Prompting partnerships

Technology is influencing the world in which each and every business operates. And the adoption of ever intelligent systems and procedures would seem a crucial element to the automotive accident repair supply chain. Here, we take a look at the ever evolving distributor/repairer relationship to unearth how technology is being deployed and if it really is the decisive factor for success.

The unabating focus on ‘time’ within the automotive accident repair industry continues to influence all areas of the supply chain from first notification of loss (FNOL) right through to settlement of invoice. Every element within that, often, complex chain relies on accuracy, quality and speed of response.

Graham O’Neill, CEO of ACIS, said, ‘As an industry we spend too long dwelling on what I refer to as the bodyshop body shock, the trauma caused by the head on collision between progress and price, efficiency and evolution and economic culture and climate. The industry needed to mend its own dented image and move on to offer greater transparency and efficiency. We now have a 21st century bodyshop sector that is leaner, greener and fitter for purpose than it has ever been, thanks to two factors:  technology and customer service.’

Evidenced

And it is an opinion that is evidenced and echoed throughout the industry as we see a reshaping of relationships and, crucially, the way businesses interact in order the provide the greatest gains to the kingpin within all of this chain – the customer.

Graham continued, ‘Technology has played an important role in distributing the right paints, products and refinish consumables at the right time and the right price, but it has also given bodyshops the ability to generate greater optimisation and positive behaviour change across the sector, making technicians both swifter and more efficient and economical with the products they use per job.’

Scott Ballantine, sales and marketing director, International Applications, said, ‘When I think about the role of technology within the Trade Group, our refinish distribution division, I think about how our new SAP operating system will help refine our purchasing, logistics and sales operations, improving our service to distributors and their customers.

‘Technology brings opportunities for cost reductions, efficiencies and more convenient ways to order. I’m looking forward to introducing online ordering and using data from across the business to give a complete insight into customer needs and current market trends. This will enable us to develop a modern and influential distribution proposition.’

Improvements

An example of such improvements in efficiency is offered by ACIS and its ASCRIBE, online stock management and replenishment system. It claims by using a simple barcode scanner, it can increase efficiency and reduce bodyshop wastage. ‘Last year we recorded more than £1 million worth of bodyshop materials being ordered and issued through ASCRIBE, which means that there was over £300,000 worth of product savings for the bodyshops using it,’ said Graham.

LKQ Coatings has built its technology offering around enabling its partners’ access to real time data and information to make decisions. Its innovative Dynamic Dashboard, a KPI reporting tool which provides real time data is the pivotal link between its bodyshop customers, sales, management and technical teams in providing visibility of performance and, ultimately, the baseline for improvements. ‘It works by looking at group or site level spend, costs, jobs, orders etc thus, allowing our management team and industry leading technical team to work with the customer to propose new ideas, opportunities and processes to drive profitability,’ explained Richard Steer, managing director, LKQ Coatings Ltd.

Evolved

NIBS member, Waregrain is another business which has evolved with the ever changing market place in order to support its customers. Not only has the application of advanced systems been key but so too has inhouse application of technology and the updating of skill levels. Paul Heywood, business development and marketing director at Waregrain Group, said, ‘There are more tools available to us than ever before, and we embrace a number of them to enhance our business for example we use Skype for internal meetings. Social media has also become a valuable tool.

And it is not just the technology which is key to Waregrain, so too is ensuring its people are at the forefront of developments. Paul continued, ‘The technical team are enthusiastic to learn new skills and it’s essential they are trained in any new industry technological advancements. Paint Companies have introduced more IT to their systems and colour retrieval can quite often involve the use of a spectrometer, so it’s essential our technicians can assist with ongoing training and support. Our sales and technical team were recently trained by a new supply partner which included changes to vehicle welding, rivet bonding and even battery maintenance.’

Basics  

Despite the clear advantages the adoption of technology has to offer, business is still a very personable thing – a point agreed by all. ‘Technology only works if it goes hand-in-hand with customer service. It has to work for the benefit of the industry and the end customers who can see the clear benefit of getting their vehicles back quicker with more transparent costing and management information for the bodyshop,’ said Graham.

Paul agrees, ‘Whilst technology is ever-changing and has a huge role within the business, we still believe the ‘personal touch’ has to be maintained. A key attribute for Waregrain Group is the ability to be personable, flexible and understand our customer’s requirements. We need a sustainable industry and like to work closely with our partners to ensure they are profitable by supporting with training, audit support programmes, purchasing trends analysis and efficiency management.’

Likewise, Richard Steer suggests the key is to be a partner to customers and not just a supplier. ‘For LKQ Coatings, the core of any distribution proposition is in its logistics capabilities. In conjunction with this, product and knowledge are imperative factors in achieving the ultimate distribution model. The ability to supply customers with a complete collision portfolio solution, from products and brand choice to the supporting elements of expertise, experience and technical skills.’

Learnt

Clearly, there is more to successful partnerships than simply the deployment of technology but there is still plenty to be learnt about the precise ways in which technology can be used to continue to develop relationships.

International Applications’ Scott said, ‘I’m keen to understand what this model needs to look like to anticipate the needs of the industry and how technology can make the most effective contribution. We will be working very closely with bodyshops, distributors and manufacturers to share ideas, knowledge and good practice.

‘We are, for example, linking with our sister company ITAS to provide preferential access to IMI and manufacturer-approved training at their world-class Training Academy in Milton Keynes, and to software which helps bodyshops manage their insurance and retail repairs.’

He continued, ‘My feeling is that technology needs to play a bigger role within refinish distribution – and the good news is that the tremendous benefits which technology has brought to other sectors are still to come for our industry.’ So it looks very much like a case of watch this space…