"Erick Bickett Syndrome" can drive service managers crazy The Internet finally may be offering a cure for the "Erick Bickett Syndrome."

If you're not familiar with the malady, it affects collision repair shop managers who end up with multiple computerized estimating systems because various insurers with whom they do business may each require different systems.

For instance: The shop gets an Automated Data Processing (ADP) estimating system to meet one insurance company's direct repair program requirements, and a CCC Information Systems estimating product to participate in another program, and maybe even a Mitchell International system for a third insurer's direct repair program.

The "syndrome" first was documented in the early 1990s and jokingly named after independent shop owner Erick Bickett, whose Los Angeles shop had a half dozen computer systems at one point.

The syndrome affects Bill Davis, collision repair manager at Tom Wood Ford in Indianapolis, IN. His shop has two estimating systems, one of which he doesn't even like.

He says, "If I had a choice, I frankly wouldn't give a dime for the one system. The other is much easier and faster to use. But certain insurance companies want us to write estimates on their system of choice, so if you want to be on their direct repair program, you've got to have it.

"That's the only reason I have the second system: to keep that insurance company's referrals and direct repair work. If I was off that program tomorrow, I would get rid of that second estimating system tomorrow."

Jim Bacon, manager of the Dick Hannah Auto Mall Collision Center in Vancouver, WA, decided it wasn't worth trying to meet every insurers' referral program requirements.

"We had multiple estimating systems, but it's just too confusing to have more than one," Mr. Bacon says. "Most of the major insurance companies in our area wanted the same system, so that's the one we kept. It just came down to the math: Some of these software leases for support and updates are $1,000 a month, and it's not cost-effective."

But the Internet may offer some relief for Mr. Davis, Mr. Bacon and other shop managers trying to cope with "Erick Bickett Syndrome."

One way the web helps estimate writing is by eliminating the need to even have estimating software on your shop computer at all.

Mitchell International recently announced FirstEstimate.com, a web site that allows shops to use the Mitchell estimating system online. Rather than leasing Mitchell software to load and run on the computer in your shop, you simply point your web browser to the FirstEstimate.com web site.

Once there, you'll enter the vehicle identification number (VIN) and owner information for the damaged automobile. You then enter the appropriate labor and tax rates, and write your estimate, adding the parts you need by selecting them from icons and text lists provided.

FirstEstimate.com isn't the ideal solution for every shop. Although the service is free during an introductory period, users eventually pay a $13.95 per estimate fee to use FirstEstimate.com. And if you have a standard dial-up modem connection to the Internet - rather that a speedier DSL or cable modem connection - the process can be slow.

But for shops that haven't yet made the move to computerized estimating - or that only need to prepare a limited number of Mitchell-based estimates - it offers a fairly easy low-cost option.

Although FirstEstimate.com demonstrates one way computerized estimating is changing, it wouldn't completely resolve the issue of needing more than one system to meet insurer requirements. But the Collision Industry Electronic Commerce Association (CIECA) hopes to.

CIECA has brought together representatives of the estimating system providers, repair shops and nine of the top 10 insurance companies to develop standards for software and systems to improve the electronic communication among the players in the collision industry.

Roger Cadaret, CIECA's executive director, says the organization has developed standard formats for how the data in an estimate or repair assignment is organized when it's transmitted between a shop's computer and an insurer. As Mitchell, ADP and CCC adopt these standards into their products, Mr. Cadaret says, the need for a shop and insurer to be using the same brand of system will be eliminated.

But getting three competitors to adopt such standards can be difficult. That's where the Internet comes in. Georgia-based ComputerLogic, for example, says it has an Internet-based system that allows a shop and an insurer to electronically exchange estimate information, no matter which of the three major software systems either is using.

"Let's say a repair facility is using a CCC estimating system," explains Robert Hardy, vice president of corporate development for ComputerLogic. "And let's say the insurance company (or independent field adjuster or other company representing the insurance company) is on ADP or Mitchell. Our system doesn't care. Our system receives the CCC estimate data from the shop and transmits it via the Internet. Then at the receiving end, it displays the CCC data in an ADP or Mitchell format, along with images and notes. The body shop now only needs one estimating system."

Mr. Hardy says shop owners pay no fee to use the ComputerLogic "AutoVista Claims" system. The insurer contracts with ComputerLogic for use of AutoVista Claims and pays a fee for each repair assignment processed through the system.

"But the strength of ClaimsPro is that the insurance company, field adjusters, and repair facilities don't have to change their hardware, their software or their estimating databases," Mr. Hardy says. "The capital investment they have today is protected. And the system is totally secure through user passwords and 128-bit encryption."

ComputerLogic is not the only company looking to use the Internet to link shops, insurers and other suppliers. Mr. Davis, for one, is eager to have this new technology reduce the problem of a shop being ineligible for an insurer's direct repair program because it has one estimating system but not another.

"They really need to get all these estimating companies together at the table to eliminate the problem because it's really affecting shops," he says.

Redwood Shores, CA-based Ensera Inc. is partnering with BASF's Automotive Re-finish Group to automate the marketplace process for the automotive collision repair industry.

"BASF is becoming a major participant in our online collision repair community," says Tony Aquila, Ensera's CEO and founder, noting that it further reinforces the value and power of Ensera's Internet-based system for suppliers to the industry. "The automotive refinishing group is extending its partnership with us to include an agreement to purchase web development services from Ensera and to work with us to forge agreements with their new and existing repair facility and jobber customers nationally."

This agreement allows BASF's existing partners to leverage the power of the Internet via Ensera's advanced technology enabling better communication among participants in their distribution channel.

Participants in BASF's ColorSource program can now utilize web sites hosted to communicate valuable product information and utilize e-mail capability. BASF will receive preferred placement in the supplier sections of Ensera's online community, as well as other branding opportunities. Ensera's approach to the automotive repair claims process allows all the commercial participants and their consumers to transact, exchange, and share information easily via the Internet, thus reducing costs, repair cycle times and improving customer service.

PartsAmerica.com introduces an executive management team comprised of leaders from emerging technology companies and retail chains.

The team includes CEO Brian McDermott, Executive VP of Business Development and B2B Thomas Petit, CFO Abe Mirza, Marketing VP John Morel, Operations VP Michael Donohoe and Technology VP David Waxberg.

"Unlike so many Internet start-ups, we have espoused the long view," says Mr. McDermott. "We are simply applying the proven leadership, sound business techniques and solid business management of a successful retail business and serving it up on the Internet to improve the auto parts buying process.

BVerticals of Corte Madera, CA, says RaceSearch.com is providing performance parts and accessories on the PickupTruck.com site. The Internet's top pickup truck enthusiast site now contains an e-commerce component eventually offering more than 100,000 part numbers.

"BVerticals is working to create the best enthusiast sites possible by developing leading content and community capabilities," says Jack Saltiel, president of RaceSearch.com. "Their leadership in the pickup community and the site's OEM relationships make this a natural for us."

BVerticals plans to expand the RaceSearch.com offering to the rest of its sites in the first quarter of 2001. Other BVerticals sites include AudiWorld.com, VWVortex.com, and SwedeSpeed.com.