Sonic Automotive: Roadside Aid

CIO David Boatman has to support 5,000 PCs at 139 dealerships in 15 states.


When Chief Information Officer David Boatman arrived at Sonic Automotive four years ago, the company was motoring ahead like it was on the acquisition Autobahn.

Purring like a Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG, the auto dealer had begun picking up dozens of independent dealerships in a buying spree thats barely slowed since, making it the nations third-largest dealership after AutoNation and United Auto Group. By 2002, the binge had revved up sales five-fold, from $1.4 billion in 1998 to $7.1 billion. Last year it acquired 31 dealerships and may add about 20 more by the end of 2003.

But in terms of information technology, the Sonic engine was working without a governor. When Boatman arrived, the acquired dealerships were using desktop computers from a hodgepodge of vendors. Support arrangements ranged from contracts with local repair shops to the phone number of the dealers computer-literate kid. Boatman had no way to back up dealer data, no way to know what software was in place, and no way to track software licenses. Sonic had scant control over its systems, or the associated maintenance costs.

The CIO had two options: He could build up a desktopsupport group within Sonic or he could look for outside help. Boatman approached professional desktop-management firms, including Centerbeam and Everdream, "to provide help desk, online backup [and] remote support for our PCs in our dealerships."

In early 2002, Boatman chose Everdream. Today, the PC- services company tracks what machines Sonic owns, upgrades software, manages licenses, backs up data, arranges for new hardware installations, provides remote testing and maintenance services, and gives around-the-clock user support.

Sonic wont disclose whether it actually saved money by contracting these services to a third party. But Boatman says he really didnt enter into the agreement to save money and hasnt even calculated his actual savings. He says his primary goals were to take control of Sonics PCs and increase technical support to the companys far-flung operations.

Sonic targets cities with populations growing faster than the national average, and has outposts throughout the South, Midwest and California.

Still, Boatman says Everdreams pricing beat that of his other choices. "They were working hard to get our business," he says.

Next page: The $55 desktop.