Graphic by Alert Management Systems
Alert Jobcosting2020

Interview with Alert’s Kara Longmire: Tracking Costs and Profitability

Aug. 13, 2020
Kara Longmire, co-president and CEO of Alert Management Systems, talks with RER about its new Web Task Force and enhanced Purchase Order module; the importance of accurate job costing; eliminating touch costs and how e-commerce is leading the charge.

Kara Longmire, Alert Management Systems; co-president and CEO of Alert Management Systems, talks with RER about its new Web Task Force and enhanced Purchase Order module; the importance of accurate job costing; eliminating touch costs and how e-commerce is leading the charge.

What are some of the products and capabilities you have added in the past year approximately?

Longmire: Alert is always a work in progress, and we release an upgrade every year. This year’s upgrade has tons of new features, mostly requested by our clients. We’ve just launched a Web Task Force to allow our clients to have quick and easy access to get websites up and running, without a link to the Alert software. We’ve enhanced our Purchase Order module, are releasing new functionalities to our Zoho CRM interface, and have added new GPS and credit card integrations to give our clients more functionality and more choices.

What are customers asking you for now, or what are some of the trends in what they’re asking for? 

Our clients are always finding clever software they want to integrate to, so that continues to be the trend. For example, we wrote an integration to Zoho CRM and our clients are now asking for us to include more functions in it. Right now, our clients are especially interested in tracking costs and profitability, so our newly developed Job Costing module has been a huge hit. Rental businesses can see how profitable they are on an individual job. Job Costing is an effective tool for customers to track cost and profitability.

What are some the capabilities of your software that are under-utilized that you wish more companies would pick up on? 

E-commerce traditionally has been underutilized in our industry, but during the current business environment more and more rental operations are realizing the value of webservices of all kinds and e-commerce is leading the charge. We’ve had full capabilities to do real-time reservations from the web for years, and only a small number of our clients had taken advantage of that technology. Now more stores are beginning to realize that it will pay enormous dividends by eliminating touch costs and driving more business towards an automated solution. The sales staff will still be able to provide excellent service for each order and talk to their customers if they wish but allowing customers to self-service via the web reduces friction and makes it easier for customers to do business with the rental operation. We took our own medicine and just recently launched a brand-new website, making it easier than ever for rental businesses to find us and do business with us.

A lot of things have changed in the world because of the pandemic. What has changed in the rental industry, and how has your approach to software changed? Greater emphasis in e-commerce capabilities? Other changes?

The immediate changes we saw were how to help our clients conduct business as contactless as possible. To that end, we’re helping them get contactless payment terminals set up, and e-signing done quickly and inexpensively. Our clients are also seeing where there are vulnerabilities to having their servers on premise and more of them are moving to the cloud so they can have 24/7 access to their rental management software with a secure VPN. And as I mentioned earlier, e-commerce and doing business on the web are going to make it easier to do business while maintaining social distancing.

In terms of the pandemic, presumably visits to your software users have decreased? Have you improved or enhanced your online training capabilities?

We’re completely revamping our online knowledge base and updating all of the content, including updating our training videos. Since Alert is so customized to each rental business, the best way to get training is still to schedule time with a trainer so they can walk you through your own system and have ample time for Q&A. (All via online meetings to accommodate both scheduling and social distancing/travel restrictions.) We offer this service at no charge and have had many clients take advantage of their downtime to schedule additional training.

We also send Weekly Help Desk Notes to our clients with a tip or trick they may not know about but find extremely useful. This is a hugely popular benefit of working with Alert and we’ve had clients on the software for 30+ years let us know that they didn’t know Alert did that! Other clients print them out each week and use them as a training manual. 

How has your software improved in making service personnel more efficient? 

We took direction from our users, as we do each year at our annual users’ conference and added things they asked for such as Work Orders to the Dispatch Dashboard. We also enhanced other features such as adding electronic signatures to the Work Order system to allow less contact with rental clients. Our clients are very creative and always have great ideas for how to get more out of their system and we’re in constant communication about how to make their dreams come true.

How has your CRM programs improved? How does it make your sales or rental sales personnel more efficient or productive?

Alert has built-in CRM functionality that allows sales managers to keep an eye on the pipeline and manage the sales cycle from start to finish – from a bid to a commission. Our dashboards are filterable by location and by salesperson (among a plethora of other filters), so both a salesperson and a manager know what the activity is by date. However, some of our clients wanted to utilize an outside CRM system so we wrote an integration to Zoho CRM. Zoho and Alert trade information back and forth on customers, tasks, and contacts so a salesperson can keep as detailed of records as they like in Zoho, and Alert will be updated. Or vice-versa. This year’s enhancements include, among other features, the ability to track opportunities.

Here are some areas I hear people talking about. Predictive maintenance; maximizing e-learning and other online training programs; improving delivery/dispatching capabilities; helping rental companies analyze the profitability or lack thereof on each equipment asset; helping rental companies to analyze utilization and improve rental rates; tracking location of each asset. Do you have anything to add on these topics?

These topics are nothing new to us -- we’ve been on top of every single one of them for years! During this period of crisis, we’ve been offering many of these things to our clients at no additional charge such as our Preventive Maintenance module, which can have multiple maintenance triggers, and extra training. We’re updating our library of articles, training documentation, and videos so our clients are able to log in to our website and immediately access training materials. The training and e-learning needs are one of the reasons that we invested so heavily in our website and knowledgebase this last year. Along the same lines, many of our new v20 features (coming out this summer) will be additions to the dashboards that have been requested by clients and we are always working with them to enhance existing modules that are saving them time and reducing their touch-costs. As we discussed in last year’s “Interviews with Software Manufacturers” we did invest heavily in partnering with companies like Rouse Analytics and Vizion360 to help clients do better analytics and see their results more easily. And, it seems like every year our clients are choosing more new GPS/asset telematics tools – and, of course, if they meet AEMP standard, they work seamlessly with Alert!