"Every time we brought in a new dealer, there was a lot of development effort that had to be taken into account, whereas with Astera, it's a lot faster process, and it doesn't require a developer to be involved every step of the way."
Mike Ethetton, Senior Programmer
Founded in 1996, AutoTrader.com is one of the most popular sources for market data on new and used automobiles for sale. Not just a single website, the AutoTrader Group of companies is a $1-billion operation that includes AutoTrader.com, Kelley Blue Book, and automotive data management subsidiary VinSolutions, among others.
VinSolutions bears the brunt of the data integration challenges for AutoTrader and other websites that dealers use to advertise their vehicles. For each car, there may be more than 100 individual pieces of data that need to be updated on a daily basis. This includes critical data such as the list price, along with various other pieces of metadata that determine how the vehicle should be listed. With listings on more than a million cars requiring updates every day, plus other value-added solutions for marketing, finance, search optimization, mobile, and social media, the scale of the challenge for VinSolutions approaches big-data territory.
VinSolutions is the data service middleman between car dealerships and Internet car marketing companies like AutoTrader.com and Cars.com. The company not only manages the data integration, it is also responsible for integrating its software the into the dealership management system (DMS), the core software applications that automate car dealerships.
This is where the difficulties started for VinSolutions. Many of the biggest dealers in the country have standardized on a handful of DMS applications, such as those from ADP, DealerTrack, and Reynolds. Unfortunately, just about every ADP, DealerTrack, and Reynolds customer uses their DMS in different ways. In addition, VinSolutions works with another 60 to 80 smaller DMSs as well as custom-built DMSs.
About two years ago, VinSolutions decided to automate its homegrown ETL process and get out of the custom development business. After evaluating several data integration software solutions, the company chose Centerprise Data Integrator because it provided all the functionality needed, including automated ETL, and the easy-to-use interface enables business users in the implementation department to work with the software.
According to VinSolution’s director of integration Doug Maskill, the software has dramatically reduced the need to custom code the integration into each dealer’s DMS.
“One of the big advantages in using Astera is it allowed us in development to build the core data flows, which then allows non-developers in our implementation department to use Astera to build sub-flows to connect into those core data flows,” Maskill said. “That enabled us to create an environment where we don’t have developers doing the actual configuration for every single independent dealer. It allows the variances from dealer to dealer to be configured in Astera by our implementation team building data sub-flows. Trying to write code to do all that–that’s a lot of heavy lifting.”
According to VinSolutions senior programmer Mike Ethetton, it could take up to two months for a developer to do the custom-coding to ensure the accurate capture of data from a new client’s DMS into the VinSolutions network. With Astera, that has been cut to about an hour’s worth of work. With 70 to 100 car dealers going online with VinSolutions every month, the company has eliminated a lot of custom data mapping work on the part of its development team.
“Every time we brought in a new dealer, there was a lot of development effort that had to be taken into account, whereas with Astera, it’s a lot faster process, and it doesn’t require a developer to be involved every step of the way.”
The company is currently looking to take its ETL process to the next level with real-time data integration via REST Web services. This form of integration is highly dependent on whether a given DMS supports the specific APIs.
The hope is that, eventually, any change made to car data at the DMS level will automatically trigger an update into the VinSolutions systems. The company is starting to roll it out with the dealerships that support them, such as the corporate websites for Nissan, Kia, Toyota, and Lexus.
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