When Eric Adkins, president of Nationwide Truck Service, goes on vacation to Cancun, Mexico, he'll certainly be at peace sitting on the white beaches, watching the sunset and the waves.
Shop management software can be a valuable tool to bring your repair center into the 21st century. (Photo by Collective Data)
Shop management software can be a valuable tool to bring your repair center into the 21st century. (Photo by Collective Data)

But he'll also have peace of mind knowing that his repair shop back in Louisville, Ky., is still productive, profitable, and operating at optimal levels even though he's in another country. With Pluss Corp.'s PTM shop management software, Adkins can monitor the shop's performance from anywhere, to see who's productive and who's slacking off back home. "I'm the type of guy that needs to see everything," Adkins says. "It gives me a lot more control and oversight."

Shop technicians have not always been known for being technologically savvy people. But software has become more user-friendly, and with a new slew of young talent coming in the door, you can't ignore the fact that technology is more critical than ever to help a shop run more efficiently and improve the bottom line - in the shop as well as in the back office.

In the shop, software solutions can provide more visibility and control over what technicians are doing, track the time a certain job takes, produce a more accurate billing estimate of parts and labor, more efficiently schedule jobs and work, and get the customer in and out of the shop as fast as possible.

Tracking your labor

When Adkins was shopping around for a software solution, he performed a study comparing the unbilled hours in the shop versus the billed hours. He found that there was a gap between the two, and that the shop was only billing for 70 percent of the work it was doing. Now using PTM, Adkins' shop is at 100 percent or better, and doesn't have to deal with that dead shop time.

This a result of Pluss' Shop Time Management offering, a touch-screen technology that accurately tracks all time for each technician by job function and immediately puts the time to the work order when the technician logs out. If the time for a job is out of line with what had been forecasted, it is instantly brought to the service writer's attention. This ensures that appropriate labor is billed to each and every job to optimize shop profits. Darryl Padgett, training consultant for Pluss, says the Shop Time Management can boost productivity by 10 percent to 30 percent.

In the shop, labor is the most valuable commodity, says Carroll "Scooby" Barbre, product architect of Karmak's ProfitMaster Service Management software. There's a lot of money tied up in it, as it has the highest ongoing and moving inventory value, he says. Through Karmak's Service Management module, technicians can clock onto a job and off the previous job at the same time. Labor hours are added immediately to the open repair order.

Florida-based AutoPower offers a shop monitoring display, which gives everyone in the shop visibility into the current jobs, as well as the parts and labor hours attached to them. The screen allows for a comparison between what's been posted and the original estimate of labor and parts given to the customer.

According to Michael Mallory, president of AutoPower, the screen turns different colors depending on whether a job is going over on the billing or not. Against the backdrop of a pale yellow screen, a job turns red if it's going over on billing, while text in black indicates everything's normal. This allows a shop to fix inconsistencies or alert the customer to gaps in billing, before a customer gets upset when they have to shell out more money than expected.

The overall goal of a shop is to bill its services properly and accurately, Mallory says. You won't be paid for parts and labor used unless it's in the estimate. "Labor in the shop should be a revenue center, not a cost center," he says.

Technician performance

How profitable a shop is as a revenue center also depends on the efficiency and performance of its technicians. Nationwide Truck Service's Adkins says using the Pluss system has helped him find out who's slacking off by identifying weak management as well as lazy or slow technicians. "It will identify your weaknesses," he says. "You better be ready for a turnover of employees."

Pluss's Shop Time Manager can use class codes to define labor types, such as engine, transmission, electrical and more. Using labor codes and technician numbers, information is produced that will show which technicians do which jobs the best and who is performing the same jobs poorly. This information helps to identify by technician where training may be needed, or which technicians you should assign to which jobs.

Iowa-based Collective Data recently introduced CollectiveShop, its shop management solution. The software works through touch-screen "kiosks," so technicians can easily see the work they have been assigned and clock in and out of jobs. The system provides different views based on job description, including shop supervisor views, parts issue views and technician views.

According to Sean Taylor, director of sales at Collective Data, using the system, the shop manager "can analyze technicians and parts employees to make better and more profitable decisions about how his shop is performing. Comparing track work versus a shop standard is a key benefit to evaluate who does what job most efficiently. They know which person is at job capacity, which person is behind, and who is there to fill in when needed based on skill.

"Shops can now analyze how efficient our employees are and assign tasks based on their strengths, and re-assign work based on what is happening in real time," Taylor says.

Karmak's software helps shops to track technicians' performance by measuring their over-efficiency and under-efficiency. Some technicians are better at certain jobs, so putting the right technician on the right job is critical to remaining profitable, says Barbre.

The software can help a shop not only see how fast a technician is, but also how good he or she is at a certain task or job. Karmak's ProfitMaster captures and stores data on technicians, so shop managers can have visibility into its workers' performance. Information can be delivered at the per-job level, such as all electrical jobs. A technician's performance can also be viewed across the board, such as at a certain service department or a certain branch. "Spit out that data so it can be massaged and analyzed," Barbre says.

According to David Green, general manager at Sikes Fleet Services in Atlanta, who has been using Karmak since 2000, the system allows him to identify the areas where technicians are lacking. "Where is this particular technician falling down?" he asks. Using the system, he has more control and visibility over the proficiency of technicians and where they were or were not successful. "Where do I want to spend my talent in the shop?"

Putting the customer first

Not only does shop management technology help run the shop from the technician side of things, it also provides tools for service centers to improve their relationship with the customer and bolster business.

There are three types of shop customers, according to Scott Vanselous, senior vice president and general manager of asset maintenance organization at TMW Systems. They include walk-ins, or over-the-roaders who you most likely won't see again; fleets that have a relationship with the shop and come in for work-specific jobs; and fleets that outsource all of their maintenance to one service center.

Vanselous says while a lot of fleets (such as Ryder and Penske) are moving more toward this outsourcing method, many of the software systems service providers use don't have the tools to do that type of contract work. "We can deliver to that contracted maintenance," he says.

In order to perform this contract work, a shop needs to be efficient, automated and have a tool that mechanics can easily learn, he adds. TMW offers TMT ServiceCenter Software, which hel