IDS Launches Astra G2 Dealer Management Software

RALEIGH, N.C. — Integrated Dealer Systems (IDS) has launched Astra G2, its newest generation dealership management system, and one the company promises is rich with robust features.

“Historically, IDS has always offered a feature rich, very robust product for the RV industry,” said IDS General Manager Sean Raynor. “Over the years we have continually added features to stay current. But, this new system is even more modernized and simplified.”

Raynor said Astra G2 has been transformed from a menu-based system into a rich user interface that taps into modern technology like Microsoft Visual Studio. “This makes the product an even better experience for users by allowing them to do more, faster, and in one screen that previously required them not navigate three or four screens,” said Raynor.

Many of the Astra features have been consolidated in G2, he explained. And the new system has built-in metrics that allow individual users to customize the dashboard so they can monitor those items that are important to them, and see the updated data every time they log in.

“This is an evolution rather than a revolution,” Raynor explained. “Customers have a choice of either using the new screens or sticking with the traditional menu-based interface. The new system is fully backwards compatible at this point.

“Consequently, if a particular user or department is uncomfortable moving forward in adopting the new interface, they still have the ability to use the older, classic view they have used for years,” he added.

That’s a huge benefit for RV dealers, Raynor explained, because they don’t have to make a decision to jump into the program and retrain everyone. Rather, they can slowly migrate toward full staff utilization.

“We have done this without requiring dealers to go through the pains of switching systems and migrating data,” said Raynor “Although we believe that training is always a good thing, you do not need a significant amount training to start using the new products. It only takes a few hours or days, rather than weeks or months to effectively use the product.”

Astra G2 is only one pillar of IDS’ product strategy

The second product the company introduced is a new customer relationship management system. The product has been a part of the Astra system for several years. However, the company made a significant reinvestment in it in recent months.

“We conducted a focus group of 15 dealers who gave us feedback on the current product and previous version,” said Raynor. “Based on that feedback, we invested inthe product to enhance other features of our system.”

The key features include:

  • Lead management – The ability to enter and track leads coming through activity at the dealership or through the marketing activities of manufacturers and other website, like
  • Enhanced search capabilities to allow staff to sort through the entire database to find specific customers or groups of customers, like those who attended last year’s open house.
  • Enhanced follow-up letter activities with mail merge templates.
  • Enhanced follow-up e-mail activities with mail merge templates and the ability to integrate with programs like Outlook.

For example, the CRM’s e-mail system allows dealers to conduct e-mail campaigns directly from Astra.

Astra CRM will greatly enhance the dealer’s ability to effectively communicate with prospects, current customers, former customers and market the dealership to each group.

The third pillar involves creating a retail website for RV dealers to use to sell their inventory through the IDS Digital Dealership system.

“With the cooperation of our sister company, G1440, we have developed a very rich design,” said Raynor. “G1440 is a web-centric company. Everything they do is related to e-business and web design.”

Each Digital Dealership website includes a front end design and configuration that focuses on the dealership’s profit centers, such as used sales, parts sales, service orders and new RV sales. The website can be color customized to match the dealership’s logo and to allow congruent marketing. With built in search engine optimization, the software helps to increase the chances the website will be found online, said Raynor.

Even non-technical people will be able to easily add new inventory specifications and images.

Several dealers are already using the software to display and sell inventory online, he added. IDS’ goal is to further refine the program and tightly integrate it into the customer relationship software (CRM) and dealership management system (DMS).

“That will enable the dealership’s website to become an online extension of their brick and mortar business,” said Raynor. “Our goal is to provide a single input source for dealership staff so that whatever data is needed from the CRM or the DMS, the system will push that information to the website.”

The next project on the horizon is to improve the reporting functions of the software by developing an enhanced reporting tool to allow users to create their own reports using information they consider being most valuable.
Raynor said that process is expected to be completed in the first half of 2011.

“It will allow users to create dashboards tapping into key performance indicators or metrics users can pick and choose from,” he explained. “They’ll have a choice of viewing numbers, bar graphs or pie charts.

“This allows employees and managers to determine what is important to them based on their function within the business,” said Raynor. “The sales manager’s dashboard would have an entirely different look and feel from the service manager’s.”

For example, when the service manager logs on, he will see a dashboard showing the value of open work orders, the amount of unclaimed warranty that day, and the status of special order parts.

The sales manager, on the other hand, will see how many units have been sold that day or week, how many units are awaiting delivery, and what the gross profit is for the month.

Service managers will be able to track technician productivity and see the repair orders by service writer to determine which employees are contributing the most to the overall operation.

The process for enhancing the IDS system started two years ago, he explained, and was accelerated when IDS was purchased by Constellation Software in August 2009.

To help dealerships avoid the cost of maintaining an information technology staff and equipment to run their workstations, IDS is offering a virtualization option to maintain the equipment remotely.

“We have a robust architecture at an off-site data center that will allow hundreds of users to run the IDS software off a single stack of hardware,” Raynor explained. “This provides dealers with an opportunity to avoid spending $20,000 in capital to have the software and server on site. They’ll have the same system available at their fingertips for a low monthly fee.”

By using a virtual private network, users will be able to log onto the system from any computer at the dealership or at remote locations using special security keys.

The virtual system updates software automatically and can even be set up to update other third party software over each of the computer systems connected to the network, Raynor explained.

“We made a $300,000 infrastructure investment into the system that we built, and we are willing to rent out that investment in hardware, software and redundancy to any RV dealer,” he added. “This allows them to take advantage of the power of the IDS system without having to hire computer staff or maintain expensive computer equipment.

“By integrating the dealership management system, customer relationship management functions and Digital Dealership into one package, our goal is to make this a seamlessly integrated extension of a dealership,” said Raynor. “Whether a customer comes in to your brick and mortar facility, or they want to purchase on the Web, they get a high level of service that is an accurate reflection of your commitment to your customers.”

Story by Greg Gerber posted on November 29, 2010