If there's one thing Joan Koebernick is mum about when it comes to shop software, it's what kind she uses at her dealership.
Ms. Koebernick, co-owner of Dakota-K Auto Repair and Tire Center in Arlington Heights and a member of the Automotive Service Association's board, helped ASA's AutoInc. publication craft questions for automotive service shop owners to ask software vendors before buying. But she doesn't reveal her own software selections because she encourages shop owners to know what would work best for them.
``They have to make their own decision,'' she told Tire Business.
That's not to say she thinks shopping for business software is a breeze. Ms. Koebernick said she became more involved in software issues in her tenure at ASA for one simple reason: frustration.
Shopping for software for Dakota-K, Ms. Koebernick encountered several hurdles when she was asking detailed questions about software packages.
``I can't be the only one that uses these things or wants these things,'' she said, remembering those instances.
So Ms. Koebernick, who joined her local ASA chapter in 1998 and has since joined the national board, felt that if she educated enough shop owners, software companies would have to be prepared to offer needed solutions and answers. She also teaches a course for the ASA's Automotive Management Institute titled, ``Automotive management software: What we should be asking for and utilizing in automotive management software.''
As shop owners begin their software search-which Ms. Koebernick said could last about three months-they should begin by listing all the features they want in the program. Owners should plan on an hour or so every evening for two to three weeks to research exactly what features are available now, since they may not be aware of recent advances.
``You need to look ahead a little bit. Not just look at what you do (now), but understand enough about what's out there so you can see that this might be something that would really help improve your business or improve your productivity,'' she said.
This research, she added, takes time but could save a bundle vs. jumping on a system that ultimately doesn't fit the business.
``What it costs an individual in time and training when they get a new software program and then it doesn't do what they need it to do, it's a waste, and it's a tremendous waste,'' Ms. Koebernick said.
A business owner also should rate the features wanted. For example, a five would go to features that the software absolutely must have, a one is something not that important and everything in between can vary.
Business owners then can e-mail, fax or mail the list of features to software vendors for those companies to respond back with appropriate packages. Ms. Koebernick warns, however, to make sure the two parties are defining everything the same. A price matrix, for example, can mean one thing to a tire dealer and another entirely to the software vendor.
Once the potential packages arrive, Ms. Koebernick suggests shop owners call references for their opinions on the software company and its products. The shop owner also should interview the vendor and ask pointed questions.
A question she considers particularly important concerns the software company's succession plans. A company Dakota-K used to buy from was bought by a competitor whose main mission was to take the software Dakota-K used off the market.
``There was no longer any support, and there were no updates,'' she recalled. ``So as technology changed we were dead in the water, and you can't do that to yourself.''
Another important consideration is whether the new program would allow the easy transfer of data in and out, so entire databases of customer history and marketing isn't lost in any transitions.
When a shop owner whittles down the list of candidates, he or she should then ask for a copy of the program to try it for a week, using actual data from that week's business, Ms. Koebernick suggested. Then users can see for themselves whether it's easy to navigate or will take endless training to conquer. Other shop owners using the same system also may be open to a ``software shadow''-where a potential user could visit that shop to see how the software works.
``That's time consuming because to do that you need to learn how to use the program,'' she said, though it's worth it, she added.
Ms. Koebernick, who founded Dakota-K 30 years ago with her husband Neil, said dealers who don't use computers should take the time to consider many of these same questions. Recent advancements-such as some programs that can access suppliers over the Internet for a paperless and input-less transaction-can save a lot of time, she said. They also help owners keep tabs on what they owe and where money's going.
``Computers cost you a lot of time, but they save a lot of time because of the information you get out of it,'' she explained.