R. L. Polk & Co.'s Ask the Industry Looks at Technology's "Next Big Thing" - aftermarketNews

R. L. Polk & Co.’s Ask the Industry Looks at Technology’s “Next Big Thing”

In honor of the annual Aftermarket eForum taking place today and tomorrow in Chicago, Ask the Industry this week explores the topic of technology. In our recent Executive Interview with Jim Franco, we asked the Autologue Computer Systems CEO, what he thought was ‘the’ new technology today that is doing the most to help make the aftermarket industry more efficient. Franco’s answer: the Internet. Franco wasn’t the only one to sing the praises of the ‘Net. We asked a number of aftermarket professionals working in the technology arena to answer the same question.

In honor of the annual Aftermarket eForum taking place today and tomorrow in Chicago, Ask the Industry this week explores the topic of technology. In our recent Executive Interview with Jim Franco, we asked the Autologue Computer Systems CEO, what he thought was ‘the’ new technology today that is doing the most to help make the aftermarket industry more efficient. Franco’s answer: the Internet.

 “ By far the Internet,” said Franco. “The Internet has enabled us to connect businesses simply. It used to be a one-to-one communication but now the Internet allows one-to-many or many-to-one communication. It is an information gateway that results in a definite increase in productivity in the aftermarket.”

Franco wasn’t the only one to sing the praises of the ‘Net. We asked a number of aftermarket professionals working in the technology arena to answer the same question and here’s what they had to say:

What, in your opinion, is the new technology today that is doing the most to help make the aftermarket industry more efficient, and why?

Tom Aliotti, vice president and general manager, Activant Automotive Group:

“The Internet has opened the door to a vast array of opportunities for distributors and jobbers to bring significant new value to their existing customer relationships, reach an entirely new audience of prospective customers and transform their businesses through dramatically improved market insight.

“Today’s shop owners prefer to do business with suppliers who not only offer the right brands and products, but also a variety of services that help make them more productive and profitable. For example, being able to go online to instantly retrieve account statements, invoices, delivery receipts and even track the status of deliveries on a real-time basis is a significant advantage to the shop owner. As a result, distributors and jobbers who offer this web-enabled capability are forging stronger, more enduring relationships with installers.

“The Internet has also empowered WDs and jobbers to establish profitable eStores that serve customers on a 24/7 basis with catalog look-ups, product images, TSBs, warranty information and parts ordering capabilities. These solutions are now available to virtually any business owner who wants to grow over the long-term.

“The Internet has made it possible to establish entirely new parts sales channels such as eBay Motors and other online marketplaces. These sites enable WDs and store owners to generate revenue from slow-moving or obsolete stock. And aftermarket-specific solutions are now facilitating the use of these online auctions by completely automating the listing and sales management process through the WD- or jobber-based ERP system.

“The web has also enabled our industry to collect, analyze and distribute vast new quantities of market data. For example, distributors and store owners can now tap into daily point-of-sale data across thousands of similar businesses, on both the national and regional level, to see which parts are being looked up and sold at the counter. Now, you’re no longer making stocking decisions based on a broad assumption of what will sell, but on accurate market intelligence that details which parts are actually being consumed within your region. That’s a huge step forward for the industry.

“In each of these cases, the Internet has been the key enabler that has allowed providers like Activant to bring new, innovative, results-based solutions to the aftermarket.”

Anne Coffin, vice president, IT and Marketing and chief information officer, Beck/Arnley:

“As the aftermarket industry is relatively conservative in adopting ‘new’ technologies, the technologies that are helping the industry to be more efficient aren’t necessarily ‘new’ everywhere else.

“As an example, the use of XML (extensible markup language) is not new, but as the aftermarket continues to implement internet parts ordering (IPO) with XML using the recommended standards, instantaneous results regarding product availability, ordering and shipping, continue to streamline the timeframe and cost of providing product to the end user, the technician.

“Another example is Product Information Management (PIM) solutions, which are assisting the automotive aftermarket in getting clean, useable data, which can provide a lot of efficiencies in both time and money.”

