Get the Most Out of Information Providers

Sept. 1, 2011
Administrator of the Database Enhancement Gateway

The Database Enhancement Gateway (DEG), launched in 2008, was a collective effort on behalf of the Automotive Service Association (ASA), the Association of Automotive Service Providers (AASP) and the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS). It was created to give repairers an efficient means of creating solutions for problems found in today’s estimating systems. Information providers (IPs) do a good job of continually updating their systems, but new vehicles and repair processes change constantly. It’s extremely difficult for IPs to get everything 100 percent accurate for what are literally thousands of vehicle options and repair scenarios, says Arthur Harris, administrator of the DEG.

FenderBender’s Andrew Johnson checked in with Harris to discuss the common problems shops experience with today’s estimating systems, and how they can utilize the services offered by the DEG to help IPs create more accurate systems for the industry.

Which IPs work with the DEG?

CCC, Mitchell and Audatex. It’s possible that the DEG will branch out to work with some of the other smaller IPs someday, too. We’ve entertained the thought, and it’s something that we will definitely consider. But there’s nothing set in stone right now, and there’s no timeline in place to make that happen.

Which IP has the greatest number of problems or inaccuracies?
All of them. Each estimating platform has its own deficiencies, and they are all about equal in the number of problems that exist. One particular estimating platform chronically has low labor times, and every time we submit an inquiry we’re able to generate a huge labor time increase.

What have you noticed to be the biggest problem that repairers experience across all three IPs?

It’s a huge challenge to get accurate procedures reflected in the estimating database as auto manufacturers change their repair recommendations. We’re seeing an increase of “single-use” items—parts that can only be used on vehicles one time—from auto manufacturers. For example, the rear step pad, control arm bolts and SRS system fasteners on the Toyota Rav4 cannot be put back on the vehicle once removed.

“It’s definitely easier for shops to achieve resolution to an
inquiry through the DEG.”
—Arthur Harris, administrator, Database Enhancement Gateway

Until recently, single-use parts were not noted in estimating databases, and many shops did not realize that some parts are meant only for single use. We’ve seen a lot of repairers submit inquiries to the DEG about that, and the DEG took action.

Now, most of the IPs have been very good about adding a note in their estimating system. That means when shops are writing estimates, they see a note that dictates if a particular part is a single-use item.

That’s going to be a big benefit for shops. It will allow estimators, while writing estimates, to see easily see that something is a single use part without having to refer to their repair manual.

Repairers are laser-focused on becoming more efficient. But parts missing from estimating databases continue to result in more supplements. Which parts most commonly need to be added to the databases?

We’ve been seeing quite a few inquiries like this recently. As repair planning and blueprinting become more popular, repairers are asking that we add many more small, incidental parts: clips, fasteners, bolts.

In what ways are shops negatively affected when those small, incidental parts are missing from the estimating database?

Quite often, shops deliver cars that are missing those parts simply because they’re missing from the estimating databases. And it’s really difficult for repairers to contact their parts vendor to match up a bolt. That’s clearly a problem with the repair quality demanded in the industry today.

It can make things quite difficult and inefficient for the shop. Shops have to call their dealer to track down the part, part number, pricing and availability. Any time shops have to physically call their vendor to find a part number, that’s lost time and revenue. That unnecessary process can affect a shop’s cycle time.

It’s really important that every part is included in the databases. Insurance companies often won’t accept a part addition on estimates when shops enter it manually. Essentially, if a part isn’t included in the database, insurance companies won’t recognize that it’s actually needed for the repair.

Many manufacturers have started selling unprimed bumpers in raw form. That requires more preparation work from shops, and some repairers have complained about not being compensated properly for the work. Have the IPs recognized this?

That additional process certainly requires additional labor, time and materials for shops. The DEG has brought those issues to light. We’ve had several IPs recognize those changes, and they know those problems exist.

The challenge, however, is to get the IPs to provide an accurate labor time option within the database for raw bumper work. We’re hoping to work with the IPs over the next year to help get those changes pushed through.

What methodologies do IPs use to determine labor times for certain repair processes?

