Evan Fort, global director of technology, Point of Rental Software
Patrice Boivin, president, Orion Software
Larry Miller, vice president, business development, Sycor Americas
Kara Longmire, co-president/CEO, Alert Rental
Aniruddh Vijayvargiya, product manager, Texada Software
Robert Gray, vice president of sales and marketing, Wynne Systems
Matt Hopp, general manager, InTempo Software
Paul Wilson, senior director – ZTR commercial development and operations, IIoT Division
The pandemic led a lot more rental companies to become more serious about e-commerce. What changes have you seen among rental companies as a result?
Fort: As the pandemic started, we adjusted our electronic signatures solution so it could function independently of our software and made it free to anyone who wanted it for three months. We had no idea how many people would be interested - we ended up giving away about $1.1 million worth of software and service for people implementing contactless rental solutions. As people adopted eSign, we learned that a lot of companies needed it to accept payments as well, so we added that functionality and included it in the offer, too. We had people adding online rentals and catalogs, ensuring that as much business as possible could be taken care of away from the counter. E-commerce is now a permanent part of how successful rental businesses operate moving forward. It’s convenient for renters, it’s efficient, it’s paperless, and with the right software, it’s easy to manage for rental stores as well.
Boivin: We see much more willingness to change the traditional business model of a rental shop to electronic transactions. The web portal and mobile apps have become the way to eliminate contacts and increase efficiency. Many rental companies realized that a web presence with a transactional shopping cart is essential to grow their business.
Miller: Rental companies wish to interact with their customers more effectively. They wish to provide information to the clients about their current rental contacts and allow a customer to check availability and pricing. This is beyond traditional e-commerce transactions are typical of a distributor and are more complex since pricing is based on customer, location and equipment usage.
Longmire: The rental stores we’ve been working with have been so creative with funding their e-commerce solutions! Many have been taking advantage of state and local grants, and we’ve been working on creative ways to finance necessary enhancements. We support our clients any possible way, which includes helping them achieve their technology goals however we can.
Vijayvargiya: We are seeing an increasing trend to add online booking features to the platform. Since the pandemic, most of our new clients have opted to add our e-commerce product. Our existing clients have noticed an increase in online reservations, which is very promising because it unlocks a whole new way for renters to interact with rental companies. Technology-driven rental companies have done well compared to those that do not have the most updated IT systems in place. Many rental companies have realized this and prioritized their technology spend accordingly. In other industries, most end customers are comfortable transacting online, and the rental industry is quickly catching up.
Gray: Prior to this pandemic, many rental companies regarded e-commerce from a purely functional perspective. So long as their customers were able to reserve equipment online, they were largely satisfied with their e-commerce setups.
Hopp: Our payment module can process online payments as well as phone orders and counter sales. If a rental business offers online checkout, they can implement the same solution they use at their rental counter. If they don’t have an online store, they can still let their customers pay online, using secure email or SMS-based payment links.
Wilson: We've seen a notable rise in e-commerce since the onset of COVID-19. Pre-pandemic, it was a beneficial service rental companies could provide to their customers. Now, it's a necessity. With that in mind, we create telematics solutions that complement existing software and web-enabled e-commerce capabilities for users. We tend to view the customer experience holistically – we not only support e-commerce, but also offer touchless processes for safe and convenient operation. Beyond that, as part of our digitization playbook, we work with our rental clients to cover any points where their customers may interact with data, directly or indirectly.
How have you developed your e-commerce capabilities to help your customers through this period?
Boivin: We launched a complete new upfront Web shopping portal. This is an integral part of our Sirius e suite. Every client using Sirius can setup a Shopping web portal in a few hours. We offered a promotion with no set-up fees to support them during the pandemic. A mobile app version is also available and offers all the features of the best portal of the large rental companies. It’s very intuitive and even allow their customer to view the delivery truck moving in real-time on a map to check the expected arrival time. Renting equipment is now as easy as ordering a taxi on a mobile app.
