Wednesday, 28 October 2009 09:53

First Annual ‘Productivity Tools’ Roundup

Written by Rachael Mercer, Special to Autobody News
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Today’s autobody shop owner has a great many options when selecting tools that will increase the productivity of his/her business. From tools such as management software, add-ons for the estimating software in use at that business, or camera systems that improve the digital documentation for each repair, shop owners can spend a great deal of time comparing options and searching for the productivity tools that best meets the needs of his/her business.


In an effort to make the selection process a little easier for business owners, Autobody News has surveyed a select group of readers—also business owners and managers—to determine what productivity tools they use. These owners and managers point out what features they find most helpful with the tools. Whether you are in the market for a productivity tool that helps your business or you are using some of these tools currently, your curiosity may be piqued into learning more about one of the products featured in this article; which just may, in the end, help you increase the productivity of your own business!

Management Software
When we asked shop owners in California and Texas about their management software, the group used four different management software programs to track their productivity and manage their business. The programs are listed in alphabetical order.

ABW Tracker
“We chose ABW Tracker because of the price, initially,” says Tiffany Silva, general manager at Accurate Auto Body in San Pablo, California. “We’ve used the program for at least 10 years, and one of the things we like about it is that we can make the program very personal for us.” Silva explained that ABW Tracker helps her with all the management areas in the business like receivables and time and labor. But the personalization that ABW Tracker offers has made her very happy with the ABW Tracker experience.
“You can talk to the creators and suggest changes and offer your input,” said Silva. “We have been able to be very-hands on when describing our needs to our representatives at ABW Tracker.”
Gus Dimakis, owner of ABW Tracker, a product of Norgate Technologies, said that the customization ability is an important part of the ABW Tracker system. “We can always make changes to the reporting that meets the needs of the business,” he said. “The needs of every business is different. We don’t sell a system and tell the buyer to use it as the system dictates. We give our customers the numbers they want to know, not the numbers we think they want to know.”
Dimakis explained that the ABW Tracker system is more than a software program—that the company stands apart because they provide hardware—not a computer—to each of their customers. This electronic microcomputer allows technicians to clock in and out and mark progress during the day as they are working through the stages of a repair. The front office can send messages to the technicians on the microcontroller as well—using simple equipment to make the repair process as simple as possible. “We place a lot of emphasis on ease of use,” said Dimakis. “We aim to take the complexity out of the repair management system by utilizing the latest technologies along with input from our most valuable asset, our customer.”

Mitchell ABS
The seamless integration between the Mitchell ABS Management system and Mitchell UltraMate estimating system is one reason why Lee Gamboa, co-owner of Gamboa’s Body in Roseville, California, has used the Mitchell ABS system since 1998.
“With this seamless integration, I can create a clean, complete repair order,” said Gamboa. “Using the management tools, I can see my job tracking and I can check my gross profits.”
Mitchell International Vice President of Repair Solutions Jason Bertellotti said these are some of the features that cause shop owners to continue to use the Mitchell ABS Suite. “We find that customers stay with the Mitchell ABS Suite for such a long time because it becomes central to the success of their business.  While estimating systems tend to change over time due to changes in carrier DRP mandates, shops generally don’t want their management system choice to be dictated by an insurance carrier,” said Bertellotti. “[Mitchell International] has designed ABS to be totally estimating agnostic—it works great with all major estimating systems.” Bertellotti added, “Shops typically start off using some of the more basic capabilities of the system, such as ordering parts or sending estimate data to their accounting system, and then leverage additional capabilities over time—allowing the system to ‘grow with the shop.’  We find that within a short time after starting to use ABS, shops cannot imagine doing business without it.”
Shops we talked to who use Mitchell ABS Management system tend to have had a long relationship with the system. Gamboa’s Body has used the ABS system for 11 years. Jerry Epstein, owner of Paramount Collision in San Mateo, CA, has used the Mitchell ABS Management system for the last 12 years.

Rome Technologies
CompleteShop, the shop management system produced by Rome Technologies, is the management system of choice for G&C Autobody, a three-shop operation in Santa Rosa, Petaluma and San Rafael, CA. Their representatives say that simplicity has been the biggest reason their company has enjoyed a long-term relationship with Rome Technologies. According to their representative, CompleteShop makes it easy for them to track production and to work with accounts receivables.
Scott Rome, President of Rome Technologies, said, "What makes the collision business unique is that every job is custom.
CompleteShop 2009 software is designed on a factory-based business model. Each department communicates electronically to provide audits and accountability for the administration and production process. These triggers define what actions need to be taken to maximize production while maintaining customer service.
In order to remain competitive in today’s market, shops must run like a factory.”
CompleteShop 2009  is a template that allows the shop to realize the full potential of a process driven, factory-based solution in their shops. According to Rome, “Our latest technology  ‘Decision Priority Technology—DPT,’ actually tells the user what decisions to make and the best order to make them to have the most direct impact on shop efficiency and performance.” He continued, “Through technology and education CompleteShop 2009 provides the highest level of customer service, lowest cycle time and maximized profits to our clients.”

