware, security and more.

What Does A Star Standard Look Like?

A STAR BOD (Business Object Document) is comprised of four parts:

  1. XML message – contains the actual data of the STAR Vehicle Service History (VSH) standard. In the case of VSH, the dealer would send the "Get VSH" BOD to the OEM ("Based on a VIN or customer last name, give me the service history for this vehicle"). The OEM would then respond with the "List VSH" BOD that would provide this service history. These examples above have sample data in them. The scope of STAR is to define the tags and the structure and relationship of the tags for the XML transactions. It is then up to each OEM to decide what data will go inside the tags.
  2. XML Schema (based on the W3C specification) – validates the XML message.
  3. BPSS (Business Process Specification Schema – one component of ebXML) – specifies the timing, sequence and messages of the collaboration.
  4. Implementation Guidelines – explains the relationships, definitions and valid values of the data. It also maps STAR data elements to existing OAG elements, if they exist. Wherever possible, STAR has reused the elements OAG has defined (since they have built 180+ BODs for manufacturing, aerospace and supply chain transactions.)

In the example below the XML tag “WarrantyStartDate” will be used to transmit the Warranty Start Date of a vehicle – and no matter who you are – the dealer, the factory or a third-party software provider- you’ll know that 6/15/2001 is the Warranty Start Date.

<WarrantyStartDate>2001-06-15</WarrantyStartDate>
<WarrantyExpirationDate>2005-06-15</WarrantyExpirationDate>

How Does Star Benefit Dealers?

  • Multi-franchise dealer would only need one Dealership Management System (DMS) per dealership, not per franchise (thus saving at least $100k per year)
  • Builds a common data exchange between dealers and OEMs
  • Provides more real-time transactions for their daily business
  • Provides more reliable, accurate and timely data
  • Reduces their IT environment complexity and cost
  • An open standard gives dealers a choice with a DSP (Dealer System Provider), thus reducing cost and improving application quality
  • Enables new profit opportunities for dealers (remote diagnostics, telematics services in the vehicle like e-mail, weather, traffic, MP3, etc) by providing better upstream data integration to OEMs and downstream data integration to customers
  • STAR BODs built by the DSPs are highly reusable and can be delivered to dealers more quickly

But what does STAR really mean for you as a dealer? I think that one of the reasons why you pay so much for data processing compared to other businesses your size is that your DMS provider like R+R and ADP must support all these different formats for communication with Ford, Honda, Chevrolet, etc. Another horrible reason is that for many of you - your manufacturers have the power to determine which DMS system you can use. A perfect example of this is Volvo. They only allowed dealers to use ADP or R+R for a while, but I think they just added UCS. Why does a Volvo dealer who also has a Ford and GM store using AutoSoft or Auto/Mate have to buy a whole different system to run his Volvo dealership? Will that system help him sell more Volvos? I know that it will cost him more monthly for data processing. You have to wonder about Volvo’s reasoning in telling dealers how to select a computer system. In addition, why do the manufacturers that make dealers buy a server and LAN just to run their software and don’t let the dealers put anything else on it? I have never understood why manufacturers feel the need to get into the software business. Shouldn’t they just concentrate on building cars?

What can you do to help? First of all you need to tell your manufacturers that objectives of STAR are important to you. If STAR is successful you’ll see a lot more choices in DMS providers and hopefully lower costs. At this time I don’t want to put a lot of blame directly on our big DMS providers for their high monthly costs – it must be very expensive for them to program and support each of these 33 different formats.

Next, you can join STAR. According to Tom, "We encourage dealers to join the STAR organization, which provides an excellent forum to listen and respond to the dealers' IT needs and concerns." Dick Malaise of NADA, a member of STAR adds, “We’d like to have dealer members increase the value of STAR by presenting their perspective – especially dealers that have their own IT departments.” For more information about STAR visit – www.starstandards.org

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