Manheim, the nation's largest auto-auction company, is spending $100 million over three years to give every aspect of its operations a high-tech makeover.
The project aims to use technology to redesign processes and jobs to enable employees to spend more time with customers, said Janet Barnard, COO of Manheim North America. Manheim's goal: to deliver a better experience to its customers and to better position its business for the future.
"It will make things easier, faster and more efficient for our customers; it will also do that for our employees," said Barn-ard. "Quite a few of the tools that are being designed can face the employee and turn around and face the customer as well."
After the changes, customers will be able to choose whether to have Manheim employees continue to do certain tasks or do those tasks on their own.
"Customers will have options about how high-touch or low-touch they want to interact with us. But the tools will be in place to be fully self-service if that's what you want," Barnard said. To make that possible, performing certain tasks will become so intuitive that "it doesn't require training," she said.
Barnard said planning started last year, before the three-year makeover launched this year. It includes employee responsibilities and operations at Manheim's physical sites and online channels such as OVE.com. Later, it will include other digital automotive marketing and software properties under the Cox Automotive brand. Cox Automotive is owned by Cox Enterprises Inc., of which Manheim is a subsidiary.
The first stage of the makeover, now underway, has been dubbed "gavel to gate" and covers all steps of the auction process "from the time the hammer falls" until the vehicle changes ownership, whether that's leaving the auction site or leaving a seller's lot in the case of an online transaction, Barnard said.
Two examples illustrate the kinds of changes in the works.
First, consider the van drivers at Manheim physical auctions who shuttle, from Car A to Car B, the staffers who drive each of those cars through the lanes. Today, those van drivers spend a fair amount of time waiting for the list of cars and drivers they'll be dealing with and then have to figure out how to set up their routes to accommodate several drivers on each trip.
Manheim is designing a tool for mobile devices that will give its van drivers an electronic list of the vehicles to be moved, replacing the current paper lists, as well as the most efficient routes to take.
The route guidance is a form of a narrow-confines navigation system and is similar to the system that UPS of America Inc. uses to plot the most efficient routes for its delivery vans, avoiding, for example, time-wasting left turns in traffic.
Barnard freely admits that this tool, along with some of the others Manheim is working on, won't rely on proprietary software. "The technologies are out there and available," she said. "We don't have to reinvent the wheel."
Second, consider the task of setting up an auction sale.
Imagine a lane that will run 100 vehicles from three consignors: 40 from Company X, and 30 each from Companies Y and Z. Before, a Manheim employee slotted each car and truck in order, assigning each a number from one to 100. But if Company X called to say it now plans to offer 45 vehicles, the employee had to manually renumber vehicles 46 through, now, 105 individually.
Automating that task was the first tool created as part of the effort to re-engineer all processes. Now, the numbered list appears on a computer screen that allows users to "drag and drop" changes in the order of sales, making it easy to insert newcomers anywhere on the list. It has reduced the task of setting up an auction sale to two hours from two days previously, Barnard said, and already is in use at all Manheim physical auctions by employees in the company's dealer services group.
Moreover, at some point, consignors will have the choice of having Manheim staffers do this or do it themselves, taking charge of the order in which their vehicles are sold. Barnard compared the concept to fliers choosing their own seats through the airlines' websites.
Barnard was especially pleased by how quickly the tool was built and adopted by the auctions.
It was created in six weeks, all in the cloud, "by our developer sitting in the cubicle next to employees performing the task," Barnard said. "He created a prototype and showed it to the people doing the job to get their input along the way."
The changes are being tested and rolled out across Manheim's sites and platforms, so as not to overload one location.
Barnard's duties include overseeing Manheim's operations, sales and information technology functions. She joined Manheim in 2012 after having served as general manager for Cox Communications' central region.
Six months into her new job, Barnard spent two weeks at a Manheim physical auction watching employees do their jobs. She was struck by how much "heads-down time" she saw, with staffers manually inputting data and shuffling paper. She decided that had to change.
Said Barnard: "We want to get them heads-up -- out from behind the counter and out from behind the desk and interacting with our customers, educating them, coaching them and answering questions."