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Ways to Save with an IT Company

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SHOP STATS: Lloyd's Automotive   Location: St. Paul, Minn.  Operator: Dan Burns  Average Monthly Car Count: 800-850  Staff Size: 13  Shop Size: 6,500 sq. ft.  

When someone’s vehicle breaks down and is in need of a repair, do they try and fix it themselves? Maybe, if the vehicle has a flat tire that needs changing. But when the job becomes a little more complicated, they should call in the experts.

The same goes for auto repair shops, especially when it comes to dealing with technology.

“Things have become so technical with cars; the same goes for IT,” says Jeff Harlan, manager of network services at the IT company, United Systems & Software. “Whether we like it or not, IT has become a core we have to have in order for systems to be safe.”

Harlan has been in the IT business for 30 years, starting as a tech, moving into the server environment, and eventually into management.

Because IT has become more complex, the solution is not as easy as a click of a button.

The way it is right now, many shops have a “tech expert,” which is typically someone on the shop that’s handy with technology, that’s called in for fixing problems. While that can work, there are often more complicated issues that can be too difficult for that person. That’s where an outside IT company can come in hand. Nick Stoffel, general manager at Lloyd’s Automotive in St. Paul, Minn., has always had an IT company at the repair shop, mainly because: 1. He’s not an IT expert and; 2. He can spend more time focusing on his main job: running the day-to-day operations of the shop. 

Harlan explains the benefits of having a third-party IT company on board and Stoffel discusses how it’s helped out in his shop.

More Time 

One cost-saving element is the difference in the time it takes to fix a problem when a professional IT company manages a network versus someone in the shop. For example, the IT company went to work with a new customer that had an internal IT person. At the time, the internal employee was too busy with other work, and there was too much for him to do in his normal day-to-day job. And at this point, the company was used to their computers locking up or crashing every day and sitting around. 

When the company took over tech issues, Harlan simply took away the administrative rights so they couldn’t access anything involving IT, and it was like night and day. All this time, this customer could have utilized working computers if they had someone that specialized in that field. 

Staff shouldn’t be sitting around waiting for help. That’s a waste of time and resources. But, if there’s nobody in place to help or that person is busy doing something else, it doesn’t leave many options. Stoffel says he could save his money, but he’s better off working on cars than spending time fixing something he knows nothing about. In this sense, the money made from having more time to service cars outweighs the cost of hiring an IT company, which, according to Aldridge, should cost between $120 to $175 per user, per month.

“You could go back to handwriting tickets, but you should consider your staff when not being able to use all of your resources. You should have a plan B or someone in place just in case,” Stoffel says. “It’s much more cost-effective to have someone in a position to help you versus not working and trying to fix it yourself. You can’t be an expert on everything.”

More Support 

Stoffel says having a backup source to call for a problem that’s beyond his staff’s capability is essential in order to keep his business running. 

“With a larger facility, someone has to be in charge to manage it, but also have someone to be a resource when things go wrong. There’s always that expertise portion; it’s never a good idea to have someone fixing your computer that has no idea what he’s doing with it. It’s no different than our customers coming in after trying to fix their vehicle themselves and coming in when things go wrong. If you don’t know who to call, you’re in trouble,” Stoffel says. 

When there is a small issue that arises, calling the IT company can add a little time lag to get something done—the average response time is 15 minutes and a resolution is usually reached within two hours. But, what if it’s not such a simple fix? If anything, waiting assures no more damage can be done.

"What if you have three problems at once? Bob can’t handle three problems at once, but we can,” Harlan says. “Bob just can’t be an expert in everything. When you are working with a third-party, there are more heads and more knowledge.”

Harlan says the IT company is working in different boxes. Usually, an internal IT person within the business sees things from only their perspective. As an IT company, they see things from a multitude of perspectives. It’s not that the internal person can’t think, Harlan explains, but they aren’t consistently working in the IT realm and they don’t see the other perspectives like a dedicated outside support company does.

“We are in all kinds of boxes to try different things and see, so they will come in your environment and ask if you have thought about this and that, not that he can’t think but he’s not usually just doing IT and doesn’t see other perspectives. We are in everybody’s world,” Harlan says.

More Protection

Not only do companies have to worry about viruses invading their computer and data and the cost of fixing it, criminals are starting to catch on, too. Harlan says ransomware is invading computers like crazy. A customer simply clicks on a link in a random email, and the next thing they know is their machine is shutdown. And the only way to get all of your data back? Paying a ransom in order to unlock the machine.

Harlan worked with a company recently that ran into this issue. The company was forced to pay $132,000 to get all of their information and data back. There was no other way out of it.

“If that happens, you either pay the fee or you start over from scratch,” Harlan says. “Thank god they had insurance that covered that.”

The one big mistake that the company made? They hired Harlan’s IT company after the ransomware hit; at this point, it was too late. Auto repair shops have to take a proactive approach to these situations in order to prevent them from ever happening. IT companies can help set up protection from this ever happening. 

This proactive approach also applies when dealing with a disaster, it’s always a part of that “what if?” factor. Not only will an IT company help the company budget for new IT equipment down the road, it will also help you plan for one.

“We’re helping customers understand the risk of not having a plan,” Harlan says. “Everything is on these devices; if you lose all of your data today, you’re out of business and you never recover.”

If you think about the value overall, an IT company is like having insurance—you don’t know when something bad will happen, but you’ll be prepared just in case it does.


Q&A: The Choice is Yours

Jeff Harlan, manager of network services at United Systems & Software, answers a few questions regarding what you should be looking for in an IT company for your auto repair business.

What should you look for in an IT company?

First of all, you want a company that specializes in auto repair businesses. And second, you want someone who has been around a bit. Have the company you’re looking into provide past reviews from customers, even a list of current customers to call, and see what they say about the company.

What about in the IT contract?

There are two ways of looking at it: there are customers that shy away from long-term; they don’t want to be locked in and want to get out right away. This shows the customer is not really committed to the process. But as a business, you want to have a longer contract—the longer, the better. If it’s on a month-to-month basis, there’s no commitment to the process. You want commitment from both sides. It’s like getting married; if there’s not a commitment factor, you probably don’t want to marry them.

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