In the 1983 movie “War Games,” starring Matthew Broderick, a giant military supercomputer named “WOPR” which stands for War Operation Plan Response sat in an underground facility and strategized about war. Not just any war, but nuclear war real end-of-the-world kind of stuff.
In the movie, WOPR was a type of artificial intelligence that played “games” in order to figure out its response to an attack by the Soviet Union. WOPR basically figured out that in a nuclear war, there were no real winners. Everyone was obliterated. But before it “realized” that, there were several minutes of panic as technicians in the underground bunker tried to log back into the WOPR that had locked them out and stop an all-out nuclear assault against phantom Soviet missiles.
Think the aftermarket is any less exciting? In my mind, the same kinds of battles are being fought each and every day, one part at a time, albeit without nuclear arms.
The aftermarket has its own kind of WOPRs sometimes referred to as data repositories or data warehouses. But they’re so much more than a place to dump data. If that were the only thing going on, it wouldn’t be worth doing. Just as the WOPR in the movie strategized about different war scenarios, program groups and other aftermarket entities are doing about the same thing in the battle for market share and the hearts and minds of customers. While there aren’t nukes in silos ready to be launched, computers are silently going over all the data deposited in them for aftermarket companies to formulate their own war plans.
Take for instance a program group that opens up its data warehouse to suppliers so they can get a handle on what parts are moving nationally, not to warehouse shelves but what’s actually being installed on a vehicle. Information like registration data, manufacturer’s data and warranty data all enter into the mix to help the groups design their inventory in the most picture-perfect way possible.
Data is truly the last and greatest frontier in the aftermarket because it’s something that’s constantly evolving. All of the other elements of running a successful operation have pretty much been hashed out time and time again. You know know you have to treat customers right. Check. You know you need good people. Check. But an aftermarket supplier, WD or jobber that tries to sell parts without the benefit of business intelligence tools these days will surely die within about two days.
The next time you see a bump in sales, remember to thank the often nameless computer programmers who stare at screens all day to help everyone make sense of all this data. Without them, we’d all be staring down the barrel of our own version of the intercontinental ballistic missile.