Mike Fitzgerald, Vice President of Marketing, Standard Motor Products

“Vehicle technology is changing at a more rapid pace than ever before and the result is a change in the way technicians work. They are spending more and more time conducting diagnostic testing and this trend will continue. New technology can make technicians more effective as long as they understand the changing vehicle systems. That’s why there is a great demand for training to fill that void. While many manufacturers have reduced or eliminated their training programs, we continue to invest the necessary resources to provide comprehensive training because we believe that without the core knowledge of complex vehicle systems, a service provider’s efficiency and profitability are significantly diminished.”

Dan Ramirez, general manager, Automotive Repair Solutions, Mitchell 1:

“The issue of technicians finding repair information as quickly as possible is vitally important in the aftermarket today. With the number of vehicle makes and models and the amount of information required to repair each one, finding exactly the information a technician needs can seem like finding a needle in a haystack. At Mitchell 1, we are actively striving toward a goal of helping technicians find exactly the right information they need within two minutes.

“To this end, the Internet is playing a huge role by allowing the real-time sharing of expert information and, accordingly, we have seen a mega-trend of technicians helping each other via the Internet – the Web 2.0 philosophy of ‘We are smarter than Me.’ By plugging into the universe of knowledge, technicians are finding they can operate much more efficiently in the long run.”

Mike Schultz, president, Federated Auto Parts:

“Technology plays a part in most aspects of our business, making us more efficient, but if I had to pick one area that impacts us on a day-to-day basis, it would be catalog and inventory technology. At the outset, this technology was really between the manufacturer and its distributor customers. Today, it touches every step of the distribution channel, including shops.

“While the benefits of electronic catalogs over paper catalogs are clear, like time savings and quicker updates, if the data is not accurate, it can pose a lot of problems for the supply chain. The ultimate goal is to get the right part to the right place at the right time, so if the data is inaccurate, time and money are wasted.”

Lou Stover, vice president, DST:

The evolution of the use of the Internet and associated technologies has driven remarkable industry efficiencies in four specific areas:

1) The critical need for smaller parts distribution operations to maintain competitive advantage has driven advancements in technology tied to Internet-based deployment. These advancements continue to drive down hardware and software acquisition costs, reducing or eliminating the price/entry barrier that has previously excluded store and jobber level distributors from taking advantage of the same maximized operational productivity, efficiency, profitability and functionality as much larger enterprises that are investing sizable capital resources in best-of-breed technology solutions. New business models such as the Application Service Provider (ASP) business application, are emerging to meet the needs of smaller parts distribution operations desiring all the functionality of an in-house business management system without the capital investment and potential expense liability required.

2) Although e-commerce models in the aftermarket evolved largely around the concept of a “self service” model making it easier for the customer to conduct business with a supplier, a more advanced Internet-based system should challenge existing operational models to re-invent a whole new system based upon the expanded concept that every time a customer accesses your internet portal or gateway; it’s an opportunity to sell him something else. “Do you want fries with that?,” is an immensely powerful revenue generation concept. It empowers the ability to utilize on-line business communication as a cost-cutting selling device as well as just an ordering tool.

Deployment of a more advanced system redefines the transactional experience for a distribution business regardless of scale. A parts business can now advertise and sell non-stocked inventory with the click of the customer’s mouse.

3) The Internet and associated technologies provides a business owner and sales personnel the freedom to no longer be tied to a desk to access information. Laptops, smart phones and PDAs provide extended access to business information, customer profiles and statistical data — creating the all the functionality required to operate a "mobile office."

4) Automated sales reporting via the Internet between supply chain tiers provide important data regarding the flow of parts, how production and marketing dollars are best spent and the reduction of manufacturer lead time to allow proactive, rather than just reactive, supply chain fulfillment.

Mark Theriot, general manager, Experienced Based Information, Snap-on Diagnostics:

“With the wide-spread acceptance and availability of the Internet in repair facilities, information of all types is available right at the technician’s fingertips – too much information in fact! Information overload is real and too much time spent sifting through what is available costs money. Real world experience-based diagnostics systems provide a solution to this treasure hunt.

“Technology solutions that are intelligent enough can trim this huge pile of information down to just what is needed to provide the technician with ‘actionable diagnostics.’ Today’s diagnostics have the ability to take the vehicle’s symptoms, actual on-board computer data and specific component testing information and combine them with just the right slices of technical information to nail down a repair strategy. We make money in the aftermarket by being fast and accurate. Modern diagnostic solutions with availability to all the information needed, on the car and off, are increasing a technician’s accuracy and saving him valuable time.”

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