Streamlining Through Technology
After leaving a job in manufacturing, Scott Britt joined the fledgling IT department at Georgia’s fast-growing Classic Collision, an 11-store operation increased its overall annual revenue from less than $50 million in 2009 to more than $65 million last year.
Britt is part of a two-man IT operation that has coordinated the opening of the new stores, implemented the company-wide adoption of the ProfitNet management system, and integrated mobile-friendly technology to move the company into the modern era. Greater efficiency and improved customer service have proven welcome side effects to the many technology upgrades.
Through his work at a job that often begins at 6 a.m. and runs deep into the evenings, Britt helps guide the company’s ongoing moves to cloud-based data hosting and improved communication to reduce the impediments of distance as Classic Collision continues expanding its reach across northern Georgia.
As I was going around to our different shops when I was new, I saw that things just weren’t where they needed to be, IT-wise, in a company of that size.
There were some basic IT do’s and don’ts that hadn’t been implemented—computers without antivirus protection, computers filled with dust sitting on the floor, computers not being updated and patched. There was no software standardization, not enough UPS backups; servers were not being maintained on a regular basis and our “server closets” were a disaster area.
All of those things, if left untouched, could have caused more severe issues and a nightmare scenario of extended downtime. In a world of quick cycle times, we cannot afford to be down for even one minute.
After a virus hit a server, spread to our other locations and took us down for days, I called my boss and told him we have to do something. This shouldn’t happen in a company this size, so we started looking at outside support. We were getting too big for myself and, Johnny Ward, our other IT director, to handle everything on our own.
We interviewed four or five different IT support vendors to figure out which one was right for us. I always had the idea that we needed to be in a hosted, cloud-based environment where everything is stored remotely, because that’s where technology is going and it would make us more mobile.
Today all 11 of our stores are on a hosted environment, and we rolled it out one shop at a time—smallest to largest.
The biggest benefit to remote hosting is that we don’t have any data residing in our own locations anymore.
All of it is stored in the host’s server farm in downtown Atlanta. We don’t have to worry about backups or redundancy. They handle all of that, so essentially all we have now in our stores are computers where we go online to access all of our applications.
When there’s an issue, say in our Union City Location, which is approximately 50 miles from my location, it’s easier to have a solution for that issue. We call our support provider, and they can look on their end and see what the problem is. As long as you have an Internet connection, you have access to your work whether you’re at home, at Starbucks, McDonald’s, whatever.
Aside from ProfitNet, we also use Audatex, CCC One and Mitchell RepairCenter. We also have a few guys who use Dropbox for their pictures. Being in a hosted environment means we can share pictures or files with the click of a mouse through the cloud, which means we do not really have a need for other, locally stored applications.
When I was hired, it was essentially just to help implement ProfitNet, but once I got into the company, I identified a lot of other needs that had to be addressed and had to be addressed quickly. As fast as we were growing, I got into my boss’s ear, Director of Operations Brandon Bishop, and said we need to do this and we need to do that, because if we don’t do it now, five or six years down the road, we’re going to be in a world of hurt.
When you get to be this size, there is a new challenge every day. I thrive on trying to come up with results on those challenges, but I also love the freedom I have here. I have an owner and a boss who gives me the freedom to explore new technology that’s out there.
If I think it’s good for the company, I present a case to them. What’s coming down the pike that’s going to make us even more efficient? What’s going to keep the estimators and customers more engaged instead of just leaving the customers sitting in the lobby while we write an estimate?
As technology evolves in cars, customers are going to want to see that same technology in their collision repair facility. Having the freedom to do all of that, I like to solve problems as they come.
My typical day starts at 6:30 sending out the daily numbers. I have a spreadsheet I run showing our sales for the previous day.
I text that out to the managers and, once that’s done, I go over my to-do list and follow up on all of the remaining items. I also check on our outside support vendor to make sure issues we are having are being resolved in a timely manner. I’ll look through our ticket history, and see if I can identify the same issues happening over and over. If I do, we need to figure out why it’s happening and get it addressed.
All of our managers and directors have iPhones, and I started a group chat line that uses Apple’s proprietary iMessage service. Now that’s how we communicate among all of our stores. It is more instant than a standard text message, with no delay when sending or receiving. This eased our communication lapses and, we use this line to talk numbers or load levels, cars, etc.
We are also using an iPhone app called Mobile Communicator that’s offered by our hosted telephone provider. It allows us to take shop calls through our iPhones. Soon, half of our employees will not even have desk phones. They will simply have their own direct-dial number tied to this app, so I will be able to transfer a call to another employee, accept calls that are routed through the shop first, and when I make a call within this app, caller ID will show the shop’s number.
We’re also implementing a voice-over IP phone system, which gives all 11 locations a single entity under the Classic Collision umbrella. I will be able to pick up my phone in Gwinnett Place, hit three digits and get somebody in our Union City store. Before I would have had to call the Union City store and they’d have to find the right person to talk to.
This standardizes all of our shops with one phone number, and also frees up our receptionist from answering so many calls. Our receptionists are the first faces our guests see, and we want to do whatever it takes to give our guests as much attention as possible.
We’re trying to have better communication throughout the organization. That’s a big theme of mine—if you’re not communicating, you don’t know; so we have to communicate and that’s why we’re rolling out this new phone system.
Mobile technology gives us the freedom to go out to cars and write estimates. We have relationships with 75 or 80 different dealerships around Atlanta, and a lot of times they call us to come and do an estimate.
With hosted software, we now have the ability to grab a laptop or tablet and run over there to write the estimate real quick. Before, we had to go over there, jot it down on a piece of paper, come back, write the estimate and then get it back to them.
Being in a hosted environment, we also don’t have to worry about the horsepower of our computers anymore. We can use what’s called a thin client, which doesn’t even have an operating system on it. You boot it up, and it takes you where you need to go, you just log in to your session, as they call it.
We wait for a computer to die out in a location, and as soon as it does we have a thin client ready to go. Some users need horsepower, like our accounting department, CFO and controller.