Miller: We have developed a Customer Portal that can provide valuable information to a client about their existing rental contracts and are continuing to add functionality to allow different types of transactions and interactions.
Longmire: Our e-commerce solution has been available for many years, and we’re thrilled that so many of our clients have decided to finally take advantage of this technology so they can meet their customers where they are. We have also continued to enhance our software even during the pandemic to provide our customers with up-to-date capabilities in e-commerce and other critical business areas.
Vijayvargiya: Our e-commerce product is plug and play, which enables our clients to launch their web stores very quickly. Our clients are now seeing great value in the seamless workflow that we provide. It begins with a reservation request on our Texada Gateway site and ends with the final invoice paid in the customer portal of Gateway. We can capture the customer's signatures via email or on a mobile device so that documents can be authorized paperlessly. Even off-renting can be completed with a click of a button in our customer portal. Apart from the regular on-account and credit card payment options, we also allow direct debit from bank accounts. All this information is stored securely in a tokenized format that is PCI compliant. Our clients can use these methods for autopay or cycle billing, reducing the time they would otherwise spend chasing payments. All data flows seamlessly through our platform so that other departments can see information updates instantly.
Gray: Recent enhancements to our RenterLink e-commerce solution have focused around granting our customers the ability to craft their digital customer experiences. As a result, our customers have far greater control over what their customers see on any given product page. They can specify what product information is displayed, if they want to include any custom messaging, and can even suggest specific sales items when related equipment is selected. When paired with customizable emails and configurable checkout options, rental companies can design user experiences ideally suited for the needs and preferences of their customers.
Wilson: We've been listening to our customers throughout the pandemic and actively applying their feedback to the expansion of our ONE i3 platform. The primary areas of focus have been touchless capabilities and improved integration with rental companies' existing business systems. The most common integration point across our customer base is in the billing process - using equipment data to streamline invoicing. Using ONE i3, rental companies can easily track machine hours and address billing overages when assets are rented over the course of several shifts. Location data and remote diagnostics are also significant. The former is critical for tracking equipment throughout the rental cycle, while the latter allows for higher-level digital and touchless enhancements, and improved uptime management, on more advanced equipment.
Fort: In addition to the eSign capabilities, we added a pair of e-commerce-focused businesses and the teams behind them and we’re integrating their functionality into our software. RentItOnline is able to show real-time availability and has a lot of great back-end features that are going to enhance the way businesses rent online. We acquired Rental Hosting in the U.S. this year and their expertise in building rental-focused websites and customer portals have helped our customers’ online presence. That addition has already resulted in expanding the online quote feature to get orders all the way through the payment process into a reservation.
What new capabilities, products and upgrades have you developed in the past year?
Miller: This would include more information availability through the Customer Portal and enhancements for their yard and delivery. Sycor has also teamed up with LogiMove, a flexible mobile data platform that allows us to build out custom workflows and business process automation in a matter of hours and days, instead of weeks and months. In addition, Microsoft’s push towards “Citizen Developer” is a concept that allows a customer to build out mobile functionality without deploying expensive consulting firms that have to first “understand” the business process and then develop it. This new approach provides low code/no code development that bring greater value at a reduced cost.
Longmire: We understand that a rental store’s strengths may not be in web design, so we’ve created Alert Web Assistant to help our clients launch a pre-designed website customized for their store. The rental store owns the domain and website – we do the design and integration. This isn’t just for Alert clients – we can help anybody launch a professional and attractive website that includes their rental inventory! For Alert Clients, we have built in the technology to expand their Alert systems onto the web and increase their presence with options they choose. Examples are Web Requests where clients can build a quote online, Customer Portal for self-service including payments, and a custom e-commerce solution to do live web rentals if the rental store so chooses.
