New Technology Devices and Real-Time Processes to Guide 2011 Focus for Product Providers
New Technology Devices and Real-Time Processes to Guide 2011 Focus for Product Providers

With technology being at the forefront of our business processes and being it is such an integral part of how we do business, I thought it would be interesting to see what some of the P&A industry’s product providers are focusing on and what they consider “HOT” for their business for 2011.

Of the companies I consulted with, F&I Express, Innovative Aftermarket Systems, Open Dealer Exchange (ODE) and Provider Exchange Network (PEN) provided me with what their companies are looking into, and in some cases are already working, on for 2011. Although the Automotive F&I industry has experienced quite a bit of growth technologically speaking, by looking at what the participants in this article are focusing on, I think you will agree that we have only scratched the surface of potential uses and capabilities for everyone involved.

Brian Reed with F&I Express confirmed this assumption when he made the following comment, “If someone had asked me in the 2000 when everything in the F&I office would be electronic, I would have replied 2005. Well, this is 2011 and we are still at the early stages of a true e-F&I Office. I think that this year though will be a breakout year, with the market place in general making big steps forward.

Many captives and independent lenders have rolled out or will be rolling out e-contracting for finance and lease contracts. At the same time, most every aftermarket administrator/provider has initiatives under way. As all of the major partners/suppliers for F&I Managers begin offering good electronic solutions, I feel that the F&I Department in dealerships will start rapidly embracing the new processes.”

F&I Express

Brian went on to explain a little about the technology solutions F&I Express offers and where they are looking at improving &/or growing these in their company:

F&I Express provides an e-contracting, e-rating, e-signature platforms for dealers so that they can go one place to process all their F&I Product administrators/providers. Many administrators/providers today offer dealer e-contracting options if they go to the administrator/providers proprietary websites.

The problem is that dealers and the dealer’s agents do not want to go to multiple web sites to e-contract their aftermarket products. We feel that the F&I Express platform solves this problem by providing the dealers an easy process with a great User Interface.

As we are focused on adding administrators and dealers to the F&I Express platform, we are constantly looking at how our technology platform can help dealers have easy, efficient, and effective processes for the processing aftermarket contracts. One of the areas where many dealers, agents, and administrators have been working to increase the sale of aftermarket F&I products is in the service lane. There have been some dealer success stories but also some efforts that have failed.

One of the challenges of selling a product like a vehicle service contract to service customers is the challenge of getting the customer to the F&I office. As new mobile technologies are being embraced by consumers and businesses, we think that they could help offer an additional tool to dealers.

This year at NADA we provided demonstrations of our new iPad F&I Express process. From the iPad the dealer can bring a Repair Order (RO) customer information, get eligible programs, prepare the contract, and then have the customer e-sign the contract on the i-Pad with their finger all in the matte of a couple of minutes. We have been touting the process as a tool to sell product in the service lane but in reality, it provides the dealer to sell the aftermarket products wherever the customer wants. It could be in the service lane, waiting area, showroom, or even out on the lot. We feel that this mobile aspect of F&I Express is another tool that can help dealers in expanding their aftermarket product sales without having to drag the customer to the F&I office.

Innovative Aftermarket Systems

Based on what Matt Nowicki with Innovative Aftermarket Systems (IAS) explained to me, IAS has plans for quite a bit of technological growth which will be a tremendous benefit to current and future customers. Matt explained IAS’s focus in the following excerpts:

SmartTrack Tablet Edition – We originally developed SmartTrac in 2001 and it has been a staple of our software suite since that time. SmartTrac uses video, audio, and other multimedia to present F&I products as an electronic brochure. SmartTrac started as a program intended to run on a standalone PC, but as computers got faster and more accessible, we modified SmartTrac to work on an F&I computer with a dual monitor.

We are now talking the next step in the evolution of SmartTrac by porting it to tablet devices such as Androids and iPads. At the same time we are modifying it to allow users to specify the year, make, and model of the vehicle being purchased which allows the tablet to display content specific to that customer. For example, if the vehicle being purchased is a Mercedes, we show content using Mercedes vehicles. And, obviously, with a Mercedes, repair costs are going to be higher so we tweak the presentations “on the fly” to present something applicable for that type of vehicle.

Electronic Interview – The vast majority of dealers in the United States utilize some form of the “interview/menu method.” But, most of those dealers only handle the menu portion of it electronically using software such as SmartMenu Complete.

We aim to change that approach by releasing a pre-F&I survey/interview which will pose questions to customers and then immediately deliver a “customer profile” to the F&I Manager complete with suggestions on which products have the highest chance of success for this customer and tips on potential ways to sell a given product based on the answers given by the customer. This solution will be multi-faceted: a web-based portal and/or a tablet version for Android/iPad devices.

SmartMenu Complete Administrator Dashboard – SmartMenu Complete offers so much more than just tiered and final menus, including various sales tools, OFAC reports, and identity verification reports. Up until now, most of our administrators (including agents and F&I directors) haven’t had easy to use tools to see how ALL aspects of the menu are being utilized. We are developing a web-based dashboard that will give these power users a plethora of data in easy to understand format.

Open Dealer Exchange (ODE) & Provider Exchange Network (PEN)

I spoke with Sarah Aberlich and Marty Zolan of ODE and with Mark Virag of PEN about what their respective companies are focusing on for 2011.

Open Dealer Exchange and Provider Exchange Network encompass software programs that work behind the scenes. So, many of the wonderful things a dealer can do electronically that so oftentimes are taken granted for are the things that ODE and PEN make possible. All of the data and the information that gets fed into the Dealer Management System (DMS) at the dealership is connected with Lender’s, TPA’s and Insurer’s to make the customer purchase and/or financing transaction flow seamlessly.

Through Credit Application, Contract Data Integration, and eContracting and Funding Packet Distribution, ODE’s focus begins with the Point-Of-Sales system within the dealership itself.

One “hot item” that ODE is focusing on (in conjunction with PEN) is Validation within the various systems. This is so important, especially when so many different documents are involved in eContracting and Funding transactions. Data from credit applications are validated against that entered on contracts which are also validated with information pulled from credit reports and other documentation. The key component here is that Validation is in process throughout the entire deal, not after it’s completed. This allows for changes and/or corrections to be made will before the contracts are signed.

What makes this possible? Real-time Processing! Real-time processing is the key factor in delivering ODE’s products and integration and validation services successfully to their end users. This is where PEN comes into play. PEN is the “behind-the-scenes” to ODE and allows F&I product providers and participating dealers the ability alers point-of-sales system. It does so because it can connect a provider to a variety of dealer systems, including (but not limited to) menu’s, portals, and DMSs.

PENs focus for 2011 is to expand on what is available to both Providers and Dealers and how to make the F&I process run much smoother and more efficient through the use of web-rating systems, eContracting, and access to up-to-date forms. This can be achieved through Validation and Real-Time Interfacing.

The Gist of It

Although we have only looked at what a few companies are focusing on, it seems that the advent of the mobile devices coupled with the internet and real-time processing are placing a demand on software companies that will push the strong and innovative to the forefront of the industry. These changes are necessary however, and are beneficial to everyone from the provider to the customer (and every player in between) through cost savings, efficient processes, and reduction of errors.