Streamlining the Inspection Process with Technology
Streamlining the Inspection Process with Technology

There are both positive and negative aspects to performing the same task over and over. By doing so, we develop methods that work best for us, both as individuals and teams, and we build confidence after repeated successes. Countering that are the effects of stagnation and complacency. How many automotive shops still in business use outdated computers, scanners, and paper forms? Inspectors, how many of you are using standalone cameras, maps, and desktop computers? Throughout our industry, technology is not being kept up with. The time to eliminate paper, deliver real-time inspection results, and keep all involved parties simultaneously up to date is here. Having the capability to operate at this level is not in the future, years away, but is available now.

Warranty companies, as do all businesses, want to remain profitable. Typically, this is achieved by providing solid service and/or products in a timely manner. Perhaps our industry's largest obstacle in providing coverage in a “timely manner” is the claims and inspection process. The generation of a claim requires phone time for service writers and adjusters alike. Some warranty companies offer relatively quick web-based claim generation, while others choose to allow one-hour plus telephone wait times. As an inspector, these differences are often brought to light at repair facilities. Frequently, requests are made for warranty companies to “get a website!” These requests typically come from service writers and management who become perturbed by the lengthy processes. The use of email, private messaging or online chatting could speed up many parts of the claims process, particularly for simple claims.

Inspection services serve the warranty companies, the public, repair facilities, insurance companies and just about anyone who would like a car to be inspected for a fee. Each of the multitude of functions an inspection service performs requires different web forms, access methods, and people to be involved. Timelines for service turnaround are critical for these companies and given the effort and expense involved, technology can help out considerably. Some warranty companies are extraordinarily easy to work with, using web, email, phone, text, voice reporting, and mobile web access. There are other inspection companies that solely reply on the telephone, web, and fax machines.

The people who operate repair facilities bear the largest part of the warranty process burden: customer satisfaction. Collectively, our customers are the path to success. Three-day inspection turnarounds (from the time a repair order is written), coupled with a clouded understanding of policy coverage hinder a repair facility's ability to deliver the timely service customers demand. This can be assuaged by simple smartphone apps (from the repair facilities and warranty companies) that provide specific policy coverage, and allow for vehicle status tracking and collective communication between all involved parties.

Our industry's inspectors face concerns juggling warranty companies, inspection services, and repair facilities. While all of these disparate entities are vying for the inspector’s attention, the need for a streamlined inspection approach is not just a matter of convenience, but one of necessity. Between traffic, communication issues and all of the other factors involved in performing an inspection, it is not surprising to find inspectors (and everyone else involved) to be frustrated with obstacles that interfere with getting the job done quickly and accurately. Despite these challenges, inspectors are called upon to be the voice of logic, fact and sound judgment. This becomes easier to achieve when technology is brought to bear and used to its fullest. Should a repair facility challenge inspection results, the immediacy of fast photo delivery and findings onsite allow for a consensus to be reached without relying solely on after-the-fact information. This also improves relations between repair facilities and inspectors.

Current technology can solve many of the challenges of the warranty industry by simply embracing a few new ideas. Chief among these is the use of smartphone cameras instead of standalone digital models. These cameras are more than sufficient for the purposes of an inspection and the screen on a phone is typically larger than a traditional camera’s, thus enabling the inspector to achieve a higher degree of accuracy and clarity in photographs. Many smartphones have editing functions that allow for circling and highlighting portions of a photo to reinforce the content of a report. The Internet is typically accessible via smartphone and could serve as a real-time medium for picture and report uploading to be done onsite. A major benefit to this is less processing time for inspectors at the day's end, which improves motivation, organization and timeliness. New camera technologies are now available in the form of fiber optics. These cameras are capable of passing through small gaps and around corners allowing the inspector to verify faults that would otherwise remain unseen; particularly when lack of disassembly is a concern. Exploitation of the audio/video capabilities in a smartphone is useful for documenting noise and difficult-to-photograph subjects. The benefits of using a smartphone extend beyond the technology. As phone technology improves, all aspects of the inspection business can benefit from shrinking equipment costs, compactness, and most importantly, less time consumption.

Improved mobile web applications are easily developed, and can improve expediency for both inspection services and warranty companies. Imagine an inspector receiving notification, accepting, performing, and submitting an inspection with a single, highly portable tool. This would improve efficiency and have the major benefit of near real-time review of reports and findings. If fast enough, it has the potential to allow same-day claim approval/resolution.

The single biggest hurdle to streamlining our industry is cooperation. All involved parties have their own particular economic interests, including the customer. While all the parties in the warranty industry need each other, they are at odds economically. This tends to breed a bit of shortsightedness, stunting people’s ability to cooperate. Business tactics and trade policies do not allow for much sharing of private business practices, but reaching a consensus on technological standards would benefit everyone involved; much the way OBD-II diagnostic standards improved diagnostics and general levels of understanding. A case in point would be this: one inspection company requires a warranty company’s verbal report, followed by the inspection company’s verbal report; A competing inspection company (working for the same warranty company) only requires a single report with photos uploaded at night. This disparity in processes frustrates many who are involved, particularly the repair facilities and inspectors. A simple standard, even if de facto, would make our industry more predictable and profitable.

The uses for modern technology in our business are varied and widespread. The difference in usage can make or break a warranty company, inspection service, inspector, or repair facility. We would all prove wise to start talking and cooperating to improve our industry, lest our differences prevail and we continue dealing with individual processes instead of working towards improving our industry as a whole.