The IPs are looking for a good average labor time for the general technician. But each IP has their own way of doing that. They sometimes use OEM repair manuals to make the determination. And sometimes, IPs will actually go to a shop to do a physical time study. That means they’ll go into a shop, observe the repair process, and determine how long certain processes take to complete.

The problem is that IPs don’t always necessarily do time studies before they release_notes a new system model, or when a new repair process is added to the system. Without any time study, labor times are not always accurately reflected.

Given that insurance companies are the ones that pay shops for their work, what kind of insurer pushback is there against increased labor times?

The IPs are providing a product to insurance companies just as much as they’re providing a product to the repair shop. Most insurance adjusters are looking for the same things shops are: accurate data. If the data are correct, that leads to less time that the insurance adjuster needs to spend negotiating or debating with the shop on a labor time listed in the database.

I recently came across a good example of this. An insurance company wrote an estimate requiring a shop to section a quarter panel. The shop did not feel the labor time was accurate in the database, and sectioning of the part was not an available repair option. But because the section time was listed in the estimating system, the adjuster included it in the estimate.

We worked with the IP to provide insight on the discrepancy. The IP determined that the section option was not appropriate for that particular vehicle. The IP corrected the database to reflect the full replacement time, and removed the sectioning time.

The change ended up costing the insurance company more money. But that was the correct way to repair that vehicle, so the database had to be changed.

Prior to the launch of the DEG, repairers would have to contact their IP directly to inquire about correcting problems. In what ways does working with the DEG make that process easier for shops?

It’s definitely easier for shops to achieve resolution to an inquiry through the DEG. That’s because shops are challenging someone who is proud of their product when they submit an inquiry. Anytime you’re challenging somebody, reaching a positive resolution can be difficult. The DEG has contacts of people that we work with on a daily basis at each IP, so we are able to receive responses to each inquiry much more quickly than if shops were to do it on their own.

How long does it take to get a resolution to a problem once an inquiry is submitted?

We usually get responses back within one week or less. With CCC, responses typically come back within about three days. With Audatex and Mitchell, it takes about seven days. One inquiry that we recently filed took three weeks to get a response. But that was because the IP had to visit several shops and look at several cars before they had enough information to generate a good response.

What kinds of documentation should shops submit to the DEG in order to increase their chances of getting a positive response from their inquiry?

Shops should provide us with as much relevant information as they possibly can when submitting an inquiry. The more information we can forward to the IP helps generate more positive responses.

Be clear in what you’re asking for, and avoid comparisons between multiple IPs. It’s very similar to the situation shop managers face when they need to address a quality issue with an employee. The issue needs to be approached in a positive and constructive way in order to yield the best result.

Part of the inquiry submission process is procedure-focused. When there’s a question regarding labor time, it’s really important for technicians to document the full procedure that needs to be done to complete a particular repair.

Shops should submit their entire estimate to the DEG because it shows the repair options that were selected and the items that are included in the database. Pictures are also wonderful. The IPs use all of this documentation to judge whether or not a change needs to be made within the estimating system.

How successful is the DEG with bringing positive change to inquiries submitted by repairers.?

The DEG receives about 1,000 inquiries every year. We have a pretty strong success rate. I recently did a case study on a DEG user. During the past three years, a particular shop operator submitted 79 inquiries: 34 to CCC, 36 to Audatex, and 9 to Mitchell. Fifty-eight of those inquiries resulted in some form of change—either an adjustment in labor time or a part addition. The study showed a 73 percent success rate.

A lot of shops must be utilizing the DEG’s services.

The DEG could be utilized much more throughout the industry. Many issues with today’s estimating systems still go unreported. The entire industry could benefit if we were able to generate more inquiries.

Why would shops choose to let problems go unreported when they notice an issue with their system?

I worked in a shop for many years. Several times, I didn’t see a part included in the system, or a technician would challenge me on the labor time required to complete a repair process. In those circumstances, I often didn’t do anything to try and correct the issue. The industry has just accepted the fact that estimating systems aren’t completely accurate. That has become a problem, though.

By just accepting those problems, and not taking the time to correct them, shops are choosing to be less efficient and potentially less profitable.

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