The Creation of the EMS: Recollections from Members

06-29-2021 04:38 PM By Stacey Phillips
During the early years of CIECA, members created the Estimate Management Standard (EMS), CIECA’s original data standard. It was the first electronic communication standard designed by the organization and implemented throughout the industry in 1994.

Since then, the organization established the Business Message Suite (BMS) in 2004 and is now working on a new initiative to create JSON-based CIECA Open API Standards.  

To learn more about the creation of the EMS, CIECA reached out to some of the early members. They included Mike Hastings, the chairman of the original EMS Committee and project manager at Car-Part.com; CIECA committee member Frank Terlep, co-founder and CEO of Auto Techcelerators; and EMS Committee member Fred Bissler, who is currently an account specialist for Axalta Coating Systems.

Q: What were some of the issues facing the industry that led to the creation of EMS? 

Mike: Double keying of estimates was the main issue facing the collision industry that led to the development of the EMS. Body shops were required by insurance companies to write the estimate in one of three P-Page Estimating Systems and then re-key the estimate into their management system. A standard way to electronically export/import the estimate between applications was needed.

Frank: Automated estimating was growing fast, and management systems were becoming more and more important and rekeying estimate data was not practical. Prior to EMS being completed, there was another industry project call “Max” where a shop would have to purchase more computers to import data from the information providers. 

Q: Who was involved in the process and what was the initial goal?  

Mike: I was working at Akzo Systems at the time and chaired the EMS Committee. Margaret Ho from CCC was the co-chair. Margaret created the Excel documents for the EMS standard, which included all of the files and field definitions. Fred Albert from Mitchell created the Word document of the EMS specification. Roger Cadaret was the executive director at the time and Jeff Milch was CIECA’s chairman. Erick Bickett (Auto Center Auto Body) was also involved.

We had a really good team from across the industry. They included Gary Baker, Fred Bissler, Kevin Caldwell, Linda Endo, Scott Biggs, Frank Terlep and Rick Palmer.

Frank: Once the project began, the information providers, shop management systems and some shop owners became involved. The goal was to create a standard format that would allow shop management systems to import estimating data from the electronic estimating systems that were available in the market. As the project progressed, insurers and other companies became involved because they felt the standard would help them as well. 

Q: How long did the process take and what were the benefits?

Mike: The EMS team started the process in late 1993 and completed the EMS standard 18 months later in 1994. It was approved for release at a CIECA board meeting hosted by USSA in San Antonio, TX the following year. I recall presenting the EMS Standard to the CIECA Board of Trustees as a business case to get it approved. At the time, we had not yet formed the CIECA Architecture Committee, which handles approvals for new standards today.

Frank: The obvious benefits were the ability to import estimate data into shop management systems. Over the years, EMS became THE standard to share estimate data with dozens of different industry applications such as parts procurement platforms, claims management systems, scheduling applications and many more. Over time, EMS also allowed two-way data sharing between the estimating and shop management systems. 

Q: What was the reaction from the industry?

Mike: It was amazing how quickly the EMS standard was implemented by the industry. CCC was the first to release it with EZEst support for EMS v1.0 export. They ran into a technical problem with the spec in that there were too many admin fields for the dBase file format to support. This initial release was done using ascii CSV files to work around the issue. EMS v2.0 fixed the dBase field limit issue by splitting the admin file into two separate files.

CCC, Mitchell and ADP Claims Services all followed shortly thereafter with v2.01 releases. There was a lot of development activity from 1996 through 2000 by the management systems to implement EMS support.

The support and usage of EMS over the years has been amazing. The standard is still used today and has enabled new products and companies to leverage the sharing of data enabled by EMS. Examples of this are assignments, repair status and electronic parts ordering. At one time, EMS probably handled 95% of all electronic parts ordering between body shops and parts suppliers.

Frank: Prior to EMS and the release of P-Page logic by the information providers, management system companies had to purchase and license estimate data tapes and integrate the data into their management systems. When P-Page logic was released, this method was not possible and increased shop administrative and data entry errors due to data entry. 

There were some information providers that were originally against EMS as they thought it would give them a competitive advantage. During the creation of EMS, the industry learned how to work together for the greater good. It was one of the first times I remember where all the information providers and shop management system providers worked together to solve a huge industry issue. I really believe it was the catalyst for what CIECA is today. 

After the EMS project was complete, EMS took on a life of its own. Not only did it dramatically improve the workflow in all collision centers that had a management system, but it also helped “connect” the industry. In my opinion, EMS was one of the most important creations in industry history. EMS helped the entire industry “get connected” PLUS it spurred all of the other standards that exist today!

Thoughts from EMS Committee member Fred Bissler, who is currently an account specialist for Axalta Coating Systems:

I remember this time well. I was working at CARSTAR and attended the Collision Industry Conference (CIC) in 1991 when Eric Bickett went to the podium and addressed the industry. His message was powerful and the Collision Industry Electronic Data Interchange Subcommittee (CIEDIS) was born. I was a liaison between CARSTAR and the information providers at the time and wanted to get involved somehow and found myself on the Orlando Committee that was charged with determining how the three information providers’ applications could exist on the same computer. 

Although I didn’t have a technical background, my experience was wonderful with this group of very bright people. I describe it as cosmonauts and astronauts collaborating with each other to find a solution. The problem then became the leadership teams at the BIG 3 to let go of their “proprietary” rights to their software and cooperate. 

I believe it really helped CIC demonstrate to all involved that it wasn’t just the “collision” segment but it very much involved the insurance companies, parts companies, glass companies, paint and allied materials, etc. The BIG picture was exposed and if you were not part of the solution, you probably were not going to last long. There are still issues every day but I’m thankful that Eric Bickett, Roger Cadaret and Fred Iantorno, who became executive director in 2002, to get and keep things moving.

Note: While EMS was the original CIECA product, it has been unsupported for many years and has been replaced by the BMS (XML) and the forthcoming CIECA API Standard (JSON).