A recent article in Automotive News showcased how the overall market for DMS software is in flux with disrupters cracking the decades-old duopoly of CDK and Reynolds and Reynolds. NADA 2021 proved the point with as many as 20 companies exhibiting DMS software. If you’re one of the many dealerships who recently signed with a new provider and are about to undergo a DMS switch, you’re going to need to buckle up.

As a Comptroller for many years, I know first-hand that changing systems is an tough process. It’s often likened to a heart transplant since the DMS is your central operating system and data repository. Yet, proper planning before, during, and after the transition can make the process less painful and time-consuming, and ensure data retention and integrity. Following are the essential building blocks for the three stages of the transition for a successful DMS conversion.


Before the DMS. switch.

Leadership and advance preparation are crucial to a smooth, successful, and cost-effective transition. Ideally, your management team was part of the selection process and are already cheerleaders for the new system. Set the stage with stakeholders and employees with an all-hands-on-deck presentation that emphasizes why a new platform is needed, such as new technology, more flexibility, or better workflow. Also, remember that compensation influences motivation. Providing a bonus for managers for a successful transition can aid with buy-in.

Ask your new provider for detailed information about the training and installation schedule. Typically, it takes three to six months to get on a provider’s install schedule. Take that time to prepare your staff and try to clear calendars of vacation time so that all staff is present. Make training mandatory for all users in your dealership. If they aren’t comfortable, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Compile standard and custom forms. Pull the last month of deals and create a list of all the forms you used. Your new provider will need copies of all the forms for programming. Do the same for any custom forms or input fields. Trust me, if you haven’t changed providers in the past five years, you are more than likely using some customized settings, forms, or fields. Work with your Controller to unravel the spider-web of customization; the better you understand your old DMS, the better you will understand your new one.

Review current DMS services and integrations for compatibility with your new provider. It’s not uncommon to have a full turn-key DMS platform that includes server and print equipment, network gear, phone system, internet access, and security applications. A current itemized DMS bill will detail the services provided. If your new platform does not include, or is not compatible, with these services, you will need to research alternate options. The same applies to current system integrations, including your OEM, CRM, marketing platform, desking tool, and more.

Clarify DMS data conversion and DMS set-up. Before the switch, identify what data fields can and cannot be converted. Discuss with your new provider if you need an additional dealer service provider for your archive conversion, and the required format for files. This is also a good time to talk about the COLDing process, including what documents are automatically COLDed, and any costs associated with accessing archived documents. As I wrote about in a recent article, many of the large providers charge hefty fees to retrieve files in the case of an audit, for example. You can avoid this scenario by archiving data to a third-party document management platform before you make the switch. If you do need access to COLD documents in the future, you can access them with a few keystrokes and avoid additional DMS fees.

This is also the time to review and re-evaluate workflow processes. Schedule team talks to discuss what’s working and what’s not.  Document the steps required by personnel to book a deal, or the flow of documents from Service to Warranty Administration. You may discover workflow inefficiencies that your new vendor can streamline, or desired automations that can be easily incorporated.

You’ve done your homework, your team has started training, and you’re a week out from your ‘Go Live’ date. Now is the time to ensure your team can re-create in-progress tickets in the new system from start to finish. In-progress tickets may be lost during the switch. Proficiency in re-creating them will save time, reduce frustration, and make for a smoother transition.


During the switch.

As soon as your new system is live, re-create those in-progress tickets and make sure to close them in your old system. Remember, if your old DMS system automatically saved a closed RO or deal to your archiving system, that document will never be converted if it’s left open; even if the RO or deal will be closed in the new system.

Next, COLD your books and perform a full month-end process in your old system. Do this even if it is the middle of the month. Repeat the process in your new system to ensure you have a redundant copy. Compare the reports from both systems for accuracy and to verify that all data fields and reports are appearing as you specified. Same reason for above: if it’s not COLDed, it won’t be converted.

Check that crucial data is being mapped to your new system. This includes HR information such as employment history and payroll, your CRM data, and scanned images of physical documents. Don’t forget your COLDed images, or assume your new provider will automatically convert them. This is typically not included in standard conversions, but your new provider will likely do it for an additional fee, if you request it. If not, identify a 3rd party provider who can perform these non-core DMS data conversions for you.

Most importantly, double-check the day and time your old system will be shut off. Trying to access your old DMS after this date will likely be costly and time-consuming. Even a long-standing relationship with your old provider will not guarantee access.


After the switch.

Move forward with confidence and continue to mentor your teams. Identify those who need extra help and pair them with high-achievers. Request on-site help from your new provider for complicated processes, such as your first payroll and month-end close. Be prepared for employee resistance and stress. Change is hard! Always focus on why you made the change and how it will positively affect employees and the company as a whole.  Stay upbeat and on-message to help employees adjust faster.

Switching to a new DMS provider is never easy. But you can make it less painful and time-consuming with proper planning before, during, and after the transition. I recommend following a checklist, such as this one created by the experts at DealerTech, and leaning on your new provider for on-going training and support. Good luck and Godspeed!