Advances in technology have made construction equipment more efficient and capable than it used to be. Equipment can dig deeper, lift higher and run longer than ever before. And advances in software and telematics have made rental companies far more efficient and smarter, and costly breakdowns can often be avoided by advance warnings from thousands of miles away.
Still there is much to learn and many improvements to make. In the following pages, two dozen industry experts offer 50 tips on how rental companies can use software and telematics more effectively. These tips sometimes flow in a logical order, sometimes not. Maybe your IT people already have the perfect systems. Still, there may be ideas or seeds of them here for you. Read on!
1: Make the right IT investment decision, says Loren Carlson, operations manager, Star Rentals. “Once made, it is very costly to rectify,” Carlson says. “Make sure you have a clear understanding of the pain points of the current system, or lack of system. Establish a clear understanding of what you intend to improve, and how you will measure success. The best way to do this is to solicit input from every level and area of the company.” Once completed, this serves as the basis for evaluating IT options and helps to keep the evaluation discussion focused.
2: Create an implementation roadmap: Once the IT decision is made, invest time in configuring it before it’s rolled out, to make the user interface as intuitive as possible, says Carlson. “It may be capable of great things, but if users struggle to adapt to it, your returns will be delayed while you waste time and energy pushing users to use it. The same applies with back-end system integration. Creating an implementation Roadmap ahead of time will ensure you realize the benefits as quickly as possible.”
3: Focus on impact, not just ROI: As you evaluate IT options, think about who and what will benefit from technology first, says Martin Roath of ZTR Control Systems. “Some benefits will be easy to quantify, while others may be more financially intangible,” Roath says. “For example, technology benefits could affect culture or customer experience in undeniable ways that are difficult to measure in dollars.”
4: Consider application flexibility: As time passes, requirements for IT can change so be sure to look for solutions that don’t limit your future, says Roath. “As you think about your people, processes, and other business systems, be sure to consider integration capabilities that connect your business systems together,” he says.
5: Develop a training support structure: Make the structure accessible to everyone in the company. “This can be scaled to any size business, but the key is to have expert level assistance readily available,” Carlson says.
6. Focus on action: A telematics program has to focus on providing information that allows equipment owners to take action. Data is great, but value is created when data is transformed into actionable information, says Christine Zeznick, Genie director of product and business development, Terex AWP. “With dashboards and alert notifications, telematics can help rental fleet managers understand the information their machines are providing, enabling them to not only react to what is currently going on with their equipment but also to proactively manage what will be happening with their fleet.”
“Figure out the metrics that matter most to each department, and work with your software vendor to create reports and dashboards that will enable action,” adds Matt Hopp, general manager, InTempo Software.
7. Don’t get distracted: Avoid being distracted by metrics that don’t matter to your business, says Kris Troppman, regional technology manager, Finning Canada. “Data is critical to your success, yet how that information is applied is the greatest challenge facing companies today,” he notes.
8. Azure is the color: IoT Cloud solutions are available that can both receive direct sensor readings and communicate to equipment manufacturers’ portals, says Larry Miller, vice president of business development rental and service industry, Sycor Americas. “Microsoft Azure IoT, for example, already has, and continues to build, standard links to many of today’s equipment manufacturers’ portals and can communicate with an ‘IoT-Ready’ sensor that is placed on the equipment. This technology provides data to improve efficiency, save time and labor.”
9. Track idle time: Connecting machines can help you keep track of idle time as well as give you a view of the health of your machine, says Finning’s Troppman. “Tracking your idle time can help you reduce idling, which not only saves you money and decreases emissions, but it also extends engine life and reduces repair and maintenance costs and unnecessary depreciation.”
10. Simple like Amazon: Rental customers, like other consumers, have higher expectations based on shopping with Amazon and other online retailers, says Todd Turner, vice president of PDQ Rentals, Santa Fe Springs, Calif. “We are trying to make processes of ordering, terminating and information easily accessible to the consumer,” Turner says. “We recently revamped our customer portal to make it easy so charge accounts can order online, view and reprint invoices, terminate equipment, schedule service calls, and order equipment via email to our dispatch center. We are always trying to create ways to make equipment rental simple.”
