Six Essentials for Managing On the Go

Sept. 1, 2016
Utilize technology to effectively track operations away from the shop

Seminars, expos, training, conferences, 20 Groups, family, vacation— all reasons you might need to step away from your shop.

And all reasons why you need to be prepared to manage on the go.

That, says Gene Morrill, who spends at least one week per month away from Certified Automotive Specialists in Glendora, Calif., can be a difficult task. But what has helped him cope are the tools and technology that allow him to effectively manage away from the office.

Of course, the goal is to be able to leave your shop for extended period of time without worries. But, as Morrill and two other shop owners that spend several weeks per year on the road—Debbie Nol of Arie Nol Auto Center in Kentwood, Mich., and Eric Svedberg of Automotive Specialists in Virginia Beach, Va.—can attest to, there are situations where you must simply check in on your business. At that point, it’s not just about knowing what tools are available to you, but knowing how to effectively use technology to make it seem like you never left the office in the first place.

W. Scott Wheeler, a management consultant with Automotive Consultants Group, Inc., says it’s essential to accompany these practices and systems with smartphone and tablet apps, which allow you to track shop activity even when away from your computer. And, luckily, your options for apps—from security cameras to file transferring to online meetings—are boundless.

“Everyone uses them in a different way,” Wheeler says. “You just need to find what’s right for you.”

“It’s all very easy to use,” Morrill adds. “It comes down to the willingness of your staff, your funds, the training, how you choose to use it.”

All three owners shared with Ratchet+Wrench the tools and technologies that allow them to effectively manage on the go, and how any shop can implement them.

1. Set Up Remote Access.

To effectively manage outside the shop, all three shop owners agree—remote access to your computer system through a laptop or smartphone is a must.

“When I’m visiting my daughter in Arizona, I can dial in and still work on my desktop,” Morrill says. “I can look at my point of sale system, I can get to my files, do whatever I need to do.”

Setting up remote access can easily be done by accessing “Remote Settings” in the “Control Panel” on Windows computers and “Sharing” through “System Preferences” on Macs, linking the desktop and the laptop to the same IP address, and then following the system’s instructions. This allows users to use and view their desktop computer through the laptop.

Morrill even has it set up through his smartphone in case he’s away from his laptop.

“The screen is smaller, but if I’m in an emergency or need a phone number, I can do that wherever,” he says.

Nol says you need to be cautious of hacking when remotely accessing, which makes third-party programs—such as pcAnywhere and LogMeIn—very appealing, as they require a firewall that recognizes the viewer before logging in.

Svedberg utilizes a hosting program called Swizznet, which allows him to access his QuickBooks software from any computer.

Wheeler’s recommended apps: TeamViewer; LogMeIn; pcAnywhere; Swizznet; GoToMyPC.

2. Receive Banking Notifications.

It’s important to all three owners to set up notifications to track banking activity, which can be set up through your bank’s website or app. You can receive them either via email or push notifications on your phone. This is especially critical to Svedberg, who has automatic payments set up with his vendors.

“If you are gone for two weeks or on the day you normally pay those accounts, you’d want to have that set up, and you’d want to know it went through,” Svedberg says. Notifications also update on daily deposits so you can track the shop’s daily or weekly profits, and any large transactions made on company cards.

“You can get an email every time a credit card is used for purchases over $50,” Svedberg says. “I don’t like to micromanage, but if you are out of town, at least you know what’s happening.”

Wheeler’s recommended apps: Use the specific app your bank offers.

3. Allow for File Transfers and Sharing.

Commonly used systems, websites and programs, such as Dropbox and Google Drive, have gone a long way for Morrill, who at this points calls utilizing these tools a “no-brainer” while away from the shop. Providing more capacity than an email, Dropbox allows for large files and photos to be transferred (you can upgrade and purchase more storage space), and Google Drive allows for important spreadsheets to be accessed anywhere.

“A lot of shop owners, they require guys to fill out a quick spreadsheet that covers the day and send it to them, which you can access immediately,” he says.

Wheeler’s recommended apps: Dropbox; Google Drive; WeTransfer; DropSend; Filemail; Microsoft OneDrive.

4. Track Security Systems.

Cameras and alarm systems have come in handy for both Svedberg and Morrill while traveling.

“If I need to see what’s happening, if an alarm goes off in the middle of the night, I’m the key person they call,” Svedberg says. “I can dial up the cameras and see what’s happening before I send the police out.”

While Svedberg has his cameras set up through a smartphone app called iVMS-4500 and his alarm set up through ipFob, Morrill has hardwired DVRs in his shop to connect to his network, allowing him to store up to 45 days of footage that he can access remotely.

While the cameras’ first priority are providing security for your shop, they can be tracked and utilized in various ways while on the road. Nol says she has interacted with owners who set up cameras in individual bays, providing the opportunity to review a technician’s work if needed.

Wheeler’s recommended apps: iVMS-4500; VHDR Lite; ipFob.

5. Access Phone Records.

Many owners and managers track phone calls on the job to measure service advisors’ performance—a task that can easily be utilized on the road as well.

Svedberg has his phones set up through a program called VoIPLink, which records all calls and allows him to control the shop’s phone system from his cell phone if lines ever go down.

Nol uses Grasshopper, which sends her emails with voicemail recordings in case any calls are ever missed.

Wheeler’s recommended apps: VoIPLink; Grasshopper; OnRelay; Communikate.

6. Hold Online Meetings.

Morning meetings are a core component of business discussion and shop culture for Morrill, Svedberg and Nol, making the ability to connect face-to-face with your team outside the facility an enticing feature.

Morrill utilizes TeamViewer for several remote access duties, and the program offers him the ability to speak with his team if needed. Many other programs and apps offer the same function.

Wheeler’s recommended apps: TeamViewer; Skype; Google Hangouts; GoToMeeting; Cisco WebEx; Communikate.

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