Electronic Pen Streamlines Invoicing

By by William Atkinson — November 30, 2010

Carmedic provides automotive repair services, specializing in paintless dent removal. Customers are car dealers, body shops, insurance companies, and retail customers.
"We have mobile units that visit customer homes to take out minor dents, hail damage, etc.," explains Dan Binkley, president.
The company, founded in 1992 and now with over 110 full-time employees, has about 90 outlets in 24 states.
The company handles about 80,000 invoices a year. All invoices are processed at the company's operational center near St. Louis. Until recently, the system was manual. Each Friday, one person at each outlet would collect the invoices from that week, put them into a UPS envelope or overnight post office envelope, and forward them to headquarters, which would usually receive them the following Monday or Tuesday.
The invoices would then be manually entered into the accounting system. However, the manual system was fraught with problems. The company was expanding, and there were increasing issues with this system:
--One was that the handwritten work order information being sent to the corporate office took a long time to create in the field. It also took a long time to process at corporate in terms of data entry and filing. This led to wasted time by technicians and office employees.
--There were also problems with invoice accuracy due to the transfer of information from the paperwork to the office's computer system. This, combined with the time it took the paperwork in transit from the field to the office, caused a delay in sending invoices to customers.
--Of even greater concern, though, was the fact that some of the paperwork was actually lost, meaning that some invoices were never sent. In some instances, field technicians or office employees misplaced paperwork.
"In most cases, though, the losses occurred during transit from the field to our office," explains Binkley.
Transition challenges
Carmedic wanted to streamline the invoicing process to make it more complete, accurate, and timely, using an electronic solution. However, at the time, all of the techs in the field were on different mobile devices and services. The company wanted to consolidate with one service provider that would be linked to whatever hardware the company chose.
Another challenge was that each of the paper invoices had an "exploded" view of the car on it. This is where the field tech would mark the damage to the car for the records. This data needed to be captured, along with the more mainstream data such as customer name, address, etc.
Electronics to the rescue
To help Carmedic with these challenges, Verizon Wireless, which provides BlackBerry phone and mobile data service to Carmedic, introduced the idea of "digital paper." Digital paper allows Carmedic to keep the same processes they had been using, so they didn't have to retrain their techs in a new process to identify damage on the car.
Part of the solution involved introducing technology from Anoto. Anoto offers digital pen and paper technology that it licenses to ExpeData, a software company specializing in digital writing solutions.
ExpeData's platform leverages Anoto's technology to allow companies to capture handwritten information in real time and convert it to standard data formats for use with back-end business applications.
The digital writing solution allows users to provide information by writing on paper documents with a digital pen. The handwriting captured on the form is routed in near-real time by a digital writing server using wireless mobile devices or PCs. The information is converted into electronic data in industry-standard formats and sent to downstream systems for immediate use. A duplicate (original) image of the handwritten document is stored and retrieved electronically as needed, eliminating the need for long-term storage of paper documents. However, paper originals are available as backup for disaster recovery or technology failures.
Carmedic deployed the solution in January 2009. Approximately 100 mobile field technicians use the solution today.
The one-time cost of implementation was approximately $700 per technician, according to Binkley. ROI was achieved in less than six months after full deployment.
Benefits have been seen in four areas: time, accuracy, service, and cost.
Time: Handwritten information is received by Carmedic headquarters within seconds of processing by field technicians. The paper originals remain with the technicians. The electronic invoices are now sent through the tech's phones. "The technicians forward the invoices at the end of each job, rather than batching a week's worth at the end of the week," explains Binkley. "As they are writing the invoices, they press 'Submit,' and the information is immediately forwarded to our corporate office."
Accuracy: Data entry time is significantly reduced or eliminated, and the electronic handwritten information is converted to data with high accuracy. The integration of digital writing enables the handwritten information to be converted into data in a single format and flow seamlessly into Quickbooks with higher accuracy than previous manual data entry.
Service: Customer inquiries can be addressed immediately, since the information is accessible in the system without the delay with mailing. Online accessibility of the information simplifies the job of employees who need to look up information in response to customer inquiries. Field staff can therefore answer questions more quickly, which has improved productivity.
Cost: One of the most significant benefits relates to the cost savings that continue to accrue by no longer having to send actual packages to the corporate office via UPS or the post office. Related savings accrue as a result of the time employees save that was once spent preparing and dropping off the packages for shipment. The savings here is approximately 4 hours per month per technician.
Lost paperwork has also been eliminated, which improves the capture of revenue that was once unable to be collected due to lost paperwork. More specifically, about 1% of documents were lost and never invoiced, so the new technology has led to a 1% increase in invoicing and revenue.
The accelerated data entry and information flow also compress the invoicing generation cycle time by one week. It used to take a week or more between the time a technician performed a job and an invoice was actually sent to the customer.
"Now, all of that occurs within just a few seconds," states Binkley.
Obviously, the more timely invoicing process improves cash flow for the company.


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