AutoInc. Celebrates 20th Year
Publishing Software Guide
By Leona Dalavai Scott
How shop management systems have grown and evolved.
How do you celebrate 20 years? If you're the only publication in the industry to publish a software guide for 20 years straight, then the occasion may call for a bow and lots of pats on the back. After that's over, it's time to get down to business and delve into the 2010 Software Guide.
Shop management software, like the rest of technology, has undergone great changes in the past two decades. We thought it would be interesting to look at how it has all evolved, by reviewing AutoInc.'s Software Guide through the years.
In 1991, AutoInc. published an article titled "So, you're ready to buy a computer?" The article contained great tips and suggestions for what shop owners must consider before buying a computer. Today, those basics may be commonplace, as every few years, consumers - and shop owners too - upgrade their existing systems to new ones.
Here's one of AutoInc.'s favorite excerpts from the 1991 article, which points out how much things have changed: "There are several choices in the computer hardware department, though most software is designed for IBM. The IBM personal computers were the first and most common type to be copied. The 'cloned' IBM types (built by other companies) generally use the operating system referred to as 'MS DOS.' This is an early version of a computer operating system that has become the standard operating system for many manufacturers of PC-style computers."
In AutoInc.'s 3rd Annual Software Guide (1993), there was a "Glossary of Computer Terms." Some of the "new" terms defined then are part of our everyday vocabulary today and some terms are even extinct, along with the technology itself! Examples include: CD Rom, monitor, RAM, megabyte, floppy disk drive - to name a few.
Marketing features is a category that has seen tremendous growth in automotive service and collision repair shops. In AutoInc.'s 5th Annual Software Guide, the most basic feature in shop management programs was the ability to keep a database of a shop's customers. Once a customer's name was accessed, most programs could give a detailed service history for that customer. Today's shop management programs take customer information and follow-up to a whole new level. Many programs can indicate a reminder preference - whether it's phone/e-mail/mail; track revenue from customer referrals; and send a postcard, letter or both types of notices for service never performed on a vehicle based on mileage and/or year of car. Now some programs even have the ability to send a text message.
During year 10 of the Software Guide, AutoInc. asked various members about the benefits of having a comprehensive shop management system for their shops. The following testimonial from 2000, by Reggie Denney, AAM, former ASA chairman, shows that all shop management programs are not alike: "The first system we had was put together by a computer programmer who didn't know the automobile business and it was difficult to use. It took me six months to feel comfortable with it. And I still couldn't get the information I really needed. The system we now use was written by someone who knows the automobile business and it works much better. The salesman used to run his own shop, so he knows what we need and I'm sure he relayed that to the programmer who designed it. It took me only two days to feel comfortable with it. Basically, it works just like the old paper ticket system we used to use. And everything flows so easy. I like the reports it gives me that help run the business, and I like the fact that the system is integrated with our accounting software, so that makes the bookkeeping part of the business much easier."
Denney references an important part of today's shop management system. Shops are looking for all-in-one programs that bring together a variety of functions such as estimating and accounting. The more comprehensive, the better. Several questions on AutoInc.'s software survey ask companies about whether accounting software can be integrated with a particular system or whether the information provided by a certain job can be exported to other accounting software.
As technology has evolved, shop management systems have became more fine-tuned and thorough, resulting in greater software features. One of the earliest software surveys listed approximately 40 different criteria. Today's software survey lists more than 100 criteria - everything from using wireless technology to offering a price matrix to a field for e-mail address to payroll to tracking revenue from customer referrals.
What do the next 20 years hold for shop management systems? As Jason Bertellotti muses in his guest editorial, shop management systems will get more customized and specialized. As we have seen during these past 20 years, that will only help make shops more efficient and productive.
About AutoInc.'s Shop Management Software Guide
AutoInc.'s 20th Annual Shop Management Software Guide gives an overview of the shop management software systems on the market today and which features they offer.
The survey was distributed by e-mail to various shop management software companies in the automotive service industry. There are two versions of the survey - one for mechanical software providers and one for collision. If your company is a provider of shop management software for automotive service and collision repair businesses and you would like to be a part of the Software Guide for 2011, please send your request by e-mail to email@example.com.
Click here for the survey results. Be sure to mention that you saw the company in AutoInc. when you contact the software provider.
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