11. Track usage weekly: On all machines that have GPS, run weekly reports to catch anomalies on excessive equipment usage based on daily hour meter readings, suggests Turner. “This helps us notice when customers are using machines more than the allotted 40 hours of usage per week to ensure proper billing, keep up on service intervals, and notify customers of increased charges before they are surprised with a larger invoice.”
12. Remember your core business: If your business is construction rental, then every IT-related decision should focus on construction rental, says Patrick Stephens, vice president of development at Wynne Systems. “It’s easy to become distracted by shiny objects along the road, and IT can be very shiny indeed,” he says. “If ROI does not meet one of [these] points, then it’s probably worth avoiding: Does it generate revenue? Does it save money? Is it necessary for regulations/compliance?”
13. The clock ticks fast: Time on any IT project is often underestimated, points out Stephens. The maximum amount of time that an IT project can realistically be implemented in is about 18 to 24 months, he says, otherwise the tech moves on, the staff moves on and ROIs change. “Always build in contingency time of +20 percent,” he says.
14. Calculate the full cost: Stephens advises to remember to consider the full cost of a project. “It’s more than just the project price tag,” he says. “It’s also the cost of the time that your business has to spend implementing the project.”
15. Benchmarking and checking utilization: Benchmarking can provide a unique point of view on how performance ranks compared to peers, says Chris Hummel, senior vice president and chief marketing officer, United Rentals. “The digital platform can include setting up low utilization alerts in the fleet management system to flag potential issues or reviewing GPS time-and-use reports weekly,” he says.
16. Integrate to ERP: With the ease of web services and APIs, integrating telematics into your ERP has never been more flexible or easy, says Vincent Ianne, senior manager, equipment rental fleet & product support for Home Depot Rentals. “If you are investing in telematics, make the most of the data by having it at your team’s fingertips in the ERP or UI/App environment they operate in all the time,” he says.
17. Keep the user experience simple: Ianne says that no matter which ERP or telematics platform a company is using, “be sure the user experience is simple and intuitive so it’s not time consuming or brushed to the side due to complexity. Investigate bolt-on user interfaces or apps if you feel it’s needed to get consistent buy-in from your associates.”
18. Measure tech productivity: With rental companies and dealerships facing the continuing shortage of service technicians, companies should invest in service management software and its resulting data analytics, says Ianne. “Measuring tech productivity/efficiency will be key to determining how to still produce the workload output required with less total or inexperienced staff,” he says.
19. Talk to the telematics provider: Consulting with the staff of the telematics provider can bring benefits, says Steve Wells, co-founder and chief marketing officer of ClearPathGPS. “They’ll often be able to take a look at your usage patterns and highlight best practices that other customers in the rental equipment market are using to maximize their success that you aren’t using …yet,” says Wells.
20. Create ‘MVP’ milestones: Getting everything done all at once when rolling out an IT solution is often unrealistic, says ZTR’s Roath. “You’ll get more value taking the minimum viable product (MVP) approach when it comes to implementing,” he says. “Look for important problems to solve that may be lower effort and bring immediate impact to the business. Then move on to schedule further milestones, spacing out your victories.”
21: Use mobile apps: Having a tool to connect the entire team, from back office to drivers to mechanics to sales, is essential to keep everyone up to date with valuable, real-time information, suggests Brandon Matthews, digital marketing manager, Texada Software.
22. Deploy Microsoft PowerApps: Deploy Microsoft PowerApps to speed up delivery of mobile functionality, suggests Sycor America’s Miller. “PowerApps doesn’t require programming knowledge and allows you to create business forms very easily,” Miller says. “Available with hundreds of out-of-the-box connectors, it allows you to pull or push data with minimal configuration.”
23. Integrate accounting systems: Managing the general ledger, billing and invoicing, AR and AP shouldn’t require multiple systems, says Texada’s Matthews. Having all financial data flow within one platform keeps critical information accurate and easier to track.
24. Invest in training your people: Sending your team to your software vendor’s user conference can be hugely beneficial, says InTempo’s Hopp. “One of the best features about these types of conferences are networking opportunities,” Hopp says. “We are always amazed at how willing our customers are to share tips and support each other. If you send an employee to such an event, task them with sharing a brief presentation on key takeaways.”
25. Dashboards on TV: Hopp says InTempo has a growing number of customers who display dashboards on large TV monitors behind the counter, in the shop and elsewhere. “A dashboard built for the Service Center showing incoming equipment and upcoming reservations can help technicians decide how to prioritize their work,” Hopp says. “Data transparency can align teams and eliminate confusion, leading to better experiences for employees and customers alike.”
