Woes in the bodyshop sector are well documented, but all too often the difference between survival and failure is the quality of time management – and it’s here that information technology plays a crucial role. With one in five private motor policy customers involved in some kind of road accident every 12 months, the bodyshop sector arguably has more regular customer contact than any other part of the motor business. Yet remorselessly rising overheads, due in large part to investment demands to keep abreast of new technology and legislation, continue to take their toll on bodyshop numbers – currently less than 5,000 compared with around 12,000 a decade ago, and forecast to fall to below 4,000 by 2010. But industry observers say that further erosion can be averted – crucially by better management controls. In its latest industry survey, Bodyshop magazine reports that work providers owe repairers £600m, £100m more than 12 months ago. There were also concerns that the cost of supplying courtesy cars was being underestimated by between £75 and £100 a month. Meanwhile, concerns over estimating for repairs have prompted the Retail Motor Industry Federation to run a series of workshops with Audatex. The RMI reckons that the average repair is underestimated by around £300. For bodyshop survivors, information technology (IT) has a crucial role to play in the search for more efficient working.In essence, any BMS system should fulfil four key roles: 1. Bring about a streamlining of a bodyshop’s day-to-day processes to help avoid duplication of effort. Administrative overheads may be reduced, for example, through receiving claims electronically and by cutting out the need to re-key data. 2. More efficient operational procedures should lead to benefits on the shopfloor. Workshop management tools may be used to prompt the next function in the repair process with the result that jobs are less likely to wait before being performed. Wastage is reduced since parts are tracked at every stage in the process, thereby reducing the number of parts which, for whatever reason, are ordered by the bodyshop but not invoiced to a customer. 3. Achieve better utilisation of resources, not least through obtaining an understanding of shopfloor capacity, but this attribute applies to other aspects of the business too. For example, courtesy cars may be tracked as they are loaned and returned in order to manage the fleet to its full potential. 4. Provide clearer transparency to the business with information on the relationships between the various activities. Managers are then better placed to make the right decision. Changes to working methods may be charted and their impact on profitability measured. Apart from these practical aspects, there are other benefits – notably improved customer service. If, for example, a repair is likely to take longer than originally anticipated, this may be flagged at a relatively early stage and the customer advised accordingly. All this comes at a price, of course, and on this point James Thorburn, general manager of Pinetree - one of the major bodyshop management systems’ suppliers – offers some cautionary words. “The key imperative with any IT system is achieving a satisfactory return on investment,” he says. “It’s not about price, it’s about demonstrating how savings may be made to enhance the profitability of your business.” He adds that when sourcing a bodyshop management system, the salesperson should identify clearly where savings in the running of the business can be achieved. It is also vital that the IT provider should have strong back-up with a dedicated support line and response time guarantees. System suppliers also need to have a programme of continuous development to reflect the changing needs of the marketplace. Suppliers – and what they offer Audatex, the motor estimating and claims systems provider, has unveiled a new system, AudaEnterprise, which it says can typically cut authorisation time from days to hours. “Critically, it will allow users to devote more time to the engineering aspect of repair – deciding on the best method of repair – and less time on the ‘dead’ time of administration,” said David Murby, Audatex’s strategic development director. AudaEnterprise is a successor to AudaWorkstation, introduced in 1997, but Audatex says it’s committed to supporting the present system until the autumn of 2006 and points out that the two systems are compatible. AudaEnterprise, the result of a two year £3m development programme, features new multi-tier client server architecture and can be deployed at multiple bodyshop sites, associated franchised dealerships, motor engineering offices and claims departments. Unlike the present systems, with its upfront software purchasing costs, AudaEnterprise is offered for a monthly licence fee, which David Murby said would be cheaper. Key feature of AudaEnterprise is as instant dial-up facility which reduces the delay in moving information around. It provides users with unlimited multi-user access to information held centrally in a series of databases hosted by Audatex. “Authorised parties can view and share the same data, thereby improving resource management and communication,” says Audatex. Insurance provider Hastings Direct is the first company to use the new system, along with Hoopers, the consulting engineers, which piloted