Michael Burgess had worked his whole career for other people—more than 30 years in corporate dealer shops, another few as a partner at a Midas location. Then at 53, he opened his own facility, TMR Automotive in Norwich, Conn.
It didn’t take long to hit his first major snag.
“After just 12 days, my hard drive on my computer failed,” he says. “It was irretrievable and I lost a lot of data.”
Losing data, backing up data, moving it, switching it, storing it—shop owners are regularly trying to find new ways to protect and access the information that is vital to them doing business. And while there’s no magic solution falling from the sky, shop owners are beginning to look to cloud systems to solve their problems.
After his crash, Burgess began using a Web-based management system called Shop Boss Pro, which operates 100 percent in the cloud.
Still relatively new to the repair industry, cloud-computing systems offer shop owners the ability to access their information from anywhere, run their programs across multiple platforms and effectively protect their data.
Shifting operations to the cloud can make day-to-day business simpler and less stressful.
“It’s one less thing I have to worry about,” Burgess says.
What is It?
Essentially, the cloud is a Web-based network where users can have access to data, systems and software through a web browser, mobile application or a desktop program. The data and software is stored in a remote server.
—Michael Burgess, owner,
Andrew Newby is the chief operating officer for ProcessingPoint, which offers enterprise-based solutions to small businesses. The company has a handful of cloud-based products used by repairers, and Newby has seen firsthand the apprehension with this new technology.
“The easiest way to understand it is to compare it to services that they might not realize are cloud services like having NetFlix stream into your computer or your TV anytime you want it,” he says. “That’s a cloud-based system. We’re taking that type of convenience and technology and applying it to your business practices.”
There are a number of companies that offer cloud-based products, and many programs, such as RO Writer and ALLDATA, use this type of network for specific aspects of their products.
But few offer a full-scale management system exclusively online. ProcessingPoint offers a time and attendance program called UAttend, which monitors employees’ hours, and will have an accounting program out in the near future.
“It’s about convenience,” Newby says. “These products make life easier for an owner in their accessibility, security and the backup aspects of it. And they’re easy to use.”
What It Can Do for You
Chris Boshaw has been at the forefront of cloud computing in the repair industry since he first formulated the Shop Boss Pro program in 2005.
As a former owner of a small repair facility in Southern California—and someone who happened to have a decent tech background—Boshaw created his system simply because it was too expensive for his shop to pay for Mitchell 1 or any of the other major management programs.
—Andrew Newby, chief operating officer, ProcessingPoint
“At the time, people were talking about ASPs, application service providers, which was the initial moniker for cloud systems,” he says. “When it came out, I saw the language was very similar to the program I was creating, and I just thought, ‘Wow, this is the way we need to go with this.’ I decided to make the whole program on the Internet.”
For several years, Boshaw used it in his own shop and began selling it to other owners looking for a newer, more cost-effective system (Shop Boss Pro ranges in price from free to a maximum $129.99 per month). Boshaw incorporated the company in early 2012.
Through his experience, Boshaw says there are three main benefits that each shop gets with switching to the cloud—whether it’s for their entire management system or just one small aspect of it.
1. Access. A cloud-based network is accessible from anywhere with an Internet connection. Your desktop in the office, the computer at the front counter, your smartphone, your laptop—the information is always right at your finger tips.
“Whenever you’re in your shop, customers are coming in, and customers have to come first,” Burgess says. “If you’re at your desk and you want to do some reports and someone comes to the door, you’re interrupted. With the cloud, I can go home and log in with my password, and I can do that stuff at home and I can pay attention to what I’m doing.”
The information is updated in real time, too, he says. That means that a repair order finalized from your desk in a home office shows up instantly for a service advisor at the front counter.
“It makes it so you’re not tied to your desk,” Burgess says.
2. Backup. With a cloud-based system, Boshaw says, your days of CDs and external hard drives are gone. All the information is stored at a remote server and, in most cases, multiple servers in multiple locations.
ProcessingPoint, Newby says, stores its data in three separate servers in three separate states.
“When you store it locally, you’re much more susceptible to data loss,” Newby says. “With a cloud, we’re taking care of all of it for you. … We eliminate a lot of those worries and give you that security”
A computer crash—or something more devastating to a business, like a fire or flood—would no longer pose a threat to your shop’s data.
3. Cross-platforms. A program like Shop Boss Pro requires no hardware, software or additional programs. You sign up online; you work online. There’s nothing else to it.
“I can run it on the PC in my office or run it on my MacBookPro at home, or run over to my Linux server and call it up there,” Boshaw says. “There’s no restrictions based on what you have. Our system runs on all of it.”
Most cloud-based systems are also updated automatically, so shop owners don’t ever have to worry about getting new programs or data subscriptions.
“It eliminates a lot of the manual intervention they’ll have to do,” Newby says. “ … They don’t have to worry about updating programs or a lot of the IT issues that can come with what’s called a client-based program, a program you install on your computer.”
What about … ?
Just like Newby, Boshaw still sees shop owners reluctant to make the leap to the cloud.
“There’s always pitfalls about everything,” he says. “I don’t think they outweigh the benefits.”
Many shops have initial concerns about security. Not having their information stored in their own facility can be worrisome. However, both Newby and Boshaw say that the vast majority of cloud systems come with heavy security features—including passwords, data encryptions and multiple server storage—and, for the most part, have less risk of theft than a hard drive in your office will.
Mainly, Boshaw says, people are reluctant to have everything relying on the Internet. What if it goes out? What if the program is running slow?
Well, Boshaw feels both problems are easily solved.
In the case of a shop’s Internet failing, Boshaw says all the information can be accessed through a smartphone. There are also options to use a smartphone as a wireless hotspot, which a computer can pick up and use.
Also, he says, many Internet providers offer backup dial-up connections, which are always accessible as long as the phones work.
“I think we’ve had two times in five years that someone couldn’t access their system,” Boshaw says. “That’s a really small amount of people given that sample size.”
Burgess hasn’t encountered such problems, and he doesn’t see how it’s any different than with other desktop-based programs that still rely on the Internet for things such as parts pricing and ordering.
Burgess also says the speed of the cloud-based systems certainly seems equal to any other program he’s used. Boshaw specifically designed Shop Boss Pro to have minimal graphics and photos to maximize the speed at which it loads.
And for Burgess, running his shop is that much easier than it was on day 12.
“Cloud-based versus traditional, it’s all really similar. It doesn’t seem much different, except that it makes it easier to access and safer to store information,” he says.
“The main difference is that I don’t worry about it anymore.”