Technology Newsmaker Q&A: Chip Keen

Jan. 1, 2020
Chip Keen is the founder and co-owner of Garage Operator, which provides shop management software.

Chip Keen is the founder and co-owner of Garage Operator, which provides shop management software. He started his technology company in 1985 after operating a four-bay auto repair shop on Puget Sound for ten years. The company participated in the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association's "Shop of Tomorrow" display at the 2009 AAPEX conference.

Tell me about Garage Operator's role in the "Shop of Tomorrow" presentation.

Garage Operator was the shop management system, and we support the iSHOP interoperability standard. It stores the customer, vehicle and repair order information, so the other iSHOP clients are able to access that on demand and then interact with it. For example, the Hunter alignment system can pull up the repair orders that are specified for alignments. The technician then can select which one of those to work on. As soon as that's done, the client asks for more specific vehicle information, all based on the AAIA standards, so the technician doing the alignment doesn't have to punch in all of that stuff. That saves a lot of time for the technician, and is also more accurate.

When the alignment is done, the display that captures what work was done is sent back to Garage Operator and stored there, where it can be pulled up for future reference.

How did the parts ordering component work?

The Shop of Tomorrow included the iSHOP and ACES standards, and the Internet Parts Ordering Standard. As part of the demo, Garage Operator ordered a part. We used the ALLDATA diagnostic client, the scan tool, to pug into the vehicle through a diagnostic link.

We have an integration with WHI. You click the Wrenchhead button, and it connects to the Nextpart catalog. The system passes the vehicle information to Wrenchhead, and then Wrenchhead says, "Here's the map sensor you need, but our local supplier doesn't have anything in stock." We demonstrated their ability to go out to the direct manufacturer.

There's a virtual inventory feature that utilizes the Internet Parts Ordering standard. That gives the service advisor what he or she needs to sell the job. They can tell the customer that the part is a day away and what it will cost.

So that's how it all ties together using the standards. It just brings this tremendous efficiency to the whole aftermarket supply chain, all the way down to the installer level, that we've never had before.

What will have to happen for shops to adopt this technology?

We need more shop management systems and more equipment manufacturers to adopt the standard and start using it. We need to inform the shop owners of what iSHOP enables them to do. One those efficiencies are made clear to people, it's bound to grow and people are going to demand it.

The shop owners who saw the demo really loved it. Right now, service advisors have to re-enter information all the time. It wastes time, and they are more likely to make mistakes. What WHI was demonstrating was being able to go up to the next tier in the supply chain. That's huge, because typically what would happen is that even if you had electronic parts ordering capability, if the supplier doesn't have it, you either have to look around at secondary suppliers to see what's out there, or pick up phone and call the primary supplier. The likelihood of something happening in that communication chain that would cause the wrong part number to get ordered is huge. You wind up getting a part after spending a lot of time talking to people, and it's not even the right part.

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