26. Access asset fault codes: Caterpillar dealers and Cat Rental Stores have access to Cat Link, which allows dealerships to immediately begin the trouble-shooting process. Michael Wood, general rental operations manager for Warren Cat, says as a rental provider, the company also has access to daily runtime hours and location, the ability to track scheduled maintenance and maintenance history, create customized maintenance plans, monitor oil sampling and more.
27. Identify operator errors: Cat’s VisionLink “allows us to identify improper operation procedures and necessary training needs which ultimately increases efficiency and asset uptime,” adds Wood.
28. Know your goals for the data: DPL Telematics’ Tony Nicoletti says too much data can create more work than benefit, especially for those just starting out. “The reality is many rental customers are not yet set up to properly digest it all,” he says. “Does knowing 100 fault codes help you or is it noise? If your goal is to improve billing and service scheduling, then you may really only need location and runtime data. If you want to get to monitoring hundreds of fault codes then start first with basic inputs, like runtime and location. Once comfortable then layer in additional data like idle time, fuel burn, time in gear. Finally take the dive into the most intensive data once everyone is comfortable with the initial stages. Don’t run before you walk.”
29. Cover all brands: The staff of Skyjack advises shoppers to beware of proprietary products and says to ensure your telematics solution works with every brand of machine in your fleet. “Look for a solution that’s treated as a fundamental component for fleets, not an add-on,” they suggest.
30. Find your equipment 1 – Cut down on theft: The importance of easily finding your equipment can’t be over-stated. One of the most common telematics usages is setting up a geofence so that if a rented unit leaves the scene of a jobsite where it is supposed to be working a rental company can be instantly notified by text or email. This also cuts down on the rental customer “re-renting” the unit on the side.
31. Find your equipment 2 – Mechanics aren’t detectives: Jobsites are often on large sprawling lots, covering acres with different buildings and levels. When the rental company arrives to pick up the machine, or a service technician comes out to do repairs and maintenance, the machine is often hard to locate, which can be very costly in terms of a mechanic’s time wasted looking for the machine or trying to reach a contact person not answering his phone.
32. Lock it out: Features and enhancements coupled with telematics will allow the machine owner to remotely lock out the machine, says Misty Mason, product management, telematics and digital solutions, JLG. “This could be useful when a machine goes off rent on a Friday and is not scheduled to be picked up until Sunday, prohibiting unauthorized users from operating the machine,” Mason says.
33. Enhance operator safety: Telematics features such as JLG ClearSky’s Access Control can be set up to only allow users who are trained to operate specific machines. “While this protects assets like machines, it can also protect operators who are unfamiliar with machines,” Mason says.
34. Be informed of any mechanical problem: Telematics can cause machine owners to be aware of small problems before they become big problems. “Be informed of any mechanical problems that need urgent attention, such as low battery, so they can be corrected before they become an expensive breakdown,” advises Jeff Vance, senior vice president of operations, Sunstate Equipment Co.
35. Limited unnecessary maintenance: By knowing accurate usage hours service techs will know the exact of hours run, rather than guess when a machine has run a certain number of hours. “Limit unnecessary maintenance based on arbitrary schedules (not actual usage),” says Vance.
36. Integrate telematics with billing: Take advantage of “cycle billing” features in rental software, suggest Abe Clinger, project manager for Alert Management Systems. “For long-term rentals, your rental software can use existing telematics integrations to verify monthly usage, and even charge your customer’s credit card,” Clinger says.
37. Barcoding for fast-moving seasonal items: A good example of this is propane tank refills in the summer, says John Fusco, application consultant for Alert.
38. Have one or more in-house experts: Not every rental company can afford a team of in-house experts, but more equipment rental companies will have to at least have someone who’s good on the systems, even if he has other responsibilities. A designated “expert” can teach new people how to use the software systems the way you want them to. And “they can answer repeated questions from in-house staff faster than reaching out to Support each time something comes up,” says Jeff Kroepke, Level II Support from Alert. “And, in case of an emergency they will be able to work with outside Support resources to quickly remedy the problem.”
39: Watch your drivers too: Tracking systems sometimes need to be used to monitor the drivers of a rental company points out the staff of Point of Rental.
