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Would You Like a Latté with Your Software Update?

Connected cars are officially here. The 2018 Honda Odyssey minivan is just one example of how this technology is turning vehicles into traveling entertainment centers. Inside, passengers can access a 4G LTE Wi-Fi network so they can stream videos or surf the Internet. The Odyssey also offers smartphone control of entertainment and climate control centers, and a host of driver assist and safety features.


All these snazzy features are controlled by on-board computers, and just like your office computers, they need software updates on a regular basis.


At some point vehicle software updates may be performed over-the-air automatically, directly from the manufacturer to the driver's vehicle. For a number of reasons this option isn't viable at the moment, so for now drivers must bring their vehicles into the dealership.


To accommodate the growing demand for these updates, manufacturers are starting to mandate to dealerships new requirements for wireless capacity in their service lanes.


Although at first these mandates may seem onerous, in many ways this is good news. Think about it! Dealerships are the only service providers equipped to properly install vehicle computer system updates. So the customer who bought a Honda Odyssey from you, then decided to go to an independent repair shop for regular maintenance, will be forced to come into your dealership for a vehicle software update. Every time that happens is an opportunity to win back that customer's business.


Instead of bemoaning the new wireless mandates, I encourage dealers to make the most of this opportunity. Think about how you can make the software update experience better, faster and cheaper than your competition.


Right now the average software update takes anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes. The time it takes to perform an update is directly dependent on how much wireless capacity you have and the speed of your Internet. Most updates are also performed with the vehicle in a service bay, a practice that is expensive and inefficient. Most dealers charge about one hour of labor time, so customers are paying as much as $100 or more just to get a software update.


What if you could offer a software update for only $50, and it could be installed in 30 minutes or less while the customer is sitting in the car? And what if you offered a latté with that update?


You could make this happen if you install one or two wireless access points outside of your service bay, so updates can be performed in either the parking lot or in your Quick Lane, if you have one. A technician could even start the software update and go back to work on another job until it's finished.


To make this happen, however, requires a number of upgrades to your information technology (IT) infrastructure. If and when you receive a notice from your manufacturer with new wireless capacity guidelines, I strongly encourage you to consider doubling whatever the recommendation is. The recommendation from your manufacturer is probably the minimum of what you will need in the next year or two.


The reality is, you're going to need more. In the next five years, the practice of updating a car's software is due to grow at least tenfold, according to IHS Automotive. Is your service department ready to accommodate a tenfold increase in vehicle computer system updates?


Additionally in service departments, Wi-Fi connectivity is required for mobile tablets, cloud-based service applications, employee and customer cell phones, tech tools and more.


To avoid having to make upgrades every year, and to ensure that you have enough bandwidth for all your service needs, here's what you will need:


  • Depending on the size of your service department, anywhere from six to a dozen enterprise-grade wireless access nodes that will give you super-fast bandwidth both inside and outside your service department
  • Enterprise-grade Internet service provided by fiber optics
  • Gigabit network switches


Oh yes, and you may also want to invest in a latté machine.

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