Ten years ago, when a new automobile was introduced to the market, the repair of that vehicle was essentially the same as the previous year’s model.
“That’s no longer the case,” explained Jack Rozint, vice president of sales and service at Mitchell International. “New model vehicles are now likely to include computers and electronic systems that weren’t previously offered, and this means that new repair procedures are required. With the overriding challenge of the complexity of vehicles, at Mitchell we recognized the need to provide our customers with the latest vehicle information to help them deliver proper and safe repairs. It is our number one focus.”
As a result, the company has introduced a variety of products over the last year, particularly focusing on OEM repair procedures and how these are integrated into Mitchell’s suite of products. Concurrently, the company is moving its product suite to the cloud.
“With applications in the cloud, we give customers a greater level of flexibility that is much easier to work with than any desktop-based application---while we find greater scalability and an integration capability,” he said.
Autobody News talked to Rozint about Mitchell’s latest initiatives and how the company is helping body shops deliver proper and safe repairs.
Q: What are some of the new products Mitchell has introduced over the last year?
Rozint: We had three industry firsts this year. In addition to the Mitchell Diagnostics system and Mitchell Cloud Estimating, we had what I believe is the first artificial intelligence platform for the industry---Mitchell WorkCenter™ Assisted Review.
With Assisted Review, we use artificial intelligence---machine learning---to review photos of damage and give advice and guidance to humans to help them with claim reviews. It’s pretty interesting and exciting, although it’s a little scary for some people to think that a machine is going to be evaluating the images. What I ask people is, ‘Would you prefer a machine that has actually been proven to be more accurate in photo-based image processing and has been trained on 500,000 similar types of damage, or a human that may be new to the industry and has never seen a damaged panel exactly like the one you are submitting?’
We have been working with a company called Tractable. The project grew out of that company looking for good applications to apply artificial intelligence, especially with photo analysis, and how that might relate to the automotive claims process. The first iteration came out in the form of reviewing damaged panels and helping decide whether the panels should be repaired or replaced.
There are pros and cons to it, but I think that overall, it’s going to help [facilitate] more efficient processing of claims, which ultimately benefits everybody.
Q: With the changes in digital technology and using the cloud, what is the learning curve for shops?
Rozint: At Mitchell, we see that as our challenge: How do we build more powerful applications that are easier for our customers to use? That is really the ultimate goal of any good technology company. You want to make something that is intuitive and easy to learn, but you want it also to be very powerful, flexible, scalable and extensible, so that’s our design principle in everything we are doing.
Mitchell Diagnostics is a perfect example because it helps customers address repair issues with complicated vehicles. Because the application is in the cloud, it allows us to share data and information. We can enable a process that is more efficient for those repairing cars and processing claims. It’s so easy to use that virtually anybody with just five minutes of training can go out and do a pre-scan or a post-scan on a vehicle. You can do it without even opening the hood and without getting dirty. It’s a very simple and easy-to-use product. If you have the training and the willingness, it has the capabilities to do some amazing things---such as the recalibration of a Ford F-150’s lane departure system.
With Mitchell Cloud Estimating, we show users a four-minute training video, and we’ve seen them watch two minutes of that video and then start writing estimates. Then we come back a couple hours later, and they have written three or four estimates and are having a great time. There is literally no formal training required because anybody who is familiar with any estimating system can sit down with the new cloud product and get up to speed quickly. That’s a big deal, because there are people coming into the industry who don’t have 20 years of experience writing estimates.
Our goal is to put together the solutions that have depth and features underneath, and at the same time include a user interface that is intuitive, easy to understand and use and doesn’t require a lot of training.
Q: Congratulations on the recent launch of Program Freedom. What are some of the benefits you can share about this initiative?
Rozint: I’m really excited about Program Freedom. The complexity in our industry continues to grow almost exponentially. As a result, carriers are attempting to process claims more efficiently, because the insurance industry is competitive like never before. They are constantly looking at ways they can improve their policy holders’ service more cost effectively, and that leads to pressure on the collision industry to deliver more efficiently. Now we’re trying to deliver better service and repairs in an environment where the vehicle complexity is going through the roof. Each year’s models bring new challenges with repairability, whether it is recalibrating computers, bonding techniques, riveting, substrates, etc. It’s getting more complicated to repair vehicles today, which is requiring more training, equipment and tools.
Program Freedom is based on Mitchell’s cloud-based estimating and communications platform. Repair facilities can choose to share data via EMS or BMS and decide which data fields are shared with each partner. We think this is fundamentally critical to the industry.
In the past, shops have had the ability to share data with whomever they wanted. I believe the industry has benefited tremendously from being able to do that. At Mitchell, we think it should remain that way because it has worked well for the past 20 years, spawning innovation along the way.
That’s what Program Freedom is about at its core---it’s an alternative where you can continue to share data with program administrators and service providers on your terms, without the limitation of proprietary protocols and closed data networks. We’ve also made a commitment to the industry that we are not going to charge transaction fees for running your business using our data.
We believe Program Freedom offers collision repairers a higher level of control over their business data. When one dominant provider has the ability to control business transactions and data, it creates an environment that stifles competition, pricing goes up, and service goes down. We at Mitchell wanted to provide an alternative to that.
Q: Can you tell us about the new Mitchell Technical Research Center?
Rozint: We’ve had a technical research center for years in San Diego, only a mile and half from our main office. We recently moved it to a larger space. We manage all of our data in-house. We build our own database for parts and labor and conduct time studies and research into repair methods and techniques. When new vehicles are introduced to the market, we take them to our tech center and use a very sophisticated 3D laser system to measure them. The car is put up on a hoist and scanned in detail, so we can generate super precise measurements.
We also have a training room at the 2,940-square-foot tech center where association meetings are held, such as the ones hosted by the California Autobody Association.
Q: What can collision shops expect from Mitchell moving forward?
Rozint: In the industry right now, it’s simultaneously challenging and exciting because there is so much change. I’ve been in the industry for more than 30 years, and the pace of change is greater than anything I’ve ever seen.
It’s daunting at times for many people, and I understand that completely because repairs are getting more complicated. I also find it exciting because there is a lot of change. This gives us the opportunity to do things more efficiently.
We have a new management team in Mitchell’s Auto Physical Damage Solutions division, led by Debbie Day, plus some veterans who have been with the company for 20-plus years. We have a nice mix of people who have been at Mitchell a long time with a serious injection of new energy. There are some exciting things on the horizon.
We’ve been able to accomplish a lot this past year and have a lot more coming in terms of the latest generation of technology. Everything we do is to support collision shops in making proper and safe repairs.