25th Annual Shop Management Software guide

You Ware It Well?

Real shop owners give their advice for how to buy shop management software.

Grow with the pros! That’s our theme for AutoInc.’s 25th annual Shop Management Software Guide. We’ve received some great feedback on our guides in years past. We pride ourselves on being the only trade magazine in the automotive industry that publishes such a guide.

But times have changed, and so have we. There’s so much more information at your fingertips on the Internet that we’ve decided to take a somewhat different tack this year, befitting the myriad advances in software technology – just since 2014.

As a shop owner, you’re capable of determining which companies offer software to fulfill your needs. But do you know just what your needs are?

We’ve compiled this guide, advice collected from experienced owners who’ve recently purchased new shop management systems, to help save you some headaches. It’s not intended as a comprehensive how-to for every shop or shop owner.

Tips From the Pros

Hosting: Carefully consider whether to buy a Cloud-based vs. in-house-server system. This typically involves issues of accessibility, privacy and costs associated with where it’s hosted.
PRE-TRAINING AND TRAINING: Crucial to a smooth-running startup. A combination of computer-based training, webinars and on-site learning sessions on how to use the system prior to having it installed works best.

PRE-SETUP: Set up everything before the trainer steps into your facility. If the trainer(s) are on site and they’re setting up your system, you’re missing out on valuable, hands-on use, training and the ability to work out the bugs.

SOFTWARE UPDATES: How do you get the updates? If you don’t deal with this in advance, you’re going to stay after work or come in early to get on the phone with tech support trying to get the updates installed to get the system back up and running. The Cloud-based versions simplify this problem.

ACCOUNTING INTEGRATION: Do you have accounting software, and is the system you’re considering compatible with it? Choose a management system first and then an accounting package can be integrated into it.

ACCESSIBILITY: How can you access the system, at the shop-away-from-the-shop, at home, on vacation? Can you access it on your phone, on your tablet, on your desktop, on your laptop, etc.

TECHNICAL SUPPORT: How quickly can technical support get you back up and running when you experience a problem? Cloud-based systems typically run one version, which means the technical support team is training and running on that single version. Many in-house systems don’t run on the same versions or platforms, and support technicians spend time bouncing back and forth on multiple systems.

COMMUNICATIONS: Building Management System (BMS) vs. Environmental Management System (EMS), with your insurance disaster recovery plan (DRP); does it work with your phone system?

DIGITAL SUPPORT: Photos, videos, pdfs and how does it share this information?

COST: Many systems are monthly rentals/leases. Other systems you can outright buy. What is the up-front expense, what is the monthly expense?

HARDWARE: What is the condition of your current hardware? Do you have enough existing capital to upgrade? Is your system running XP, Vista, 7, 8, 10? Will the program work on your system(s)? Do you need an in-house server? Do you need a server?

INTERNET CONNECTION: How fast of an Internet connection do you have? How fast of a one do you need for the new system? Do Cloud-based systems take that much more bandwidth?

INTEGRATION: How does the system integrate with everyone else inside and outside the industry? Audatex, Mitchell, CCC ONE, Electronic Parts Ordering (PartsTrader, OpsTrax, OEConnect, etc.), filters, scrubbers, rental car companies. Are these systems included in the package? Are they capable of working with others?

CUSTOMER INFORMATION: Can it collect, report and put your customer information to work? Can it collect names, addresses, home, work and phone numbers, email addresses on individual families and fleets to use directly out of your software for sending estimates? People are busy and can often approve an estimate faster with these options rather than your phone call. (Note: You might want to export your customer data to third parties to assist with follow-up and marketing).

DATA AVAILABILITY: What is the system’s policy on making your data available to people you choose? This is becoming a bigger issue now that shops are doing lots of customized marketing programs that might need to read and write data back and forth so your staff does not have to do manual updates.

TIME TRACKING: Does the software include a real-time scheduling application that allows you to manage and see how your technicians’ time is being used? If not, will it allow an add-on to access your data within its database? Every angle on profitability relies on how you manage and sell your time – even parts sales. This is frequently lacking in most systems.

DECLINED REPAIRS AND COMEBACKS: Can you track and follow up on declined repairs? Can you track and follow up on work performed or comebacks?
Outdated systems cost you time and money. Investing in the process to identify a technologically advanced shop management program that best suits your operation pays dividends toward the long-term success of your business.