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HolidayBuyer's Guide
Tech Industry

Saturn awards contract to build online network

The automaker awards a $300 million contract to a team of companies that will build an online network to link its dealers, customers and business partners.

Saturn today said it has awarded a $300 million contract to a team of companies that will build an online network to link the automakers' dealers, customers and business partners.

Computer services company CSC is lead partner on the seven-year deal, which will entail building a retail management system that Saturn partners and buyers will use for everything from accessing service records to tracking auto financing and leasing information.

Today's deal comes as all automakers are scrambling to move their businesses online to improve communication, cut costs and streamline business among their Byzantine network of parts makers, buyers, dealers and other key players. Ford and GM, most notably, are building huge online business exchanges and Web sites in an attempt to get a competitive edge.

"It's becoming increasingly important (to adopt an online system), especially now as auto companies want to have a Web presence to serve their customers but also don't want to alienate their dealers," said Judy Andaloro, an analyst at Boston-based AMR Research.

Development of Saturn's new retail system is expected to take about 15 months, followed by a one-year rollout and five years of support, the company said in a statement. Saturn is also investing in Siebel's customer relationship management (CRM) software, which automates a company's sales, marketing and call center needs, to build the new Web-based retail management system.

"Most of the Saturn retailers have their own (different) systems," said Mary Rhodes, a spokeswoman for CSC. The new system should bring them all together on one network, she said.

Andaloro said that the Saturn deal is really the first that includes a CRM player and is more geared toward the end-customer as well as the dealers.

By integrating the automotive management system to be developed by Reynolds & Reynolds and a range of Siebel's CRM applications, Saturn will have a much more complete system that will cover both its dealers as well as its customers, according to Andaloro.

"The customers will have a more unified experience when they go to Saturn," she added. "They won't have to do a repeat explanation."

About 15,000 Saturn sales employees will use the new network at more than 400 Saturn sites nationwide. Employees will be able to use the system to check worldwide auto inventory as well as communicate with customers over the Web, answering questions and fulfilling requests.

Customers will also be able to connect to the retailers' computer systems to schedule service appointments and check their auto service history.

On the project, CSC will lead a technology team that includes Siebel and business management software maker Reynolds & Reynolds. Other companies on the project include software developer Tibco and Microsoft for Web access and email.

As part of the deal, CSC will open a new Saturn research and development lab in Nashville.