In mid-2017, Audi announced its new A8 would be fully self-driving up to 40 miles per hour. Nissan is following suit with a full range of driverless vehicles by 2020.
Meanwhile, robots are performing surgery, computers are diagnosing cancer, and in late 2017 the news media began running articles and commentary on the ability of machines to replace teachers in the classroom.
Welcome to a world driven by Artificial Intelligence, commonly known as AI, where computers can learn and do problem solving. The technology that helped a computer beat a Grand Master at chess in 1997 is now helping drivers automatically parallel park their cars and avoid accidents, and will soon help drivers get around town without touching the steering wheel.
Being able to service this technology is critical for technicians, of course, and continuing training and education will be critical for survival in this industry.
But that’s not the point of this article.
Change has always been a way of life for technicians. Bluetooth is replacing cables and hoses just like sensors and computers replaced the carburetor. Technicians already know they need to keep learning.
The real change is coming for owners. For every early technology adopter, there are two more owners still doing tickets by hand, relying on word of mouth and comfortable with just getting by.
In this new world, teachers, drivers and surgeons are slowly being replaced by algorithms, and shop owners are unlikely to be the exception to the rule. If we don’t hurry up and use the tools and technology available to us to run our shops, somebody else will use that same technology to take our shops.
The mountain in front of us
A 2017 industry-wide survey conducted by a national automotive industry resource found that a full 32 percent of shops do not regularly track their important benchmarks. Of those that are regularly tracking, a full quarter of shop owners aren’t measuring the efficiency of technicians – a basic metric of measuring a team.
And, these numbers are worse than 2015! The industry could see and smell the smoke back in 2015…and rather than extinguish the problem, we decided to wait for the fire to burn itself out.
Even on the surface, this is a monumental problem. It is not less expensive now to operate a shop than it was two years ago, and will not be less expensive two years from now. Ignoring business metrics even in the best of times is suicide.
But this is far from the best of times for the independent shop owner.
I started off this article by talking about AI. Let me use it to bring this point straight to home.