Estimating Systems UpdatePosted 08/13/2004
By Alexis Gross
It's not your father's estimating system or even the system of two years ago. Today's estimating systems have expanded repertoires that include repair process management; self-audit functions; accounting capabilities; and direct communication with insurers, parts vendors, rental car companies and other third-party businesses. Here's a look at what some of the leading companies are doing.
Tom Lee, senior director of product management at ADP, sees many advantages to a Web-based system.
"The main value proposition for our clients, especially shops, is that it's no longer about just writing an estimate. We need to find how to integrate their partners, especially the recycling yards or recycled parts, with the goal being that we want our clients to write an accurate sheet the first time around," he said.
What's also valuable about being Web-based is easy integration internally with other ADP services, said Lee.
"We're coming out with the integration of ADP Audit with Shoplink by July of this year, and by December, we'll have it integrated with ADP Estimating," he said. "The shop can write an estimate and audit it before passing the estimate to the insurance company."
Self-audits can be tailored to both external insurance company guidelines and internal procedures such as a hazardous waste disposal fee. An audit function ensures that shops don't upload estimates with mistakes or entries that are against their direct repair program (DRP) guidelines. It also turns the estimating system into a training tool for new estimators to ensure they include all the required operations.
Currently, auditing occurs when the user directs it. However, ADP hopes to have the audit function happening in real time, like an auto spell check in Microsoft Word, by the beginning of 2005.
"We're also coming out with a set of shop reporting tools geared toward DRP business," said Lee. "It will run reports based on which DRP a shop is writing estimates for, including the number of claims per insurance company, parts usage and parts value. It will quickly show where the money is coming from."
Shops not only prove the value of their relationship to the insurance company by providing reports proactively, they can quickly determine which relationships are benefiting them the most.
While bandwidth is a concern for many people when contemplating a Web-based system, ADP believes consistent, high-bandwidth wireless communication is only a matter of time.
"We feel confident that shops will one day be able to have total wireless access anywhere they go, so they can take their laptop from one shop location to another," Lee said. "Estimators can be on the road from one shop to another and be able to upload the estimate as they're driving. On the insurance side, we definitely need to be able to take care of insurance staff appraisers who are always mobile. Hopefully, in the next two to three years, wireless technology will have advanced enough that it can be high speed and we can offer this."
CCC Information Services
"The first release took a lot of enhancements users requested and incorporated them into Pathways 4.1," he said. One of these enhancements was the merging of estimate writing with insurance company assignment parameters. If estimators write a full estimate on a vehicle before receiving the insurance company assignment, they can now easily attach the assignment to the estimate without having to change the rate or rewrite the estimate.
Parts handling has also been improved. Not-included operations for recycled parts are listed and automated, and parts are searchable by part number.
"Later this year, we're going to have a lot of first-time innovations with our 4.2 product," said Dickens. "We're taking the estimating system and broadening it to a claims management and repair planning tool. We're integrating a self-audit feature into our estimating tool, which will allow an estimator to write an estimate and compare it to predetermined rules based on the insurance company they work with and internal procedures. Estimators will not have to stop and switch to another system. All they have to do is press the audit button. It will allow compliance with the insurers, reduce friction and make sure shops get paid faster for what they're actually doing."
Will CCC follow the trend toward Web-based estimating?
"We've looked at Web-based systems, the benefits and the cons," said Dickens. "If you're writing an estimate while the customer is standing there and your hosting goes down, you're in trouble. The reliability and ubiquity is just not there yet. Right now, it doesn't make sense to us, but it may in the future."
"We added a wrapper around the estimating tool for easy communication and easy document management," Brunger said. "In the past when sending an estimate to the insurance company, you had to send one image file at a time, then send the estimate, and then fax in a report or a form or a towing bill. With Ultramate Premier Suite, you take any piece of information - like a Word document, a digital photo or a scanned form - and create a claims folder for the whole repair. Then you send the whole folder to the insurance company. It's one easy process instead of many small ones."
The volume of information has grown over time, Brunger explained, and sending information in one package streamlines things for all parties involved.
"When they started the direct repair programs, it was just about the estimate. Then it was about the picture with digital imaging. Now it's the estimate, picture, form, video, spread sheet, etc.," he said. "This makes it easier for the shop. Instead of faxing or doing multiple steps, you can communicate with a single tool."
What is unique in Mitchell's case is what Brunger calls a "send it and forget it" feature.
"With this technology," he said, "everything is taken care of when the customer presses the 'send' button. If you're in a dial-up connection and you get interrupted, the system automatically picks up where it left off and continues to send the file without you having to check on it."
Another important aspect of this feature is its ability to be conducted "in the background," leaving the PC free for other uses.
"The bigger that folder of information gets, with a dial-up connection it may take 15 or 20 minutes to upload and you can't do anything else," Brunger said. "In our case, you press the 'send' button, and you can continue to use other PC functions. You can work on other items or go to the next estimate, and you don't have to worry about your file not going through. We recently received an award from QualComm for this feature, which was developed for wireless users for whom dropouts are especially a problem right now."
Mitchell's Web-based estimating system, First Estimate, continues to make its way in the market, with the increase in broadband technology making it available to more shops every year.
"With the Internet, we were ahead of the curve," Brunger said. "We've found that speed was the problem. The benefit is there for some people while others are more comfortable using Premier Suite during the communication phase. With broadband becoming more available, it's more of an option."
"The majority of our users say they're happier with desktop applications at the moment," said Brunger. "Right now, most of them wouldn't be ready to move to a Web-based system. We're also working on making sure we get those CDs to our customers as fast as possible. Eventually all these things will merge, and customers will make the choice about how much of the system they want to conduct online and how much on the desktop."
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