Software providers respond to industry trends.
Mobile, tablets and the cloud are spawning a series of collision repair back-office innovations.
At first glance you’d think that advances in mobile devices, tablet computing and social media would have little effect of the collision repair industry. However according to back-office software providers, these, and other information technology innovations, are facilitating the development of a slew of new productivity-enhancing solutions.
Not surprisingly, suppliers in this increasingly competitive industry are rushing in to fill the demand. For example earlier this year Audatex launched a bilingual version of its Autowatch service solution which enables clients to track the progress of their vehicle’s repair, through an interactive Web-site.
According to Anthony Giagnacovo, the company’s managing director for Canada, the system, which is already widely used in the United States, enables insurers, the consumer and the bodyshop to share information through Facebook and other social media, based on data, photos and the like which are regularly uploaded. SSQ Financial Group was the company’s first client for the new solution, which judging from its success south of the border, should prove to be a hit here too.
“The technology saves bodyshops and customers time because it eliminates the need for personal contact in many cases,” says Giagnacovo. “These new software solutions are building on concurrent advances in hardware and the existing Internet backbone, which in turn will continue to spark innovation going forward.”
Mitchell International: the advent of SAAS solutions
Mike Jerry, general manager and vice-president (Canadian operations) at Mitchell International., which supplies collision repair facilities with a full suite of targeted estimating and shop management tools, agrees. “The business is always evolving and we have to adapt to keep up,” says Jerry. “For example we have been seeing increasing demand for software analytics, customer satisfaction tracking and other solutions to which help businesses maximize EBITDA (earnings before interest taxes, depreciation and amortization).”
Another growing realization is that businesses need to optimize total lifecycle expenses to get the best value from software purchases. Jerry notes that the initial purchase price of a software solution represents only a small proportion of its total ownership cost. To calculate that, buyers also need to calculate the money they spend in installing the solution, training employees how to use it, as well as the regular cost of mandatory updates.
These challenges have sparked increasing demand for cloud-based solutions, in which the services bought are hosted on a remote server, maintained and updated by the provider, who then charges a fee for use. This type of solution is also sometimes more widely recognized as a Software as a Service (or SAAS) model.
Mitchell’s RepairCenter hosting solutions, which have already attracted major clients such as FIX Auto, CARSTAR Collision and Glass Service and a variety of independents, have seen consistent growth since they were introduced two years ago. According to Jerry, Mitchell used Apple Computer’s template when designing RepairCenter, which enables clients to download a variety of tools and for developers to design and market new applications that integrate into the solution.
Summit: adapting to mobile technologies
According to Frank Terlep, CEO and “Lead Sherpa” at Summit Software and Marketing Solutions, which markets collision repair and customer management software, process consulting and education solutions, adapting existing product offerings to new mobile technologies is a major industry trend. That said, this is not an issue with Summit’s eMarketPlace platform which has long been 100% Web-based.
“We see digital marketing, communications and customer retention software as the next major breakthrough,” says Terlep, who notes that sales are growing quickly for eMarketPlace, which he claims is the only one of its kind in North America. “This solution, which is not new to the rest of the world, just to the collision repair industry, provides businesses with a better opportunity to “own” customers who already know and like their work, for life. That’s important, because customers that you work well with, tend to be the most profitable ones.”
Progi: bringing clients, insurance players closer to repair centers
One of the biggest continuing innovations in the collision repair industry says Diane Chainé, president of Progi, supplier of ProgiParts is the increasing integration of business supply chains. The software, which is used by more than 600 collision repair facilities across the country, enables collision repair shops to find alternative OEM, aftermarket or recycled part options they need for a particular repair, based on a given estimate.
A year ago Progi introduced Progilog, which enables customers to track their repairs. The company is also working on a new innovation, Progisync, which will provide insurance companies and the general public with online access to a collision repair shop’s schedule, so that they can book estimating or repair appointments via the Web. “It’s all about closer collaboration,” says Chainé. “The more that work flow players can integrate their IT systems, the more they can boost productivity.”
Strong growth at Audatex Canada
Giagnacovo at Audatex, is just now beginning to settle into his new post, which he took on at the beginning of last year after a hectic start. Since then, this industry veteran, who moved over following a stint at PeopleSoft, has been overseeing a series of changes, innovations and new product introductions, which have seen the Canadian division grow from 17 to 70 employees in just 17 months.
Audatex, which is widely known in the collision repair industry for its estimating software, has been working to improve its recently introduced innovation, the AudaVin plugin, which enables users to tap into selected manufacturers databases to access data currently unavailable using traditional vehicle identification number searches.
Giagnacovo credits increasing market acceptance of the company’s iAutoFocus Enterprise Resource Planning system, which was introduced into Canada just around the time that he joined, as a key growth driver. Unlike competitors, which specialize in one major solution (such as EZpartorder.com a purchasing system that enables order generation from an existing estimating system) iAutofocus, encompasses numerous feature sets. The solution also integrates with Quickbooks, Simple Accounting and other bookkeeping packages, optimizes business productivity and helps to manages day-to-day workflows.
For more information:
Mitchell International, www.mitchell.com
Audatex Canada, www.audatex.com
Summit Software Solutions, www.summitsoftwaresolutions.com
First Choice, http://www.ezpartorder.com/
Peter Diekmeyer (email@example.com) is Bodyshop Magazine’s Quebec correspondent.
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