Summit
Summit Software Solutions got its highest reviews on the changeover process required to move from one management software to another.
Steve Saunders, General Manager of Faith Quality Autobody in Murrieta, California, decided after a Summit demonstration at a 20 Group Meeting that Summit could meet the needs of his business which had 23 workstations and 4 buildings at the time. “I was convinced by the presentation that Summit was what we needed, but I was concerned about the switchover,” said Saunders. “With 100 cars in progress at the time of the switchover, it would be no small feat to complete this changeover process.”
What followed was more than Saunders could have imagined: “A team from Summit—three people—came to our business and in one weekend, completed a very smooth switchover.” Saunders explained that during the next week, everyone worked to fine tune the system. Since the initial changeover, Faith Quality Autobody has asked Summit to customize some features. “Summit gladly made the changes we needed,” said Saunders. “This showed us the flexibility of their management system.” Since then,  Summit has been “consistent and user-friendly” for his business.
Frank Terlep, President of Summit Software Solutions, says Summit’s proficiency at easy changeovers is “experience and a plan.” Terlep continued, “Before we convert a customer [to Summit] we spend hours on the telephone inquiring about their existing (as well as future) needed or wanted business processes and results. Once we understand those we schedule on-site implementation where we actually work side by side with each shop’s personnel to make sure they can perform their specific jobs through our software.”
This on-site implementation is what Steve Saunders credited as “amazingly smooth” in the transition. Terlep said, “On-site implementation includes getting all employees together to make sure they understand how their jobs are going to change, documenting each employee’s system responsibilities, and then walking each employee through each of the shop’s new business processes anywhere from 15–150 times over a weekend (depending on the number of Open Repair Orders in the shop).” Terlep said, “This system has worked for me for more than 25 years.”
Jim Boyle, owner of Regal Collision in Vallejo, CA, began using Summit about five years ago in his single-shop operation. “[Summit is] right on it when it comes to technical support,” said Boyle. “When we began using Summit we had one representative come to train us, and since then anytime we have a problem we have found they’re very quick with their technical support.”
According to Terlep, Summit is the most referred management system in North America. “We are able to state we are the most referred system in North America because we are the system most referred by almost every paint company in North America as well as several repair networks such as FIX Auto USA, CARSTAR Canada, and others.”

Estimating Systems
Auto body shops have many choices when it comes to software selection for the estimating process. Their decisions must take into consideration not only the ability for the program to write a complete estimate, but also whether insurance company direct repair program agreements require that a certain estimating system be used.
Shop owners we talked to did not distinguish between whether the estimating systems they favored were purchased for its merits alone or whether it was required for a successful DRP relationship. In most cases, the features they liked about the programs stood out no matter why the estimating program was purchased.

CCC Pathways    
The photo attachment capabilities that CCC Information Services’ Pathways program offers is one of the features that Boyle appreciates most. “I believe that the way in which I can attach photos to my estimates with Pathways is superior to all the other program I have used,” said Boyle.
The photo system that is part of the Pathways program is unique, according to Bruce Yungkans, Product Manager/Collision Estimating, CCC Information Services. “Pathways was the first program in the arena to offer the ability to integrate images,” he said. “Typically, pictures are taken and then they must be imported to a program from the source—whether a camera or a disk—and then they have to be moved from that program to the estimate.” Pathways photo capabilities take a step out of that process, importing the images directly from the camera to the work file.
Pathways users commented on the quick way in which CCC responds to problems and makes updates. Yungkans explained that the Pathways Web site is automated to allow customers to log into the database inquiry section, where they can enter information concerning the problem. Almost immediately the customer is given a problem tracking number, assuring them that CCC is working to resolve the problem. “Typically all problems are addressed within four days,” said Yungkans. “Many problems are possibly completely resolved in this four-day window.”
Although the expectation from most software users concerning updates is to receive them when the monthly DVD- or CD-ROM arrives, Yungkans explained that data changes such as parts price updates or vehicle data can be delivered several times a month via the software update manager. “Actually, these updates can be done at-will,” said Yungkans. “Anyone who is ready to update can check online using the software update manager and complete these updates on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.”
Lastly, Silva commented on the ease of use when it comes to the Pathways software. “Although one of our DRP agreements requires us to use Pathways, I prefer using it because of its ease of use,” she said. “Even with supplements, the system is just easy to use.”
“When CCC developed Pathways we did a lot of useability testing,” said Yungkans. “It wasn’t just me or the technical people in our office that decided how Pathways would work.” Yungkans explained that insurance adjusters, independent appraisers, body shop owner and others in the industry helped design the program based on how they wanted the program to work. “This real-world development of Pathways has really been one of the reasons Pathways is so popular.”