AudaEnterprise. Autoflow is a workflow based management system designed to reduce the administrative burden imposed by work provider’s contracts and to optimise efficiencies in production through analysis and pre-emptive warnings.The Windows-based system incorporates an industrial strength database (Sybase) and features a one-screen overview of each job to provide a response to queries even when another user is updating the file. Customers range from single user to five sites with 48 terminals connected through a mix of ISDN, ADSL through a virtual private network (VPN) to a central server at head office. Autoflow captures data from the moment of notification; it can therefore capture all costs associated with the job and not just those that occur during the physical repair in the workshop. Features embrace: Document scanning and image capture which reduces the amount of additional forms required to process the repair and also allows reference to driving licence details relating to the loan of cars. Tracking and time stamping of communications with outside parties (the insured, the engineer, claims managers etc) combined with automatic recording of all events against the job to form an audit trail. Service Level Monitoring to ensures that the jobs progress through the administrative stream effectively. An electronic ‘T’ card system which identifies where the job is in the workshop. Visual resources identify who is working on which job, how much time has elapsed and how much allocated time remains. Estimates importing which is presented in a standard format simplifying the work forces understanding of what work needs carrying out. Manual estimates may also be created where there is no requirement for a Thatcham or manufacturer’s databased estimate. Costs (parts, specialist services etc.) may be ordered directly from the imported estimate data. Facilities are provided for adding items missed from the estimate or for amending items that differ from those generated by the estimate (kits etc.). Paint material costs and labour charge out figures are automatically generated and the material costs may be imported from the paint scales (Standox, Dupont, Spier’s Hecker) or initially derived from an apportionment of the retail charge out rate. Labour costs are usually accrued directly from the data captured from the workshop terminals and are based on each employee’s cost basis. Non chargeable costs such as referral fees, estimating costs, courtesy car expenditure specific to the actual work provider may be set to automatically accrue against each job giving a profitability analysis. Autoflow provides a fleet management package. Details of service requirements, MOT dates etc, are reflected in the visual diary of vehicle availability. Standard invoices are generated directly from the costing lines. Purchase invoices as well as sales invoices may be posted to most accounting systems including Sage 50,Sage 100, Pegasus Opera and AOI (All In One). EMACS The computerised bodyshop loading system from EMACS calculates and controls all aspects of loading a bodyshop. It is based on the constantly changing labour resource available in the different labour groups as well as the availability of parts and courtesy cars. No job can be overbooked and the system automatically calculates utilisation, efficiency and productivity as well as warning of jobs in danger of failing promise times. EMACS says the major difference between its system and others is: “We can tell you what you can do and when you can do it, whereas other systems tell you what you did and when you did it.” EMACS is the preferred partner for BMW, Mini, Mercedes-Benz and the Volkswagen group. MAM Software Autoshop from MAM Software is a management system designed specifically to meet the needs of the independent repairer. It manages the entire repair process and includes facilities for claim logging, estimating, parts control, courtesy car management, shop floor data capture, management reporting and financial accounting. Autoshop is capable of linking to all leading estimating systems, intelligent paint scales and ClaimWatch. PineTree Consulting Advance from PineTree Consulting is an award-winning computer management system for vehicle bodyshops, used by 43% of the top 30 bodyshop groups in the UK.* Recent development – which embraces more than 250 enhancements - has included new links to stock and web estimating systems, the release of a new TTS2 estimating package, and a new graphical reporting tool. Bodyshop can now automatically text and email customers about the progress of their car. A workshop-loading package is also currently being released. The main Advance system is modular so bodyshops can pick and choose the features they need. Advance Solo for smaller bodyshops comes with the option of a built in TTS2 estimating system. Advance Central for bodyshop groups allows a remote head office to receive group reporting, to centralize many administrative functions and to electronically handle and allocate claims within the group. Advance CT is designed specifically to accommodate the needs of CT bodyshops. The full Advance system is delivered with around 10 days’ installation and training support as standard, with specialist support available through the Advance Helpdesk. Additional training can be provided through a field-based team of support experts.