Going Mobile: Are You Ready to Downsize?
The next big thing in business computing is all about getting smaller.
There is a quiet revolution happening within the world of computing. Processors, keyboards and screens are shrinking, and software is being replaced with downloadable "apps," or applications designed to make your smartphone or tablet work just like a desktop or laptop computer.
Although this trend isn't entirely new, recent developments in technology are accelerating the rate of adoption. And the future of tablets and smartphones isn't going to be all games and slick online magazines; these small handheld devices are quickly beefing up capabilities that will allow them to work side-by-side with your shop's computers.
Actually, tablet computers in the repair shop have been around for years. Take, for instance, the year 2001, when Delphi launched its DS800 system, complete with a diagnostic tablet computer. The rugged wireless unit was - and still is - a far cry from today's Apple iPad, but its iShop standards integration lets it "talk" to the other equipment and software within a repair facility.
Unfortunately, the DS800 isn't available anymore in North America. However, you will still find a number of shops around the United States using the system, including ASA member Douglass Kirchdorfer, AAM, president and owner of Downing Street Garage in Denver. Kirchdorfer invested in a wireless network for his shop and tablets for each of his techs about six years ago, and tells us he's never regretted the decision.
"The Delphi tablet is a limited scan tool," says Kirchdorfer. "Now everyone [in the shop] has information at his fingertips. No one is huddled around the [single] shop computer."
The biggest benefit the tablets brought to his shop, he says, was improving shop efficiency: "My tech efficiency is probably close to 90 percent on average. Some of my techs went from 60 percent to 95 percent efficiency by bringing in this system." Kirchdorfer says the best feature of the tablets is their ability to connect to both cars and the Internet to look up service bulletins, trouble code definitions, etc., through his third-party service information providers.
But mechanical shops aren't the only ones investing in tablets. Collision repair facilities are also embracing the mobility afforded them with tablets and smartphones.
"We saw the trends occurring in other industries with iPhone and iPad apps," says Jason Bertellotti, vice president of Repair Solutions, Mitchell International, which released an iPad app for its shop management solution last year during Automotive Service and Repair Week (ASRW), and plans to release a similar app soon for the iPhone. "We realized having that flexibility gives shops the freedom and the ability to continue working even when they are not in the shop."
Applications and programs that allow collision repair professionals to write estimates on tablets and laptops in mobile environments have been around for at least 10 years. But many people, says Bertellotti, still prefer to write out their notes longhand and transfer them to the office computer later. As a result, he believes widespread adoption of mobile technologies in shops is still a few years off. But as tablets become more mainstream with consumers, he says, you'll see more use within the workplace. In other words, as people use them at home, they become more comfortable with their features and capabilities and will come to demand these tools in their workplace.
Smartphones getting smarter
Once upon a time, mobile phones were used for making phone calls when you weren't able to get to a landline. Today's smartphones provide users with the ability to make phone calls - including video calls - as well as text and picture messaging, gaming, Web surfing, GPS navigation, restaurant reservations, airline check-ins and scores of other functions.
The explosion of growth within the smartphone market has been nothing short of phenomenal in the last year. Asymco noted that in the fourth quarter of 2010, the mobile phone market grew a healthy 18 percent. However, that number pales when compared to the growth of the smartphone market for the same period, which was 75 percent.
Even the automotive industry has taken notice: A 2010 survey of dealership technicians by Pacific Technology Solutions showed 50 percent of techs currently owned a smartphone. In addition, of the remaining 50 percent currently without a device, half of them indicated they would be purchasing a smartphone in the next 12 months.
So how will smartphones and smaller mobile devices impact your business? Expect a future of on-the-spot delivery of training, tutorials, tips and technical service bulletins (TSBs) to be made available through your smartphone in the near future. In the front office, don't be surprised if your customers ask if your payment kiosk is PayPass-enabled for mobile wallet transactions using their smartphones. The hardware and software are all available now, from tablets and smartphones enabled with fingerprint security locks, near field communications (NFC) technology and Quick Response (QR) code readers. Applications are in development or are presently in field-testing on a number of these initiatives.
Today's students = tomorrow's employees
Schools no longer teach the way they did 10 years ago, much less 20, 30 or 40 years ago. Students live in a digital world, and when they are entering the work force they have a totally different set of problem-solving skills compared to seasoned technicians. (See this month's NetWorth, page 6, for more on how education will continue to evolve in this digital age.)
This has led to the development of the term "mLearning" in educational circles. mLearning, a subset of "eLearning," is defined as any activity that allows individuals to be more productive when consuming, interacting with, or creating information, mediated through a compact digital portable device that the individual carries on a regular basis and has reliable connectivity.
Because of their very portable nature, hand-held and mobile devices offer opportunities for just-in-time training that other teaching methods can't, says Tony Rotundo, vice president of development with Pacific Techology Solutions.
For example, mobile technology provides the ability to incorporate social media into the training environment. "Social networking is a useful tool for extending the event horizon for certain skills-based training - mainly customer-facing roles," says Rotundo. "The use of social networking is like a 20 Group. This extends the training to create some longevity in a managed environment." A social media environment can provide case studies, peer support and feedback for training involving customer handling or conflict management.
The biggest impact of mLearning, however, will be just-in-time training, Rotundo points out. The time will come where a tech will grab his or her tablet, walk over to a vehicle and have diagnostic tools and access to specific service information on-the-spot, as well as live tech-line support. For troublesome repairs where additional knowledge is needed, the tech can send images to tech support, which in turn sends the appropriate video tutorial back immediately and additional information for the repair.
"We will see that scenario easily within 18 months," said Rotundo. "We are developing these applications right now."
So, should you be buying?
There are certainly enough choices available today to begin investigating how mobile tablets and smartphones can impact your business.
"Is it reality yet?" asks Chris Chesney, senior director, professional markets for CARQUEST. "No, but we're getting closer." The technology exists, he says, to make mobile computing in the shop happen. The biggest stumbling block, he says, are legacy systems that have to be accommodated. But it will happen: "The industry, in general, is working to provide great service information and great training information right at the point of repair," Chesney says. "It's kind of like the 'Holy Grail.'"
AutoInc. Web Site |
ASA Web Site |
Going Mobile: Are You Ready to Downsize? |
Environmental Research Firm Releases Shop Towel Study |
Pricing: It's a Matter of Ethics Too! |
'What Would You Do?' |
Tech to Tech |
Tech Tips |
News Briefs |
Around ASA |
Net Worth |
Members' Advantage |
Shop Profile |
Chairman's Message |
Guest Editorial |
Vehicle Safety Bill Introduced in U.S. Senate |
What's New with NACE | CARS | ASRW
Copyright (c) 1996-2011. Automotive Service Association®. All rights reserved.