We’ve all heard of the benefits that mobile technology can deliver in the service lane: a faster write-up process, more time spent with the customer and a streamlined workflow.
If you’re thinking about buying tablets for your service department, it’s important to know that the tablet you like for personal use may not be the best tablet for business use. Before implementing any new technology, taking the time up front to perform a needs-analysis will result in fewer frustrations and less money wasted.
The first step in a needs analysis is to figure out how your service staff will be using the tablets. Know the answers to these questions:
- Are you going to use the tablets strictly for writing RO’s, or do you want to run other applications on it? If so, which ones?
- Are you looking to buy tablets to replace PCs, or as an additional device to be used depending on the task?
- Which web browsers are compatible with your OEM websites and applications? Ideally you want your tablet to support an interface to your OEM as well as their mobile apps.
- Everyone assumes that you can just point and click with a tablet, but there are times when information will have to be manually typed in. Are you happy using the touchpad keyboard or would you like the option of adding a snap-on keyboard?
- Is your wireless network reliable? Regardless of which tablets you purchase, your dealership will need to have a fast network that doesn’t drop connections.
Once you know how you want to use your tablets, you can look at the different options available. Currently the tablet space is dominated by three architectures: iPad, Android and Windows. Here are some pros and cons of each:
The iPad was the first tablet to market and remains the most popular brand. It’s user-friendly and looks great. iPads have more apps designed for them than any other tablet. Just about every service vendor has a solution for the write-up process that works with the iPad.
However, if you want to do more on your tablets than write-ups, you may run into compatibility issues with business applications. The majority of dealerships still run on Windows PCs. iPads use the Safari web browser, which may not work with your OEM websites. In addition, iPads still demand a premium and are higher priced than other solutions.
Android OS tablets offer all the same features and benefits as the iPad at a less expensive price point.
Unfortunately, like the iPad, the Android OS tablets may not run the majority of the applications that you’re running in your dealership. Android uses Chrome as a web browser. Any web applications you use will have to work in Chrome.
Windows tablets are relatively new to the market and don’t carry quite the same cache as the other two tablet brands. Yet a Windows tablet is the only tablet that offers a true, viable replacement for a PC. With a dock and keyboard, a service writer can use the tablet at his desk like a PC, then take it with him to the service drive and continue to use all the same apps in tablet mode. Additionally, virtually all of the DMS solutions run in Windows, so every day tasks can be performed on the tablet, such as parts inquiries, sending e-mails and updating spreadsheets.
When considering Windows tablets, I would not recommend the cheaper “RT” version as they can’t run most Windows applications. If you’re going to go this route, choosing the more expensive version that can be used as a PC replacement or alternative. Though this tablet may be more expensive than either the iPad or Android, consider that these devices can be used in lieu of PCs so you won’t need new PC’s.
Both iPad and Android tablets are great if all you want to do is use tablets to greet people in the service lane and convert appointments to RO’s. But if you want a device that’s more fully compatible with your DMS, Windows-based applications and OEM applications, a Windows tablet may be the best option.
The Tablet and Your DMS
Some dealerships have experienced problems with how tablets interact with their DMS. Before deciding upon a brand of tablet, ask your DMS vendor what specific areas of the DMS will run on each tablet and ask to see demos if possible. Keep in mind that just because your vendor tells you certain DMS applications will run on a tablet, does not mean they will run very well.
The important thing to know is if the applications are remote or native. A native application is designed specifically to run on a tablet or mobile device. A remote application means that the application is running on your Windows PC, and you are using the tablet as a remote device that connects to the application. The problem with remote solutions is that Windows applications have never been designed to be touch-friendly, so the tablet connections and interfaces can be slow and cumbersome. Not only that but accessing applications remotely requires the use of a dedicated PC, which means that even if a service writer is in the service lane with his tablet, nobody else can use his PC.
Design of the Service Lane
Another consideration before implementing tablets is how your service lane is designed. Like any other technology, tablets won’t deliver any of the promised benefits unless they are used. Creating a tablet-friendly atmosphere in your service lane is helpful towards achieving this goal.
Having one of more flat surfaces at standing height is important, so if someone needs to enter data, they can quickly set the tablet on a stand and type in what they need to (consider having a couple of stands and keyboards for this purpose).
How often do your service writers pop open a hood to take a look at the engine? Where do they set the tablet? Do you install a stand nearby for them to set it on, or have some type of belt or holder to tuck the tablet into?
Is your service drive uncovered? Using a tablet in the rain or snow can be tricky. Tablets are designed for indoor use and don’t incorporate Gorilla glass or other rugged features like the Toughbooks used by cable and UPS workers. Therefore, installing a cover to prevent tablets from getting wet may be a good idea. Also, touch screens have difficulty sensing cold or wet fingers. Providing staff with touch screen gloves made with conductive fabrics can alleviate this problem.
To decide which tablet is right for your dealership, create a needs list and research which operating system and web browser are the most compatible with your OEM and DMS applications. Choosing a tablet based on meeting business objectives rather than personal preference will deliver the most benefits to your service department.