Such advantages require modern computer networks and good Wi-Fi coverage, says Gregg Manson, vice president of performance management at Xtime in Redwood City, Calif.
When wireless tools don't work properly or run slowly, Manson told Fixed Ops Journal, "the perception is the tool is failing, when it's not the tool at all. It's the infrastructure at the store."
Manson describes working with a new client last year, a dealership he did not name. Its pipe, or main broadband Internet connection, transferred 5 megabits of data per second -- a slow speed.
"The pipe coming into the store may have been brought in maybe six or seven years ago," Manson says. At that bandwidth, he adds, Xtime's products wouldn't run smoothly, and would require an upgrade in connection speed.
Erik Nachbahr, president of Helion Automotive Technologies, an information technology provider in Timonium, Md., recommends that his dealership clients upgrade from a broadband to a fiber-optic Internet connection.
Fiber-optic installation represents an initial expense. But Nachbahr says that such connections, which cost about $1,200 to $2,000 a month, often replace multiple older, slower broadband lines costing similar amounts.
For the bandwidth of the pipe to reach connected devices, Nachbahr says, it must pass through switches and Wi-Fi access points, which have separate costs and shelf lives.
Some automakers and dealership management systems recommend or require specific network equipment, such as cloud-based products from Cisco Meraki, an information technology company in San Francisco. At the least, they say, dealerships should opt for enterprise products, rather than consumer products intended for home use.
Enterprise-grade switches typically cost a dealership between $1,800 and $3,500. Wireless access points can run $400 to $1,000 apiece. Such cloud-managed products allow even novice users to control and monitor network traffic efficiently, analysts say, adding that dealerships also must consider the density and location of access points.
"You can tell where a 40-bay shop used to be a 24-bay shop," says Cole Balderson, senior financial officer at Ourisman Automotive of Virginia. The company, a regional unit of Ourisman Automotive Group, upgraded wireless networks at each of its six dealerships in 2016.
"The structure can actually interfere with the signal, which means you have to add more access points," Balderson says. Otherwise, he warns, wireless tools -- not only tablet computers but also diagnostic service equipment -- will be of limited use or will run slowly.
For a service lane, peak capacity is often determined by the increasing number of engine control unit updates that technicians perform, Balderson says.
Wayne Kronstadt, corporate operations manager of the Len Stoler Automotive Group, recalls that because of sluggish technology, "we got a lot of employee complaints about things running slow, particularly during peak periods" of service activity. The Owings Mills, Md., group operates nine dealerships in Maryland and New York.
"When customers have to wait too long to be written up, it reflects on your [customer service index] numbers and the customers' general demeanor," Kronstadt says. "That doesn't set the stage to satisfy them or upsell something they may need."
The Stoler group updated its IT infrastructure in 2015, expanding bandwidth and network speed. The company's collision business has become a test laboratory for tablet-based tools, Kronstadt says.