Auto Service World
Feature   June 1, 2013   by Andrew Brooks

Info in the Right Place

Information providers focus on getting data into the bays

The methods of delivering repair and diagnostic information to the shop floor have evolved rapidly in recent years. With the advent of social media and increasingly connected scan tools, we may be on the brink of a complete transformation in how information is made available to shop owners and techs.

That revolution will come about because the sector’s major information providers are quickly moving to not only aggregate OE repair and diagnostic data, but also to capture the huge amounts of experience techs have gained over years of work and to deliver that information to their customers.

Ben Johnson, director, product management for Mitchell 1, notes that until recently a large part of what automotive information service providers have delivered has been repair and diagnostic information aggregated from the big auto manufacturer sources. The value-add has been to offer all the information in a single repository and, in some cases, to do some ‘massaging’ to ensure consistent presentation when the OE presentation methods differed widely – something Johnson says Mitchell 1 has done with wiring charts, as one example.

“The OEs can sometimes use different methods of presenting and structuring the information,” Johnson says. “This can slow things down when a tech is trying to access information quickly. So we’ll take that information and not rewrite it, but display it in a format that’s consistent from one OE to another.”

Mitchell 1’s core trade today is the parts and labour data that are the building blocks for estimates, as well as an application that allows users to ­create and write those estimates. What’s changing the game now, Johnson says, is that providers like Mitchell 1 have reached out to the auto service trade, gathering actual experiences from the front lines and offering that information to the industry.

“We have a huge data base for trouble codes specific to vehicle, power plant, manufacturer,” Johnson says. “The people on the shop floor can dive in and go straight to what other techs have experienced in the exact same situation. They can go down the trouble trees and see what the fixes are – and which fixes work the best. So you can go right to the one that worked 99 per cent of the time instead of starting at random and then going through trial and error.” Mitchell 1 derives the information from the thousands of shops that run its estimator and shop management systems – data that’s easily accessible as Mitchell 1 backs up shop systems every day on its own servers as a security measure.

The technology underpinnings are crucial. Derek Miller, director of product information for AllData, notes the increasing progression away from now-established channels like DVDs, CDs and web-based products into the newer social media and mobile platforms. AllData is also looking at adding user-contributed data streams as a value-add.

“The issue as we see it is that vehicles are way more complex now,” Miller says. “There’s more technology embedded in cars. At the ETI ToolTech conference in San Diego I saw a big concern about the skill levels of techs coming out of school, and the divide between what they learn and what’s in the cars now. We believe that the more info we can provide, the better they can do their job.”

The proliferation of data formats, media platforms and information sources also poses a challenge, Miller says. “There’s a huge need for integration in this space. Today, you have scan tool companies, shop management providers, people like us who provide OE info – all these different providers that shops buy multiple applications and solutions from. And they want one source. So integrating all these components into workflow-based applications that help our customers run their shops, fix vehicles, get the content they need when they need it, are all things we’re looking at moving into.” It’s already happening in the collision industry, Miller observes, and he sees that activity spilling over into the mechanical space as well.

As scan tools themselves start to incorporate more and more advanced processing and networking capabilities, information providers are able to integrate data directly to them and link them to shop computers, notes Aaron Cherrington, vice-president of product management and strategy for Identifix.

“We’re working with Bosch, Launch Tech, Autoland Scientech – if users of their scan tools subscribe to our Direct-Hit service they can get integrated functionality. So if you have the latest Bosch SPX Genesis Touch tool you can hook it up, scan, and when a code comes up the tech can go to Direct-Hit and see how many articles are available for that code on that model.”

This brings the needed technical knowledge direct to the tech as they’re working on the car, so they don’t even need to interrupt what they’re doing to go to the shop PC, which might be somewhere else on the floor or up at the front desk.

Of course, while the new technologies pay huge dividends in speed of feedback and the ability to search efficiently and quickly through massive amounts of data, the live contact, even if not directly face-to-face, is still the best way in some situations. Companies like Identifix offer phone hotlines with qualified specialists in major brands ready to take calls and work techs through repairs in the shop. Cherrington points to a high success rate as evidence that the system still provides exceptional value: the first calls are successfully resolved 72 per cent of the time, and on the second and third calls that jumps to 90 per cent and 95 per cent respectively.

And even here the service provider can assemble the accumulated experience of the industry and offer it back to the market. “We’ve been doing this for 25 years, with around four million calls logged,” Cherrington says. “Of course, we started to see certain patterns on certain vehicles at given mileages, similar problems in similar conditions, and so on, and so about 20 years ago we started to collect these problems and develop tests and fixes for them. With the advent of the Internet we made that knowledge available through our Direct-Hit website.”

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