Collision repairs may require dozens upon dozens of different parts to return a wrecked bike to its previous condition. During the wreck repair project it's not unusual for a technician or parts pro to invest two to three hours just creating the estimate of repairs. Then there's the insurance approval process that can stop and start several times as the adjustor works on the case.
The old-fashioned way to do collision repairs includes pouring through a parts book or microfiche and then handwriting the quantity, part number, part description and labor on the estimate form. Then the insurance adjuster comes out and approves, disapproves or revises. Eventually the shop gets started on the repair. At that point all the part numbers have to be keyed into the parts order entry system — whatever that is.
The automotive industry doesn't do it this way anymore, and why should we?
To the Rescue
Enter the world of computers and software and Mitchell International, which for more than 50 years has been providing workflow and performance management systems for the automotive insurance claims industry — and, as of just a few years ago, the motorcycle industry, as well.
Mitchell's proprietary software, the UltraMate Advanced Estimating System, has a motorcycle component to it that covers bikes made by BMW, Buell, Harley-Davidson, Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha. Its database includes more than 1,200 make/year/models going back to 1992 for H-D and around 1998 for the others.
UltraMate covers about 95 percent of the projected motorcycle claims, says Paul Rosenstein, a senior executive with the company. More than 30 insurance carriers do motorcycle claims using the UltraMate software, and more than 50 Harley-Davidson dealers are subscribing to it.
The interest is growing rapidly, and just this August Mitchell International announced a sales-and-marketing partnership with Harley-Davidson. While Mitchell has exhibited at the Motor Co.'s dealer shows for the past couple of years, this extended relationship means enhanced access to factory parts and service information and factory dealer support from Harley-Davidson's SPOC (Single Point of Contact) team, which interfaces with dealerships daily. Harley is working on revising its Talon ES dealer management software so the UltraMate estimate can be exported to Talon ES for RO creation and parts management without rekeying the numbers. Mitchell expects all this to result in enhanced automation for dealers.
Here's an overview of how UltraMate works.
1) The user enters the VIN for the wrecked vehicle. UltraMate automatically decodes it and opens a window to the appropriate service section.
2) OE parts and accessories are listed in the model-specific section and displayed on exploded-view graphics. All the user has to do is double-click on the item needed. The software automatically adds the part number, description, retail price and the labor time (in tenths of an hour) to remove and replace it.
3) Parts-and-accessories groups are listed front to rear, just how most techs visually inspect for damages to the vehicle.
4) After the list is complete the user clicks the estimate icon to produce a document that can be printed for review or e-mailed to the insurance company.
The software offers several other functions not mentioned here, but I did take the collision estimating function for a test ride, and it was intuitive and easy to operate.
One Shop's Opinion
Wanting a more experienced perspective, I interviewed Jim Winter, manager of the Harley-Davidson and Buell collision center at Hal's Harley-Davidson in New Berlin, Wis. Winter was one of the pilot users for the software and played a key role in its shaping. He says a major benefit of the UltraMate program is its acceptance by large insurance companies like Geico and Progressive. Where prior to using UltraMate Winter might have to negotiate heavily to get an estimate approved, now it's a rarity that the big carriers even question it. The reason for this, cites Rosenstein, is the reputation Mitchell has earned doing business in the automotive industry for more than 50 years. Plus, its labor rates are realistic and defendable, he says.
Winter has been using the UltraMate program for more than three years. He likes the automatic VIN decode function that puts him into the right section without searching, the ease by which he can add or delete parts to the estimate, the automatic labor overlap correction (such as when replacing left and right forks instead of just one), and the accuracy of the labor rates. He said he rarely overrides the labor listed in the software.
I learned that the company uses factory service procedures and information received directly from the manufacturers (such as part number updates and pricing changes) to determine labor rates. Rosenstein says Mitchell has a clear understanding of the differences between a wreck repair and a warranty repair, and the company performs time and motion studies in shops around the country to validate R&R times in real-life conditions. In creating the Harley software, for example, Mitchell utilized six dealerships for the initial labor rates and continues to modify the program as new information presents itself from user feedback and additional time studies at two local shops.
Customer feedback from dealerships like Hal's is crucial to getting it right. Winter attests to that, telling me, "During the time we were using the pilot program I was on the phone regularly with the guys in San Diego [where Mitchell is located] working through issues. Now I don't know how I could do without it [UltraMate]."
While the choice to subscribe to UltraMate was a no-brainer for Winter, as his collision center handles 60 to 80 wrecks per year, the average shop may want to do a little more number crunching. The subscription costs $129 per month, the software allows one person to create a wreck estimate 50 percent to 75 percent faster than by hand, and as mentioned, more often than not major insurance carriers approve the estimates. Not too difficult a decision for shops doing more than a couple of wrecks per month. Add to that the software is updated monthly as part of the subscription benefits, and I think the decision is obvious.
Contact Mitchell International at (800) 238-9111, ext. 8508, or visit www.mitchell.com (click on "Products," then scroll down to "Ultramate Motorcycle").
Dave Koshollek teaches sales and service classes for dealership personnel. His career includes stints as a service manager, Dynojet VP and director of technical training at MMI. E-mail him at DAKOenterprises@cs.com.