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Since joining CCC Information Services, Inc., in 1991, Jim Dickens has held various senior-level positions within the company, including senior vice president of marketing and product management and vice president of the automotive services group, where he was responsible for sales and service to CCC’s collision repair facility customers. In this Executive Interview, Dickens discusses the trend of ‘cloud computing’ and why it will change the face of the industry.
Jim Dickens is the general manager of the automotive market segment of CCC Information Services, Inc. Prior to his role as general manager, Dickens was the senior vice president of sales for the automotive services and insurance sales groups. Since joining the company in 1991, Jim has held various senior-level positions within the company, including senior vice president of marketing and product management and vice president of the automotive services group, where he was responsible for sales and service to CCC’s collision repair facility customers.
In this Executive Interview, Dickens talks about the trend of “cloud computing,” what its benefits to collision repair facilities are and why it will change the face of the industry.
What is “cloud computing?”
At its essence, it’s the delivery of hosted services over the Internet. Service providers, including software and information providers like us, are increasingly delivering common business applications via the Internet, while the software and data you use are stored on their servers.
What are the benefits to shops?
With a speculative economy where more, quicker and easier is essential, and better and cheaper is the ideal, applications delivered via the cloud represent an opportunity for shops to create growth while cutting costs and processes. And this method of delivery supports a longer, more sustainable hardware purchase because each update won’t take up residence on their desktops. This reduces the need to continually purchase the latest hardware to match the latest software.
What advice would you offer shops that are looking for a provider of cloud computing?
Understand the provider’s data policy and find out if it fits your business. It’s best to have this policy in writing. Make sure the data is synchronized so groups can look at the same screen at the same time. Also, look for opportunities to retool how you access and share information with employees, insurers and customers. Existing systems may limit what you can do to be more efficient. Finally, make sure there is the ability to control user access.
Should repairers be concerned about security when using cloud computing?
Hosted applications are safer than local applications. It’s like comparing your mattress to your safe deposit box at the bank. Cloud computing applications house software and data in secure facilities with permissioned access, versus local applications stored on a computer that sit in the open.
Despite this security, I feel it’s important for the repairer to thoroughly review cloud computing applications to make sure he or she understands their security. Shops have to protect the privacy of their consumers, the insurers and others with whom they entrust their data, as well as themselves.
That’s why the information provider needs a data policy that specifies that a shop’s data will be “de-identified” when provided in an aggregated fashion, and that certain data will not be shared with third parties, regardless of consent. This data includes: projected or actual gross margin of repair, labor cost (including employee wages, hours assigned, actual hours worked and projected or actual labor gross margin), internal notes and internal events (file history).
What should repairers look out for when selecting a cloud computing provider?
Across the business-to-business software market, some companies will take shortcuts. For example, companies could be prettying up an existing local application so it can be used on the Internet. Some other symptoms of an inferior application could be multiple log-ins to access multiple locations; initiating replication sessions to update your data; the need to support terminal services or Citrix for remote access to your application; an application that looks just like the one you were already using; chronic and unfixable slowness in the application; significant time and effort to log into different locations; difficulty in getting aggregated reporting; poor performance when you add more data to the system; you need a server at your facility.
Can you be more specific as far as how a shop can cut expenses with cloud computing?
Going back to the benefits question that you asked earlier, there is no need anymore to buy or upgrade any servers or pay for their support (costs that run about $3,600 per year, per location, per server). There’s a one-time expense of setting up a good, high-speed Internet connection, somewhere in the neighborhood of $400 to $600 per year, but that’s it.
When you look at making the change to a hosted application, work with your IT people and review the technical requirements. Then, with the help of your IT people, you can reconfigure your network and eliminate as many servers as possible.
Missing out on taking advantage of this benefit leaves you with the same expenses and process maintaining and upgrading hardware, new operating systems, adding IT infrastructure, etc.
What if a shop grows or adds locations?
Providers working in the cloud computing space have deeper IT expertise than the average shop. They know the optimum hardware and software configuration. And when it comes to flexibility, a well-built cloud application will perform regardless of whether a shop grows, scales back or changes locations.
When you open a new facility the old way, you have to install and configure new servers for the old, antiquated local applications, which cost precious time and money. A hosted application moves and grows without the server hassle; you just sign on, register and work from any computer with access to the application over the Internet. You want to grow? You want to add functionality? Simply add users, locations, applications or computers.
What other things can cloud computing do to save time?
Collaboration is a big benefit of having a hosted application because it helps end the “death march” of e-mails, uploading and downloading and the monotony of “edit, send, edit, send.” For example, an insurance adjuster and an estimator in different locations could potentially create, review and approve an estimate with associated images and documentation without having to send documents back and forth. That condenses time and effort to one session, eliminating the phone-tag game of requesting and verifying documentation and supplements. And think about expanding that capability to orders among other vendors. Think about the other groups, like consumers. The power of centralized information that’s exchanged over the Internet becomes apparent as a new and better way that industry leaders will adopt.
Is cloud computing the wave of the future?
Yes. A hosted application has myriad benefits, and in the near future, a repairer will see an overwhelming majority of software being built this way. Changing to these applications will reduce hardware costs and improve efficiencies. In addition, these applications can flex to change with your business something that isn’t possible with existing local applications. Finally, because cloud computing applications have centralized information that can be shared over the Internet, the door is open for repairers to implement new and better ways to conduct business. The successful repairer will carefully select well-designed, properly hosted applications by a good company committed to the industry. The future winners in the collision repair industry will be the ones who will be able to leverage the benefits of cloud computing applications.