Working on cars is rarely straightforward, even for professionals. A new workshop management system named Bayley promises to make technicians’ lives easier and help them work faster, all while shortening service times and allowing management to oversee work more efficiently. It sounds like sunshine and roses to some, but this did ring some alarm bells in the offices of The Garage. I decided to dive deeper into what this means for the auto repair business.
Bayley is like a central nervous system for a repair bay. It’s a combination of hardware and software designed to make automotive service departments run more efficiently.
The way the system works is relatively simple. Each service bay has a tablet and sensors that detect the entry time and exit time or every single car. This data is sent to the central brain at the Service Manager’s desk. Bayley’s trick is breaking that data down for both technicians and folks at the service desk to allow everybody to clearly track how long a car is in the bay and the processes that keep it there. For example, the time between the service advisor generating a repair order and the car rolling into the bay. Or the time it takes to get parts from the parts department. Bayley makes attempts to focus on the time-wasting parts of the process, but the lingering concerns of overworking techs still feels like a real looming issue.
This technology is one of the first of its kind that I’m aware of and it has the potential to be a decent step forward for the future of auto repair shops. It also seems like it has the potential to backfire.
“Technicians, the last thing they need is another big brother in the bay with him looking over their shoulder.” Joe Williams, Instructor at the University of Northern Ohio’s Applied Technologies technical college, said in a phone call.
The auto repair business is one that is often difficult to parse, even if the tasks are repeatable and trainable. Any number of obstacles like rust, stripped bolts, stripped threads, or unrelated parts breaking during service can be quicksand for even the most light-footed of techs.
“When I started researching this, a lot of red flags started jumping up at me,” Williams said.
Auto repair as an industry has its share of problems, mostly with labor and turnover. It’s a tough business that is driven by speed, often sacrificing quality in the name of getting another car into a service bay. It can be ruthless, especially with management that doesn’t necessarily understand the unique demands of working on a car. It’s exactly like the classic “cheap, fast, quality, pick two” pyramid. There is no way to have cake and eat it too in the auto repair business.
Jean Preis, a Jaguar/Land Rover master technician and workshop foreman with more than 33 years of experience, also expressed doubt.
“I'm not a fan of pushing productivity on commission people,” he said. “Most of us are at our limit, and further prodding just induces more errors. My favorite metaphor is: How many corners do you need to cut to pay for a $25,000 engine because someone left a drain plug loose?”
Running an effective shop starts with good management. In a typical repair shop, the two most important people are the service advisor and the technician. The service advisor directly interacts with the customers, advises them on repairs, and generates a repair order that is delivered to the technician. Once the order is in, it’s up to the tech to do the job in a certain amount of time, usually called book time. Depending on how the tech is paid, there can be an incentive to finish the job faster than book time. This is called flat-rate pay. It’s very rare that techs are paid hourly and much more common that techs get a flat rate, even with contracted workers.
What Bayley is focusing on is this communication gap between the service advisor and technician. Service advisors generally want cars moving in and out of service bays, and technicians generally need time to do a job right, including time for proper diagnosis and random roadblocks like stripped bolts and rust. By nature, these two jobs are at loggerheads. That’s where Bayley tries to step in.
“We're looking at ways that things can be automated, whether it's using new technologies that can automate a lot of these things and be independent of some human input,” CEO of Shyft Auto and founder of Bayley Marcus Aman said. “There's a lot of data in the service department. Why wouldn't we capture that so they can understand their business better?”
Aman is a veteran of the auto repair business on the management side of the shop. He started as a service advisor, became service manager, then became fixed operations director for 14 years with the Hendrick dealer group. To start Bayley, he quit his job and assembled a team to see out his vision for auto repair. Aman also did not claim to have any experience as a technician on the shop floor.
“Ultimately, for flat-rate technicians, if they are more efficient on the jobs, they make more money … we [still] want him to fix the cars properly the first time.” Aman said. “It's understanding what your real capacity is by day, but also your technician capacity … if you have enough technicians there to handle 60 appointments, but [the service manager] is trying to cram another 10 opponents in, [Bayley] will say, look, you got the capacity for 60, that's all you can handle based on the technicians that you have working on Friday.”
Bayley also has a Technician Advisory Board. “Bayley was actually built around feedback from [the board],” Aman said. This is certainly encouraging, as are some of the technician-centric features and the passive measures against overscheduling. On the same tablet that displays time information about the service, techs can also summon service information about the car in the bay with detailed repair information like electrical diagrams, visual repair guides, and its full service history with that particular shop. For smaller shops that could use more up-to-date and accessible service data, this would be a game changer.
For a professional, this is more of an added convenience. Service literature at the major dealerships that Bayley aims for is much easier to come by. In fact, Bayley is only installed at repair shops with more than five service bays. It is not designed for the greasy wrench two-bay shop around the corner, nor would it make a huge difference there. The management styles and methods are fundamentally different. Time is easier to manage at a small shop and much harder to track at a large one. One of the more interesting features of Bayley is the gamification of the repair process with an algorithmically generated leaderboard system, though it does have limits.
“We have a leaderboard system in an algorithm … technicians have the ability to put jobs as specific labor operations on hold, and they could select the reasons why they have them on hold.”
Basically, technicians with a shop are put in a form of competition with one another. The health of this depends on the culture of the shop, but the inclusion of this leaderboard is interesting, even with its accommodation for stripped bolts, rust, or things generally outside of a technician’s control.
Although some healthy competition can be good, using a leaderboard in a team environment could have a negative impact. It certainly seems like an incentive to work faster, and it’s unclear if the algorithm considers repair quality metrics like return repairs. The balance with Bayley is interesting. It swings between a management tool that commodifies technicians and a tool for technicians to empower themselves. With the detailed breakdown of bay time, techs can hold other folks at the dealership accountable. But service managers can still put the squeeze on technicians for their time spent actually repairing the car. The person that benefits the most from Bayley seems to be the customer.
“It's like a pizza tracker for consumers, so they have transparency of where their cars are in the process,” Aman said.
Anyone who has had a car repaired at a shop knows it’s a lot of waiting, even more dreaming, and plenty of frantic phone calls looking for information. Bayley offering this information at the customer’s fingertips is one of the most interesting and valuable real-world features of the program. Even for the question marks around the technician-management relationship, the grand overview of auto repair for the customer has always been missing. This presents an interesting opportunity.
Ultimately, Bayley is a business tool created by someone with a management vision. It can have benefits for the technician, but it is designed as a way to study metrics and apply numbers to an organic business. Auto repair takes real diagnostic skill and puzzle-solving wit. No stopwatch can tell the great technicians apart from the good. Whether this is the future of auto repair shops is yet to be seen, but there is no doubt that shops will become more connected than ever before. Bayley might be one of the first, but it will not be the last.