It was a simple request. Fleet management companies (FMCs) across the industry wanted a more efficient way to handle the maintenance authorization process.

Sears Automotive answered the call, partnering with LeasePlan to develop an electronic authorization system. In just a few short months, it has already proven itself as a cost-saving asset.

Missing Piece

According to Robert Santor, director of commercial sales for Sears, the traditional way that maintenance authorizations are handled is inherently inefficient. “The driver comes in, the service writer gets their information, and then calls the FMC for authorization. That phone call is very time consuming,” he said.

It also means that fleet drivers further back in the service line have to wait longer while the service writer processes the order and calls for authorization.

The phone-based system also leads to headaches for both the FMC and the maintenance provider if there is a dispute about a charge.

This inefficiency has been eliminated with Sears and LeasePlan’s new E-AUTH solution, which is integrated into the Sears Auto Centers’ point of sale (POS) systems. The approval process is now handled by electronically transmitting the work order to LeasePlan, including the rationale for the repair — a key piece of information required to obtain authorization electronically — freeing up the service writer to move onto other clients, speeding the approval, and locking the repair into the system. 

“The system provides detailed information about the rationale for every repair from tire tread and brake pad measurements to engine codes,” Santor said. “The system also has a free form section for comments.”

The system locks approved repair orders; therefore, if specific changes are made after approval (including new items), the repair order must be revalidated/approved. This elminates the potential for billing disputes down the road.

“Since this data is authenticated against our database and the repairs are agreed upon in scope and price, rejected invoices have become obsolete. E-AUTH acts as the database of record, creating an electronic source of all agreed upon work by the facility and LeasePlan,” explained Tony Blezien, vice president, operations for LeasePlan.

E-AUTH has already benefitted LeasePlan’s clients. “Our clients have already seen an increase in driver productivity as vehicle downtime is reduced through quicker authorizations. We foresee the repair facilities prioritizing our clients’ vehicles because authorizations through E-AUTH will be the most efficient means of doing business,” Blezien said.

Building on eRepair

The E-AUTH system leverages LeasePlan’s existing electronic maintenance repair solution. “E-AUTH was born from LeasePlan’s eRepair tool that has been available for independent repair facilities for more than three years. eRepair is an easy-to-use website that maintenance and repair vendors can use to submit repair authorization requests electronically,” said David Jankiewicz, director, maintenance and repair management for LeasePlan.

Jankiewicz said that LeasePlan’s experience with eRepair helped with the creation of the new system. “We used what we learned from eRepair, coupled with the emergence of web services and a true partner with the vision and desire to create  a better way of conducting business and created a better product for our mutual clients,” he said.

A STAR is Used

The E-AUTH project took shape in late 2010 and was motivated, according to Santor, by Sears’ desire to “be first in the industry with a fully integrated electronic authorization system.”

After its initial research and approval by management, Sears moved quickly to take E-AUTH from inception to launch. One of the reasons is that the Sears-LeasePlan development team used a non-proprietary standard, Standards for Technology in Automotive Retail (STAR), to build the system.

E-AUTH has also saved money for LeasePlan and its clients on the frontend, according to Santor. This is because there are no subscription or per-transaction fees for using the E-AUTH system.

According to Sears, the E-AUTH service is open to all U.S. service providers and FMCs. All new adopters have to do is establish an IT project to integrate their systems.

Unbridled Enthusiasm

Since launching in over 800 Sears Auto Center locations nationwide in October 2011, E-AUTH has met nothing but unbridled enthusiasm from both Sears and LeasePlan staff.

“The response has been phenomenal,” Santor said. “Our internal blogs have been buzzing with one question: ‘Why can’t we get more FMCs on this?’ ”

LeasePlan has been pleased with the system as well. “E-AUTH has cut the average handle time of a typical transaction by more than half, allowing the drivers to get in and out of the repair facility quicker,” said Blezien of LeasePlan. “It also enables our ASE certified technicians to spend more time scrutinizing repair facility estimates and less time on the administrative information gathering that is required on every transaction. In turn, technicians can easily negotiate the best price for the maintenance and repairs of our clients.”

As Jankiewicz noted, E-AUTH and eRepair have serious implications for a repair facility’s bottom line. Repair facilities that use these solutions have grown their business “as much as ten-fold,” he observed.

Looking Ahead

Blezien predicts that E-AUTH or solutions like it will become the norm for the way repairs are processed and approved. “We have many ideas of where we want this technology to go, but the exciting part of being on the forefront of this is that the landscape is ours to build. We have a blank sheet in front of us and we are writing the story. What I do know is that in five years, [E-AUTH] will not look exactly like it does today. We will continually work with our repair facility partners and our clients to make this E-AUTH system the most efficient, cost-effective way of maintaining and repairing clients’ fleet vehicles,” he added.