Vijayvargiya: We have built a seamless payment integration within our platform called Texada Pay. Texada Pay addresses modern scenarios such as collecting payments via an email link or web portal, making it easy to collect payments automatically through our system. We have also developed simple and easy-to-use drag and drop scheduling solutions for logistics and service managers.
Gray: To better unify different departments within a rental branch, we have been working on seamlessly connecting our role-specific solutions together through a centralized services platform called the Wynne Hub. By enabling yard personnel, drivers, dispatchers, technicians, and sales reps to more effectively collaborate with one another and follow each other’s progress and workloads in real-time, productivity accelerates at a branch-wide level. And through a series of notifications and information sharing we refer to as intelligent tasking, the Wynne Hub nudges personnel to complete the right tasks at the right time.
Hopp: We just introduced an integrated payment processing module that lets users complete transactions in InTempo Enterprise. This can be used for one-time purchases or recurring long-term rentals. Rental organizations can keep a customer’s card on file without storing the actual card information on their system. If a customer wants to extend an existing contract or rent a new machine, they can run the charge without having the customer provide their payment information again. Meanwhile, that data is stored in a secure portal, providing a higher level of protection from security threats.
Wilson: "This year we’ve focused on continuing to enhance our ONE i3 platform Access Management solutions, to deliver valuable new services to the market that support safer access, and more productive and profitable worksites,” says ZTR CEO and president Sam Hassan.
Since the Access Management solution was unveiled at ConExpo, it has been in high demand with OEMs as well as rental and construction companies. With the prospect of 25,000 more orders, the pace of adoption is gaining considerable momentum as many of our key customers standardize on the solution.
Fort: The past year has primarily been about ensuring you can use Point of Rental anywhere. We’ve continued to make our Windows-based products more web-accessible, and our cloud-based products just keep getting more features. eSign, our independent electronic signature solution, got payment functionality added and now allows you to request initials throughout any document as well. We’ve deepened our Trackunit integration, added BI features, and now we’re able to manage business workflows between mobile devices and desktops better than ever.
Boivin: The most significant innovation for us is the upfront shopping web portal because of its unique technology that allows much more flexibility and almost no maintenance. We also developed a new BI configurable with additional performance indicators. The BI is combined with proactive management features to help users and customers to be always informed at the right time of what’s important.
What have you done to improve your software’s integration with telematics systems and other integration with machine data?
Longmire: Alert has been working with telematics companies for years, and as long as the telematics company adheres to the AEMP standard, the integration is plug-and-play. We are always willing to work with our clients to create a custom integration with their chosen telematics provider, or any other business-critical application.
Vijayvargiya: Texada continues to invest in tighter integrations with telematics providers. We recently added the ability for end customers to view machine locations of their on-rent assets to help manage their rentals better. Our partners include ZTR, TrackUnit, and Cellutrak, however, we have the ability to integrate with any telematics provider our customer chooses for their equipment.
Gray: Over the past year, we have enabled integration of our transportation management system into RentalMan via our new centralized services platform, the Wynne Hub. In addition, we further expanded our already large catalog of web services to enable integrations with third-party products such as machine data (e.g. IoT and sensors). As a result, we can incorporate data from telematics-enabled equipment into our billing routines to ensure overtime usage is properly charged.
Hopp: Our software integrates with two leading telematics solutions – Trackunit and Iron Portal – helping rental companies connect the dots between their machines and their ERP. We’re providing more visibility than ever before into key data points, such as machine hours and location. Business owners can more easily track service calls, use hours, and other critical measures.
Wilson: As a telematics solutions provider, we know that the future is incredibly dependent on systems integration. While the industry AEMP and ISO API standards work for basic plug-and-play integrations, our customers have been looking for more capabilities. We've listened and have enhanced our own ONE i3 Fleet APIs to offer more flexibility and configurability. Now, customers can capture enhanced machine data, increase or decrease data frequency, and exercise greater control over the flow of information throughout the integration process. We adapt our solutions to fit customers' needs.
