Volume 8, Issue 6 - November/December 2006

Driving Technology

Mobility, Productivity, Freedom
by Gary Hart

The day-to-day tasks of a technician in the AGRR industry have changed very little until recently when they have become increasingly challenging. 

Sure, there have been breakthrough and inventive tools that assist the technician and greatly reduce the workload from a repair and replacement standpoint; however, the technician must still deal with a lot of manual administrative work. For example, almost every technician today relies on paper manifests, work orders and invoices that they cannot access electronically from the field. Communication on jobs and claim authorizations are made using conventional means such as telephone calls. 

Thanks to technology, however, technicians in the AGRR industry will soon be armed with cost-effective devices that will reduce, if not eliminate, the administrative workload and allow them to be more productive and therefore more profitable.

Marvelous Marvels
What are these electronic marvels? Believe it or not, they are all around us and readily available, but do us little good unless they can access the critical information that is locked up in the point-of-sale software. Almost everyone is familiar with a PDA (also known as a personal digital assistant) which has evolved into a mobile office in the last five years. Today’s PDA contains a mobile telephone, two-way paging, e-mail, Internet access, digital camera and more. These devices can be found at almost every mobile phone carrier store and usually have a price tag of $499. Just by utilizing these devices, without the assistance of any additional software or programming, technicians can ease their workload up to 50 percent by e-mailing critical information, documenting damage using the digital camera and using the built-in scheduler to manage their day.

To really see significant gains in productivity and profitability, the PDA must have the means to directly communicate with the shop’s point-of-sale software, which is offered by a few companies. 

The advantage to using a mobile system such as this is that it reduces the chance of errors that ultimately end in rejected invoices and lost revenue. A mobile system also allows for the real-time processing of invoicing as they are completed in the field and the office does not have to wait for the paperwork to return the next business day. 

Another key benefit of a mobile system is the ability to accept and process credit card and check payments electronically. Technicians can now swipe the credit card or check resulting in a better transaction percentage, also known as the discount rate, and eliminate insufficient funds checks. Also, technicians also have access to NAGS part pricing and graphics information, driving directions including GPS and more. 

A typical mobile package on average will cost $1,000 per technician. Mobile systems can benefit both repair and replacement technicians and greatly aid the smaller owner/operator who also answers the phone and accepts new work while mobile. The advantages far outweigh the initial sticker shock; the expense shouldn’t be a deterrent when considering a mobile solution.

Some Cautions
Before you begin shopping for your mobile solution, be aware of a few things. First, call your mobile phone carrier and find out how much time you have left on your current contract and if it offers the appropriate mobile PDA. Next, you will want to find out what data services are available and if there are any voice and data bundled packages. Most carriers in the U.S. offer combined voice and data for $79.95 per month for a typical package of 1,500 anytime voice minutes and unlimited data.

Once you have selected your device, make sure you protect it. Take the optional replacement insurance and purchase the best case available. There are many vendors on the Internet that sell weatherproof and hard shell cases, do a Google search. Purchase an extra battery and car charger adapter along with a decent wired headset since the headset that is shipped with most phones is junk.

Now you are ready to go mobile. Spend a week or two just getting used to the phone itself and gradually work your way into using the schedule and e-mail features. If you are really ready to take the plunge, take a look at a mobile point-of-sale package and choose which method will work for you. 

Gary Hart is chief executive officer and president of eDirectGlass, Scottsdale, Ariz.

© Copyright 2006 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved.
No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.