Initial reading of the title may make you think this article is in completely the wrong category. Read on... I am a freelance web developer and a recent contract for a small family business in Wales changed my vision on the motor car completely. First, a little background on the company - a wholesale motor factor selling parts to cars, auto refinishing products and providing an automotive electronics repair service. Started in 1963 by an ex-World War II RAF pilot, who started by selling car batteries to local garages in the South Wales valleys. Now into its 3rd generation of family and the Internet opening a whole new world of customers, a web site was required.
My first consultation was used as a teaching exercise - a three hour meeting informing the owners of how the process will work and the options they have, from domain names to content management systems, the whole lot was described - until they knew what they wanted, I couldn't start. My second visit to the store involved me spending time with the telesales department and using the stock control system. The stock control system was UNIX based and developed especially for the automotive industry, not being up with UNIX, I sat down and index fingered my way through it. My first "purchase" would be a CV joint for my 2002 Mini Cooper, which, took me the best part of a morning to process - not because I had no idea of the system (which was very user friendly), not because I entered the details wrong, not because my Mini Cooper didn't have a CV joint, but because there were so many options.
Think about it, a new car is revealed, just like software, bugs are found and with the next release they are fixed. Which means within a year a car can have no cosmetic changes but have hundreds of mechanical changes. All previous versions of parts still have to be manufactured; unlike software, the driver cannot just upgrade or use a patch.
In one year there may be several revisions or temporary changes, for example, the 1999 Rover 200 series BRM. During manufacture it was discovered that there weren't enough CV joints produced to keep production rolling, Rover executives instructed that the BRM be changed to accept CV joints off the 1999 Rover 45 (of which there were plenty). This change was made for 6 months until the backlog of BRM CV joints were manufactured - years later BRM CV joints start failing and need replacing, according to computer systems the BRM has its own specific CV joints but for those manufactured within the 6 month period in 1999 accept a Rover 45 CV joint only - to program this knowledge into a system would be incredibly hard and not feasible.
After this day, I looked at the telesales department in a completely different light as they choose the correct part the caller is requesting in minutes through a combination of database querying non-documented knowledge. After weeks of consultation we user friendly web based solution was developed and an efficient process to match.