Mitchell UltraMate
Mitchell International’s UltraMate program is one that Saunders uses for estimating at Faith Quality Autobody. While he has used UltraMate for several years and has seen many versions of the same program, Saunders says one of the features he likes best about UltraMate is the new year model updates. “UltraMate seems to the be the first of the estimating systems we use when it comes to updating the new year model data,” said Saunders. “With some estimating programs there is a lag period for new models which presents a problem if we get a new model repair and we don’t have data for that car or the VIN number.”
Mitchell International Vice President of Repair Solutions Jason Bertellotti explained that there are a couple of reasons why UltraMate is updated so quickly with new year model data. “Mitchell has some of the most experienced editors in the business with an average of 15 years experience in the shop environment as technicians,” said Bertellotti. “Because our editorial staff is one-hundred percent in-house, we are able to respond quickly to customer inquiries and issues surrounding our labor and parts data.”
Lee Gamboa commented that the updating and redevelopment is one feature that he has noticed is consistent with Mitchell UltraMate, which is one of the programs he uses for estimating in his business. “Sometimes things go wrong, especially when it feels like the software companies put out the information but there are problems with it,” said Gamboa. “I have found that Mitchell listens to its customers and they are always making changes.”
G&C Autobody representatives say their company has a good relationship with Mitchell and their customer service department, and that is one of the features of that makes their use of the software program more of a good experience. Bertellotti says that when customers call needing support, a “Techical Assistance Center (TAC) representative takes the first call, but they will work closely with the Field Service Representative responsible for that customer.” “This ensures that issues are resolved in a timely manner and to the client’s satisfaction,” said Bertellotti.
Bottom Line
Of course, as you operate your business you will be forced to choose productivity tools that work best in your unique situation. You must evaluate whether a DRP agreement will cause you to work with estimating systems with which you are already familiar or with those you are not. Lee Jaynes, manager at Fincher’s Body Shop in Gatesville, Texas, said “sometimes it’s best to keep it simple. You can overwhelm yourself with too many bells and whistles which can take up valuable time that should be spent running your business and communicating with customers.” No matter what productivity tools you chose to help you in managing your business or writing complete estimates, remember that the ultimate goal is for these tools to help you—not make business more complicated!

ClaimSnap Digital Camera and Photo
Management System by ClaimTools
Photo documentation and the process for sorting, storing and managing photos for insurers as well as documenting pre-existing damage and other conditions before and during a repair can be a very frustrating and time-consuming process. As Autobody News talked with shop owners and managers about the productivity tools they found most helpful in their business several mentioned—with excitement and enthusiasm—a company called ClaimTools.
Dan Casler, President and CEO of ClaimTools, which produces the ClaimSnap Digital Camera and Photo Management System, began developing this system in 2006 and sold its first units to body shops in British Columbia, Canada, in January 2007.
“The system took off,” said Casler. “Very quickly seventy-five percent of the major players in the British Columbia market were using our system.” In late 2007, ClaimTools expanded to begin selling its specially-ruggedized cameras to auto body shops in Washington and California.
“Shops have a big opportunity to use this system in their relationship with insurers,” said Casler. He explained that some shops using the ClaimSnap Camera System take as many as 2,000 photos per day.
Lee Gamboa, one of the users of the ClaimSnap system, said, “We take about five times the number of pictures we used to do. We document pre-existing damage, and the system makes it easy for us to keep moving on the job even when an insurer has a question.” Gamboa mentioned the benefit of having ClaimTools store the images. “We don’t have to store these pictures on our computers. [ClaimTools] keeps the pictures on their server for 10 years.”
Steve Saunders, also a ClaimSnap system user, explained that the wireless system enables his technicians to scan the provided barcode stickers after they are applied to a car ready for repair, and then the scanner in the camera matches the barcodes and the car whenever they take more pictures. “We just press a button and the system sends the pictures to the designated computer in the shop,” said Saunders. “We have purchased five of these cameras for our business.
Casler said the reduction in time spent on photo documentation can be significant on each repair. “Most shops operating with a typical digital camera system can lose a good 10 minutes of production time per vehicle while waiting on someone to take pictures each time hidden damage, supplement or in progress photos need to be taken,” he said. “In addition to the time savings realized by having techs and painters take pictures, we can save a business an additional 15-30 minutes on average per claim with the ClaimSnap Digital Camera System. In addition to time savings, having the ability to efficiently take more photos than needed, results in collision centers capturing lost revenue that may have been previously lost because of inadequate documentation.”
The ClaimSnap system is a CARSTAR Network Preferred Supplier and is PPG-Certified First. The system is also integrated with Summit Software Solutions and others in the industry.
“This system is very ‘plug and play’,” said Casler. “If anyone in the business is even slightly computer-literate, they can have this system up and running in 15 minutes.” Casler explained that training for new customers is done remotely in two parts and takes no more than an hour total.


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