The system could save thousands of pounds a year in management time and expenses. It centralises dealership functions such as used car buying, finance and insurance business management, crash repair authorisation, line management and systems training.
The system is being piloted at selected sites by Quicks, Sytner and Lancaster groups.
The development of Kerridge Video Conferencing is a personal crusade for John Bennett, a founding director and former chairman of Kerridge. Mr Bennett, who retired last year, said he found himself drawn back into the business by the untapped potential of the technology.
Kerridge has 50 video conferencing systems installed in its worldwide offices, slashing travelling costs and enabling management, training and systems development to be done remotely. The company's South African office is managed entirely from company headquarters in Newbury, Berkshire, and the software for a recent contract in Ireland was developed in South Africa with the engineers only travelling to Dublin for the final installation.
“Kerridge is the biggest supplier of management systems to dealerships and bodyshops in the UK,” said Mr Bennett. “We began to realise if we could integrate video conferencing with our existing products, we could make something that would interest the motor industry as a whole.”
Kerridge started by embedding Microsoft NetMeeting into the video system. This allows the operator to run software applications alongside the visual images coming over the conference link. It makes remote management, training and consultancy possible.
A more significant development came with the integration of ImageCom's remote video image capture technology. Now a manager sitting in a central location can direct and talk to a mobile camera operator who could be in a bodyshop, on a dealership forecourt or at a vehicle preparation centre.
Image quality is good enough to examine detail such as tyre tread depth or minor dents and scratches, and the manager can select specific images, enhance them and store them for future reference. At the same time they can be writing an insurance report, making a damage assessment or authorising a trade-in price.
The system is already in use in the insurance industry with several companies now moving to centralised assessors. Highly trained engineers, who previously dealt with only three or four cases a day and travelled hundreds of miles, are handling 12 to 15 minor cases a day, freeing up time and expertise for the more difficult 'write-off' decisions.
A wider role is envisaged in centralised used car buying, enabling accurate pricing and better stock balance – plus significant management cost savings.
Mr Bennett said: “A good used car buyer is not cheap, but these skills could be centralised. Imagine a multi-franchise group where the Peugeot dealership is taking in a BMW. Decisions about the valuation and stocking of cars could be taken by an experienced buyer back at head office.”
Kerridge has been testing the system since last autumn. The present rather cumbersome harness for the camera with batteries and aerials is to be replaced with a simpler trolley which can be wheeled up to the car.
“It's based on my golf trolley,” said Mr Bennett, who found he had rather too much time to spend on the links.