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Published on March 27, 2000

Single standard the best for all

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Independent tire dealers and owners of auto repair shops need all the computing firepower they can muster to survive in the fast-paced, competitive automotive service market. They don't need incompatible equipment in their shops that can't work together to assemble the information they require to better serve customers.

That's why it's so significant that two competing groups—which independently developed industrywide communications specifications for computerized shop equipment—finally are cooperating.

This effort is being spearheaded by the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA), which is taking the "best of both worlds" to produce one standard it hopes will be used worldwide.

The AAIA's work will make it easier for any auto service business to buy equipment, software and computers that can work in harmony.

The competing organizations—the Enterprise Alliance, a coalition of equipment and software companies, and another group led by Snap-on Corp.—recognized several years ago the need for seamless communication among the different computers in shops.

Working independently, they both succeeded, using different approaches.

Unfortunately, their solutions weren't compatible—a situation akin to the beta and VHS video cassette recorders that came to market simultaneously several years ago. Both systems worked just fine, but were not interchangeable, resulting in confusion for consumers.

Those who bought the wrong equipment, in this case the betas, wound up with severely limited systems that eventually ended up being sold at garage sales for pennies on the dollar.

The same scenario could have happened to many computer systems for auto repair shops had the AAIA not stepped in.

This is clearly a case where an industrywide standard is more important than one group's individual gain.

Without one standard, tire dealerships and repair shops could continue to have a hodge-podge of expensive computerized equipment—as many do now—that can't "talk" with each other. In this computer age, that puts some of these businesses at a competitive disadvantage.

Interconnectivity among a dealership's computers adds to the usefulness of service equipment and allows the business owner to track and record valuable information on customers' vehicles.

It's something dealers need to keep in mind when purchasing computers and equipment.

But for now, dealers and independent auto repair shops should be thankful that two competing groups, with the AAIA's help, have chosen to put the welfare of the industry ahead of their own.

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