Technology has revolutionized all areas of fleet management from spec’ing vehicles to tracking fuel use to routing; making the industry more efficient, safer, and cost-effective. Fleet maintenance management is the newest area that will feel the benefits of the digital age. Auto Integate is bringing a proven concept in the UK to the shores of the U.S. It is implementing this electronic authorization technology from two sides — partnering with Emkay on the fleet management side and Sears on the vehicle repair side.
Emkay has worked with Auto Integrate for the last 18 months to develop the e-authorization platform for the U.S. market. Greg Tepas, Emkay’s president and CEO, sees the system as a game changer. “I believe Auto Integrate will become the universal platform for our industry in North America,” he said. Emkay has been using the system for its clients’ fleet maintenance needs since June 2012.
Sears Automotive had experience with e-authorization as well, partnering in 2011 with LeasePlan USA to develop E-AUTH, an electronic authorization platform. The system, which leveraged LeasePlan USA’s existing e-authorization platform, quickly proved itself as a viable successor to traditional telephone-based systems.
Sears worked with Auto Integrate to link its existing E-AUTH system to Auto Integrate and to begin offering the service to more customers.
Translating UK Efficiency
Fully integrated electronic authorization systems offer countless benefits over an outdated telephone authorization platform. Among them is the elimination of double keying of data, which needlessly ties up service personnel, according to Terry Bartlett, CEO of Auto Integrate.
“What we’re trying to do is centralize and come up with a straightforward trading platform between FMCs and vendors by doing electronic data transfers. Our plan is to go to the national vendors’ point of sales and have that data go straight into Auto Integrate’s system so there’s no double keying whatsoever,” he said.
Robert Santor, director of Commercial Sales for Sears Holdings, said the system fit an important need. “We saw a need to employ a supplier, such as Auto Integrate, to reach out to more customers quicker. And, in our opinion, Auto Integrate is getting a really good foothold in the U.S. and may very well become an industry standard, and we wanted to be first to market with it,” Santor said.
Bartlett, who has a background in fleet management in the UK, said Auto Integrate developed its system specifically for the U.S. market. But, the company leveraged its knowledge of the UK fleet market’s long use of e-authorization systems to develop its U.S. system.
The fundamental difference between Auto Integrate’s U.S. system and those found in the UK is flexibility, according to Bartlett.
“We built in flexibility because of the U.S. market. We believe each FMC has unique offerings. Each system has its own nuances. The real idea of the system is that [a significant amount] of it will be the same across all the FMCs as it is implemented,” he said.
Operating in real-time, Auto Integrate’s maintenance system encompasses the entire business cycle, including:
● Initial detailing and costing of required services by the supplier.
● Automated authorization within pre-agreed parameters (the company estimates 70 percent of repairs are authorized immediately).
● Workflow-managed environment to expedite the referral of events.
● Subsequent communications between the repairer and the FMC.
● Validated billing and streamlining of the payment and invoice handling processes of both parties — and, as a result, reduced invoice rejections and subsequent supplier write-offs.
● Significantly reduced implementation and training demands.
When it was ready to move into the U.S. market, Auto Integrate came into contact with Emkay, which was in the process of creating a portal to facilitate e-authorizations.
Ironically, when Auto Integrate approached Emkay three years ago, the FMC decided to turn down the company’s proposal to become partners because the company was deeply involved in developing its own system.
Instead, Emkay initially decided not to partner with Auto Integrate as it thought having its own portal would provide a competitive advantage. A review of the marketplace found that many FMCs were also working on their own portals or were planning to develop one, according to Emkay.
This had a potential to develop a literal Tower of Babel with maintenance vendors and FMCs having to cope with nearly a dozen individual portals.
“For a maintenance vendor to use six to eight different portals does not make sense, nor would it make sense to have our mainetenace advisors logging in and using eight to 10 different national account portals. At that time, we realized the market had a real need to have one universal platform to conduct business,” Tepas observed.
According to Gino Fontana, assistant VP, North American Maintenance Operations for Emkay, with the realization that having numerous platforms was impractical, Auto Integrate’s system held immediate appeal for the FMC, who suspended development of its own proprietary e-authorization maintenance portal.
“Rather than have multiple FMCs have their own proprietary portals, getting each of the vendors to do it, and having the vendors do the same thing to us, we liked Auto Integrate’s concept of having a universal platform, which has been successfully implemented in various other forms in the fleet management industry, such as new vehicle ordering and remarketing,” Fontana said.
The system is being used by Emkay’s personnel for two specific maintenance functions. “This is really an interface between us and our maintenance vendors and it’s also a platform for our maintenance techs to use for maintenance authorizations,” Fontana said.
Bartlett described the development process as a give-and-take relationship. This is where the system’s flexibility came into play.
Bartlett added that the system was designed either to be used in concert, with an existing system, as was the case with Emkay, or on its own.
The cost for Auto Integrate’s system is based on a transactional charge, according to Bartlett.
Emkay implemented the system in August 2012 and it is now standard operating procedure for the 90,000 fleet vehicles the company currently manages.
Anatomy of an E-Authorization
Emkay has been working with dozens of independent shops to transact successfully through the Auto Integrate system. The FMC said it sees the real benefits of the system to be seen when the larger national accounts to begin using the system. Sears is first in line.
According to Fontana, a typical fleet maintenance e-authorization transaction begins with a shop contacting Emkay that it has one of its vehicles in for service. An Emkay advisor will pull up the particulars and maintenance history of the fleet vehicle that has come in for repairs. As the shop describes the issue, the advisor is matching it to 4,800 repair codes, which are designed to give line-item detail both in terms of labor and parts cost.
The result of this approach is much greater granularity in detail, according to Fontana. “It gives us some pretty good horsepower for reporting and budgeting capability,” he said.
And, as the needs of Emkay and its fleet customers evolve, the Auto Integrate system can change with them, according to Bartlett.
“By starting from scratch with our own development team, it’s very easy for us to add downtime management and breakdown systems; it’s all to enhance the customer service experience as well,” he said.
Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of the Auto Integrate system is that authorizations are easier to approve, according to Fontana. And, with that, drivers and vehicles are getting back on the road faster.
One of the biggest headaches of the old telephone-only systems was billing disputes on the back-end. According to Bartlett, the Auto Integrate system has eliminated this headache.
Ironically, while e-authorization is making maintenance more efficient, it has also made it more complex, because of the added level of detail, but that isn’t a negative.
“It is more involved for the advisors, but, at the end of the day, it makes the job of what’s going on with the vehicle a lot easier for clients to understand,” Fontana said.
While drivers and vehicles are getting back on the road faster and back to the job at hand, that’s only the immediate benefit of Auto Integrate’s system. The greater transaction detail helps Emkay’s commercial fleet clients identify patterns related to vehicles and drivers, according to Fontana.
Tepas sees nothing but wins for Auto Integrate and e-authorization in general. “Fleet companies and maintenance shops will gain tremendous efficiencies from this platform, but the customer will be the ultimate beneficiary,” Tepas stated. “Controlling costs is simplified, and the time to approve a repair is dramatically reduced, which means drivers can be back on the road quicker. The Auto Integrate platform has an integrated pricing model allows for more time to be spent on the exceptions.”
Likewise, Santor of Sears sees e-authorziation transforming maintenance. “The more suppliers that are on this, the more FMCs will want to be on it. If everybody’s on it, then we all achieve great benefits. Of course, we’re happy to be first on it and lead the market for as long as we can, but I think eventually everybody will be on it and it will serve to improve U.S. fleet service,” he said.