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Tech snapshot: Local mechanic integrates iPad, GPS use
[October 08, 2012]

Tech snapshot: Local mechanic integrates iPad, GPS use

Oct 08, 2012 (The Record (Hackensack - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Mobile devices bringing a digital transformation to body shop.

Beige file folders with paper estimates of vehicles needing repairs line the walls of Hackensack's Bergen Brookside Auto Body.

"Pretty soon, all of this is going to be gone, because everything's going to be digital," said Mike Salemme, general manager, whose father founded the shop in 1987.

Times have changed in those 25 years, especially as the auto body and automotive industries became more digitized, and mechanics had to learn the ins and outs of advanced vehicle computer systems and other constantly evolving technology centered around passenger safety.

Salemme said Bergen Brookside began expanding more than a decade ago, when the auto body shop started taking on corporate accounts, such as Hackensack University Medical Center, UPS and United Water. After adding towing and car rental divisions to its offered services, the company is digitizing operations.

"We try to stay up with as much technology as we can," Salemme said.

Instead of using paper and pens, estimators will inspect vehicles with iPads in hand to upload information with photos to their computers. The iPads will be equipped with a mobile version of popular estimating software CCC One Shop Management, which the shop's estimators previously used to input reports on computers, after taking information by hand. The software will cost around $1,200 a month.

"You actually scan the barcode on the vehicle and it comes up, so you don't have to spend all that time typing in the year, make model, color," Salemme said.

Also with the new iPad technology, the company will be able to update job statuses on its website, which will automatically send a text message or email to customers to tell them the status of their cars, Salemme said. A different person will be assigned to update the website each day, and the shop anticipates having this service running by the end of the year.

"It's going to give the customer a much more one-on-one experience," Salemme said of the service.

Salemme said getting rid of the paper system makes him a little nervous, but it's something he said saves time and makes it easier for a customer to know what's going on. While they may keep some hard copies at first, CCC One backs up the data on its cloud, while the shop backs up on its server, too.

"It mainly boosts efficiency, which in turn is always good for the company," Salemme said.

Last January, Salemme implemented a new way for the company to dispatch its 20 tow trucks. It's a competitive market in North Jersey, he said.

"Everything was still being handwritten, so I did a lot of research of what other options are out there to make this more efficient," Salemme said.

Salemme installed Beacon Software's Dispatch Anywhere and Two Magic into the shop's tow trucks along with TomTom GPS units. As calls come in to the dispatcher from AAA or county police departments they are contracted with, the information is input directly into drivers' GPS systems, rather than radioed over.

Salemme said the software, which costs about $700 per truck to install, plus around $700 a month for the Beacon and TomTom services, ensures the company doesn't miss any calls that may have been lost if taken down by hand; organizes assignments; keeps track of drivers' locations, and gets full reports on the day's activity.

Salemme said the cost is worth it.

"It helps us take more calls and not really worry about losing calls if we get too busy," he said, "because sometimes it's just too overwhelming for a dispatcher." Owner John Salemme said Bergen Brookside, which has about 50 employees, has seen many changes and expansions, so digitizing the workflow through the new GPS software and iPad devices is the next step in the shop's 25-year history.

"No one likes change, but once [the iPads are] implemented, everyone will be happy with them," he said. "We try to make changes for the best." Email: ___ (c)2012 The Record (Hackensack, N.J.) Visit The Record (Hackensack, N.J.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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