IT Tips: Voice and Data Communications
Estimating Network Capacity
When upgrading your dealership’s data communications infrastructure, you’ll find that vendors offer a wide range of solutions. First, estimate how much capacity you’ll need for the next 12 months. If you don’t know, ask the vendors to estimate your current needs adding a growth factor for the next year. Solicit itemized bids from several vendors comparing their installation, training, lease, and monthly support costs.
Smart Shopping for Telecommunications Services
When procuring any type of voice or data communications service for the dealership, it’s best to shop around. You may want to combine your local and long distance voice services with data communications services like DSL, T-1 connections, and your ISP services. Or you may only need data communications services to connect the computers at several dealerships or several buildings of a single dealership with frame relay (data) connections, point-to-point phone lines, or another type of data service.
Your DMS vendor may provide you with the specifications to connect all the locations’ computers or they may provide a price quote for the work from their business partner specializing in data communications services. The partner may be a service aggregator or general contractor who contracts with several additional companies to provide the required voice and data connections for your dealership(s). In other words, the aggregator functions as a middleman often using your local phone company to provide some of the communications services and often perform the required installation. The aggregator’s services are typically fee-based and in addition to the cost of the services provided. As an example, a frame relay connection between three dealerships was quoted by an aggregator at triple the price that the local phone company provided when contacted directly. Requesting price quotes from three or more vendors is one way of receiving several competitive bids for the project.
Reducing Telephone Costs
Dealerships have a variety of telephone-related connections to the outside world for voice and data communications. Pay attention to your POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service). Dealers have been adding phone lines in the dealership for years to support the addition of fax machines, credit card terminals, vehicle diagnostic equipment, and PCs with dial-up Internet access. As the phone lines used for data connections are upgraded to handle the dealership’s growing needs, the number of dial-up connections should be reviewed and probably reduced. Here are some tips:
Make sure you have a list of ALL phone numbers (lines). Don’t rely on your monthly phone bill because it may not list the phone numbers if there are no long distance charges for the month. Periodically review the location and use of each phone number to make sure it is necessary.
With the appropriate computer program installed, a PC has the ability to function like a fax machine. Do you need separate lines for both if the PC can handle the demands of a nearby fax machine?
Determine if two or more pieces of equipment can share a phone number. Most devices only dial "out" and are frequently not in use. For example, PCs that use dialup Internet access and credit card terminals would use the dedicated phone numbers infrequently. As long as the device does not have to "answer" an incoming call as a fax does, consider having the device "share" a line with similar devices.
Some types of equipment may not require a "dedicated" line. If that’s the case, the device could be connected to the dealership phone system to dial an outside line. You would simply program the device to dial a 9 (or whatever code your telephone system uses to access the shared outside lines) followed by the telephone number it’s calling. This approach may require the purchase of additional equipment, known as "analog ports," for the dealership phone system. Don’t plug any of these devices into a phone extension jack unless you have already contacted your phone system vendor or they might not work correctly. Note: The dealership phone system is not a good solution for Internet-intensive applications because the system limits the maximum connection speed to less than a common Internet connection from a dealership LAN.
The monthly expense for a POTS phone line can be quite costly. After checking a recently acquired dealership, 12 previously unknown and unused phone lines were eliminated.
Annually review the dealership’s voice communications requirements. Solicit bids for the next 12-month period from several vendors comparing service offerings and rates.