Just keep it simple

Technology is amazing. But keep your common sense.

While I do attempt to address a wide range of topics relevant to the used vehicle market in general, and the remarketing industry specifically, if you had to point to a key recurring theme in my writing, it would likely be “technology.”

Previous articles have discussed the application of technology to a number of business challenges in the auction industry and the core used vehicle operations of both franchise and independent dealerships. This is not entirely what I set out to do when I was first asked to become a regular contributor to Canadian auto dealer magazine. After those early discussions, my intent with the articles was to discuss the state of the used vehicle market in general and, where possible, provide insight from the remarketing function perspective.

It didn’t take long to recognize that technology really was a central consideration in many of the things occurring within our business. There was also little doubt this was a consideration shared equally among automakers, fleets, finance companies and, of course, dealers.

My earliest contributions addressed the fact that many dealers were using web-based tools to find used vehicles at auctions all over the country and, with the Canada-wide introduction of AutoTec’s AuctionACCESS system, cross-auction registration and purchasing had been simplified to the point that dealers could more easily participate in auctions anywhere there was appropriate inventory.

That was back in 2008. In mid-2009 I looked at what impact the explosive growth in retail online advertising might be having on wholesale market behaviours. Over the course of two articles I believe I came away somewhat surprised that even though dealers were rapidly evolving their use of Internet advertising tools and purchasing significant volumes of commercial (off-lease, off-rental) units in a wide variety of Internet-based auction channels, they were not, as yet, acting similarly in their own dealer consignment segment, where vehicles were still being traded in informal dealer-to-dealer transactions.

Keep it simple
From late 2009 through to my articles earlier this year, technology has continued to come up. When speaking with dealers for insight into the industry and the market, I repeatedly heard about how technology had impacted their business and much of it was positive. When speaking with other providers of service to dealers, I repeatedly heard that they were getting pushed to provide more, better, faster technology.

And, this brings me to my central thought for this particular article. In the pursuit of “more, better, faster”, we must always be mindful of the KISS principle. I suspect most readers are familiar with this acronym, but just to be sure: KISS stands for “Keep it simple stupid.” According to Wikipedia.org (a pretty good place to go when you want the simple answer), “the KISS principle states that simplicity should be a key goal in design, and that unnecessary complexity should be avoided.”

The reason I raise this point is that quite often in the realm of technology, decisions are made that add complexity, create confusion, or reduce adoption or engagement. To be clear, this is not to say that intentions were not good or there was a lack of effort. On the contrary, these situations often do arise precisely because of that hard work or those good intentions. We try to do more, do it better, do it faster.

Don’t overcomplicate processes
Unfortunately, that is not always enough to guarantee a good solution. Often, however, it is enough to guarantee a less-than-optimal outcome. I suspect that this occurs because we get caught up in the excitement of what we are doing and we fall in love with the perceived benefits that will be derived when we deliver.

There are lots of examples of this in the vast world of technology and one that is commonly cited is that of Windows Vista, the much-hyped and highly anticipated replacement for the Microsoft Windows XP operating system. Upon its release, Vista was almost universally derided as the pinnacle of Microsoft’s trend to develop overly complex, bloated software and, as a result, quickly faded from view.

If you want to get more of the details on this failure to keep it simple, they are readily available via a quick ‘google’ (Note: Google itself is renowned for being a company driven by a desire to keep things simple for users, but even they are not immune to missteps. You can read about Google Wave for some details on their failure to keep it simple).

Earlier this year, in our own efforts to improve our customers’ online experience, we also inadvertently ventured down a path of complexity when we revamped the run list tool on our website. While we accurately understood the benefits that would be perceived by many users, we did not fully appreciate some users’ preference for the time-tested and relatively simple view of auction run lists that had been available on the website for several years. It was a good reminder that sometimes less really is more.

I should close by noting that even though the KISS principle originated in what many would consider a “technology” environment (defense contractor Lockheed Martin), it is applicable in any business environment, including the retail automotive sector.

I suspect many readers of this magazine could identify at least one element of their own sales, marketing or service functions that would benefit from a simplicity makeover in order to present a better customer experience. I would be very interested to hear of any thoughts you have upon giving this some consideration. Maybe it could be the subject of a future article.

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Canadian auto dealer