“You can also use geofences to hold your drivers accountable,” says Brian Beaudry of Point of Rental Software. “We’ve had users confirm (former) drivers were making unmentioned stops at their homes during shifts by setting up geofences around areas they shouldn’t be going.”
40. Always notify: In this era when customers have been conditioned to expect ongoing updates and trackable deliveries, the tighter the window gets, the happier they are to be notified, says Point of Rental’s Beaudry. “Your software should be able to see where your delivery team is, what traffic is like, and provide an accurate estimate for your arrival,” he says. Wynne Systems’ Stephens suggests notifying the jobsite when a delivery is 15 minutes away in traffic.
41. Capture ideas for improvement: To maximize returns on IT investments, companies need an ongoing plan to capture ideas for improvement and innovation from their employees, says Star Rentals’ Carlson. “Set aside time to talk in cross-functional groups to solicit feedback in an informal environment,” he says. “They are the ones using it and are the experts on its strengths and weaknesses. You have to make the time to know what could or should be improved.”
42: Be predictive: Studying machine data provided by telematics enables rental companies to predict failures in the field based on how the equipment is actually being used and proactively prescribing maintenance and service, says Genie’s Zeznick. “An example would be predicting battery of charger failure for replacement before actual downtime occurs,” says Zeznick. “And prescriptive data answers the question ‘What do I need to do?’ Knowing that the machine needs to be serviced now because of the way it’s being used and then schedule to perform maintenance on another machine of the same type later because of its usage pattern.”
43. Use telematics interface for automated billing: By utilizing software that has an interface to telematics providers’ portals, rental companies can detect usage data to automatically bill customers, says Sycor America’s Miller, “even when they use equipment before or after the contractual agreed timeframe.”
44. Watch it on YouTube: Rental companies should take advantage of the various forms of support for today’s software, adds Miller, “including YouTube tutorials, training videos, and screen sharing with support staff. They could be missing out on using their IT to its full potential.”
45. Set alerts for sensitive situations: With machines like generators with telematics in hypersensitive situations, rental companies can set alerts for its software to notify them if the engine turns off in applications where the unit is running 24-7 with no one on premises to monitor it, says PDQ’s Turner. “As soon as we receive alerts that the engine is off, contact the customer to notify them, and they confirm if the equipment is down. If it’s down, we get a head start on getting our customer back up and running before they might have even noticed. Perception is important and this shows the client that we are there to help keep them productive, are investing in technology, and strive to be a partner in their project.”
46. Take photos before the rental: PDQ Rentals takes photos of every piece of equipment before it leaves the yard. “It helps us catch and bill damages or also confirm that this customer didn’t damage our equipment and it was pre-existing,” says Turner. “We have tablets assigned and floating at our locations and Point of Rental has a great feature of attaching them directly to the contract for easy viewing.”
47. Build a digital library: With equipment being more sophisticated, it becomes mandatory to have your service manuals easily accessible, adds Turner. “We built a digital library for every machine so a technician can go to our computers and easily access the operators, parts and service manuals in one location. With multiple stores, it becomes quite expensive purchasing or printing books for each store on every machine. A mechanic types in the equipment number and the information is readily accessible.”
48. Refresh and release: Many rental systems start out highly configurable and receive monthly updates. Getting refresher training helps make sure rental companies are maximizing investments and using the system in the most productive way, says Matthews of Texada. Texada also counsels reading ongoing release notes. “When your business relies on software that changes every month, quarter, or year, reading release notes helps you understand what changes were made and how they will impact your daily work,” Matthews says.
49. Save some trees: Printing contracts, work orders, invoices, delivery tickets, inspection forms and more, there can be a lot of paper in a rental business, points out Matthews. “Digital records are easier to search through and take up less space than filing cabinets or storage lockers,” he says.
50. Be curious, explore and have fun: If you develop a mindset to explore and try new things with your IT solutions, you may uncover additional value, says ZTR’s Roath. “Always set some time aside either personally or as a team to experiment and play,” Roath suggests. “The creative thoughts coming out of these moments could reveal new innovations and ideas.”
And one more:
51. Don’t forget about backups: Your entire business is on your rental software so don’t neglect to back it up in case of a virus or other catastrophe, notes Lori Bailey, in charge of programming for Alert Management Systems. “And make sure it’s a good backup!” she says.