Technology Newsmaker Q&A: Brian Johnson

Jan. 1, 2020
Brian Johnson is senior product marketing manager at ALLDATA and chairman of the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA) iSHOP technical committee.

Brian Johnson is senior product marketing manager at ALLDATA and chairman of the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA) iSHOP technical committee. He led the AAIA's "Shop of Tomorrow" demonstration at the recent AAPEX show in Las Vegas that included telematics technology.

Tell me about ALLDATA's support for telematics.

The notion of telematics, from our perspective, is the ability of that vehicle to communicate outbound to the end users that's driving the car and through them to the service shop that they have selected so everybody involved can do a better job of maintaining that vehicle.

As we showed in the demonstration at AAPEX, much like little device we had plugged into the Smart Car, a telematics device would ride on that vehicle 24/7, and report in any time the car has a problem, and what that problem appears to be.

ALLDATA is interested in a lot of areas of that. We could certainly design a little device that plugs into the OBDII connector. We could design the infrastructure to manage the relationship of the driver to the shop. Where we add most value, though, is from the information that comes off of that vehicle. A lot of companies can tell you what the diagnostic code means. Where we think we add value is in being able to couple that information coming off vehicle with the right information about what to do about it.

What is the business model for telematics in the aftermarket? How would it work?
That's the million-dollar question. The technology has not been a real challenge. The business model is always the challenge. What I believe has to happen is somebody needs to come up with one of these devices and get it into a model that can be sold to a shop for less than a hundred bucks. It's up to the shop how they want to do it, but they could take their top hundred customers, the people that come in regularly, or fleets that they take care of, and just give those boxes away. Take it right out of the marketing budget. I would pay the monthly fees to get those reports, and those customers would get reports from the garage.

They say the best customer is one you've already got. If I can give that customer peace of mind, but also a technologically advanced solution that shows them that these guys know what's going on, then even though they've always trusted me with their '97 Taurus, now that they've bought a BMW, they'll know I can handle it.

If the price gets close to what I'm talking about, they could at least outfit a percentage of their customers with those services and use it as marketing tool to drive those vehicles back into the shop. I don't think vehicle owners are going to spend a lot of money for it. I think OnStar has proven that.

What were some of the most interesting technology developments you saw at AAPEX?

We had a lot of positive feedback on the Shop of Tomorrow presentation. The people seem to be gravitating toward the notion that it does make a lot of sense for equipment throughout shop to be sharing information and creating a more efficient processes.

There have been a lot of forecasts that the DIY market is going to go away, but I saw a lot of gadgets and widgets that indicate that isn't the case. Even at ALLDATA, we have our own DIY product. We don't want to isolate the hobbyists or force them to go see a professional. Our numbers suggest that DIYers are still a strong market.

How is economy impacting technology investment in the aftermarket?

My sense is that a lot of companies are hunkered own and have slowed on technology investments. Depending on your specific company's financial state, you do what you have to do. I also see other companies that are taking advantage of the economy and using that as an opportunity to invest in areas that they think they can grab some niche advantages.

Not every company has the luxury of being able to do that. But at times like these, people running the companies that are going to thrive in next few years are making investments that will position them to take advantage of the recovery.

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