Even after the water recedes, the doors reopen and the lights turn on, many dealers in storm-ravaged areas won't know whether they're really back in business until they have access to the dealership management system.
The system is the command center that provides tools involving payroll, accounting, parts, inventory and service. While the data are safely stored on servers hosted by the DMS provider, dealers who lose access to their systems because of power disruptions, water damage or telecommunications and network hiccups can be stymied in their efforts to recover and get the business moving again.
Software giant CDK Global says it was in contact with its 97 clients — which represent 270 stores in the Houston area — in the days after Harvey to learn about their operational status, understand their support needs and check on their well-being. In some cases, dealers might have remote access to the DMS via computers at home, but at least 30 of CDK's Houston customers found themselves offline in the days after Harvey struck.
One of the biggest concerns for disrupted stores is paying staffers, a task that's directly tied to the DMS.
For stores that can't access their systems to handle their payrolls, CDK says it can set them up with a Hosted Remote Access Service connection wherever the dealer can get to live Internet connectivity. This would enable them to access their systems and run their payroll.
"We have ways that a dealer can run their payroll," Dean Crutchfield, CDK's chief information officer, told Automotive News last week. "We're working with them to maintain continuity with their associates. That's one of their priority items right now."
Before Harvey struck, CDK sent dealerships emergency instructions for staffers to safely shut down their on-site equipment. It did the same for Louisiana dealerships as a weakened Harvey continued through the region last week.
To deal with the storm's aftermath, CDK called its crisis management team to action. The company was conducting two meetings a day last week to confirm information and check in with dealers to make sure it could support them. CDK has 160 field engineers to work with affected stores.
On Aug. 26, the day after Harvey made landfall in Texas, CDK said it increased support staff in "key areas" to get ready for the uptick in calls from dealerships needing assistance.
Like CDK, software rival Reynolds and Reynolds has field engineers ready to provide support. Reynolds spokesman Tom Schwartz said the company offers a remote backup and disaster recovery service for dealers whose servers are on-site at the dealerships. In this case, he said when a dealership declares a disaster, Reynolds can repopulate a DMS server with data remotely and have it ready to ship once the dealership is ready to receive it.
Re-establishing access to the DMS is especially critical as stores begin replacing their damaged vehicles.
"When the waters go down, there's going to be a lot of insurance claims on the inventory sitting on dealer lots," Vince Phelan, CDK's senior director of marketing, told Automotive News. "All that information resides on the DMS."
He added that stores are "going to be looking to bring in additional new cars and used cars. A lot of that information flows through our system. We'll be there arm in arm with them helping them re-establish everything. The experiences we've had in other catastrophes like this will help us guide them through that process along the way."