Mandi Fang is a vice president of product at Cox Automotive. She will be speaking at DMS Edge, an upcoming virtual conference for users of Dealertrack DMS, where she will discuss innovation, modernization, and her vision for seamless integration between Cox Automotive products. The event—the first ever of its kind—will provide a chance for Dealertrack clients to work closely with DMS experts to unlock additional, untapped potential within their businesses.
Innovations Are More Than Great Ideas
In today’s business world, innovation is all the buzz. Companies, executives, and industry experts all seem to be talking about the need for new ideas and new processes, especially within the automotive software industry. And, while the topic is attracting a lot of attention, there seems to be a basic misunderstanding of the concept of innovation. Contrary to popular belief, innovation isn’t just about cool, new ideas. Having worked closely with product enhancements in the automotive industry for many years, I’ve developed a set of simple criteria to determine whether a proposed product enhancement is an innovation or just a great idea. To be truly innovative, those ideas must solve a customer problem, simplify user workflow, and attract enough interest to enact industry-wide change.
Innovations Solve Customer Problems
Innovation can be defined as the application of better solutions to meet new requirements, unarticulated needs, or existing market needs. In other words, there are two parts to an innovation—a new idea and previously unmet need. After many discussions with different product teams, I have developed this simple mantra: “Blue buttons don’t solve problems.” There is a tendency among product managers and engineers to add as many bells and whistles as possible because “that’s what the customer said they wanted.” But most users, or customers, aren’t looking for bells and whistles; they are looking to solve business problems and don’t know how to describe the problem—that’s our job. Before we add another button—or any feature—to our software product, we make sure that we understand the problem that customers are trying to solve.
Everyone who touches the product needs to be thinking about the jobs, and the problems, that customers have. In order to achieve this, we need to get inside the heads of our clients. In addition to interacting with clients as often as possible, we collaborate with account management professionals because they understand the jobs our clients are trying to perform. By identifying clear product needs, these client service professionals help promote innovation.
Innovations Simplify Workflow
It’s not enough for a new idea to solve a customer problem. In order to be a true innovation, the idea must solve that problem in a simple, elegant way. When working on product developments, it’s essential to test the functionality of the product before it goes to market. Technology companies should be sure that their updates are making client workflows more simple, and not adding hassle to people’s work.
Innovations Advance Industry Modernization
Innovation drives industry change through a process called modernization. As industries modernize, old practices become inefficient and obsolete. Things that used to work for dealerships do not represent the best way to move forward. At Cox Automotive, we’re working hard to change the industry by integrating the various platforms being used by dealerships. On average, dealerships need somewhere between six and eight technologies to accomplish their work. Unfortunately, most of those technologies don’t work well together. Our challenge is to fix that problem, and that all starts with the DMS because it serves as the hub and central database for all other technologies.
Innovations Attract Interest
While many dealerships express interest in technological innovations, most react negatively to the idea of making major technology changes. True innovations are attractive enough to help users overcome those fears. As we’ve improved our DMS platform, we have seen a proportional increase in dealerships’ willingness to make a switch. That increase in interest is a sure sign that the changes we’ve made to our product can accurately be called innovation.
In order to make the right technology decisions, dealerships must learn to distinguish between cool, new ideas and true innovations. True innovations solve customer problems, simplify user workflow, and attract enough interest to motivate industry change. Given this customer-centric definition of innovation, dealerships should be eager to partner with technology providers that prioritize innovation by solving customer problems.