Fort: We’ve had industry-leading integrations for a while now, but over the last year, our Trackunit integration has expanded, accepting and pushing even more information between machines and the software. Our Location Exception tool shows your assets that aren’t where you think they are - whether it’s on a job site instead of your yard, if it’s at the wrong store, or even if it’s somewhere it should never be.
Boivin: We developed integration with two new GPS readers to keep track of the meter and other events in order to improve the delivery and the maintenance of equipment. We are also using this information to show where the equipment is on a construction site and the closest equipment available to the mobile cart users.
Miller: Sycor.Rental comes out of the box with integration to Microsoft’s Azure IoT Server. This means that any IoT capable sensor can be connected to provide real-time data interaction between the machine and back-office solution. Microsoft also provides us with state-of-the-art integration tools to connect to any third-party telematics solution. This allows us to deploy telematics how you want it, rather than how we built it.
What have you done to improve mobile capability in the past year? Is this more important than ever in the age of COVID and more people working remotely?
Vijayvargiya: Our mobile app has the ability to perform any kind of inspection and look at the entire history of work done on an equipment. We support paperless deliveries and pickups by using e-signature and digital photo confirmation. Entire equipment maintenance and repair workflow can also be handled in our Texada mobile app. We also support a quick contactless in-yard equipment return workflow to help rental companies check-in equipment efficiently.
Gray: Because software mobility has never been more vital than during this pandemic, many of our latest enhancements revolve around removing workflows that previously required users be face-to-face.
Until recently, personnel using our MobileLink sales and operations app would have to be near each other and touch the same mobile device during electronic signature capture. To make it easier for these employees to adhere to social distancing guidelines, we introduced a new signature request feature. With just a few clicks, MobileLink users can send a temporary link where recipients can sign contracts from anywhere with an internet connection. As a result, sales and yard teams can operate more safely and conveniently.
Hopp: Mobile has been a major priority for us, although that’s been the case since before COVID. We know that our customers don’t do all their work from the rental counter, and we wanted to offer solutions that let them complete important workflows wherever they are – whether that’s checking equipment in or out in the rental yard, creating reservations from a jobsite, performing work orders in the field, or performing work orders at a customer’s worksite. Our mobile app and service module gives teams the ability to get the job done from anywhere, with fewer delays, making operations more efficient across the board.
Wilson: We employ a responsive web design approach to our telematics solutions, which means automatic, seamless cross-platform integration – including mobile and tablet - whenever we roll out updates. Our Near Me mobile app remains a crowd favorite, especially popular with field technicians and people on the go looking for quick equipment health data. We've made multiple enhancements to the Near Me application in the past year, including offline functionality, an improved user interface, and additional machine and telematics data for even sharper insights.
The ZTR Bluetooth Ecosystem has also grown, with the addition of new features to our Scout mobile gateway application.
Scout’s new Site Survey feature enables a ‘walking gateway’ experience for our customers. When a user walks through a worksite or rental yard, T-series Bluetooth-tagged asset locations are captured automatically along the walked path and are pinned to the ONE i3 map. This innovation enables greater positioning accuracy for Bluetooth-equipped assets. We've also added sharing functionality so that users can collaborate via email, SMS, or IM as they manage their asset locations and inventories.
Fort: First of all, it’s important not only because of COVID-related remote working, but because that’s the way work has been trending for years. A lot of our long-term projects that started pre-COVID are starting to get implemented and it’s really exciting to see, because mobile functionality...if it’s not already a necessity, it will be soon.
Our Elite software is now capable of writing contracts, building quotes, and managing contracts on tablets through an easy-to-navigate web app. People can handle work orders there, too. I’ve already mentioned eSign & Pay and the value it provides.
The thing we’re most excited about is our POR One app. It supports custom workflows that allow Point of Rental to match a business’ specific or proprietary business processes. So, if your process is to receive a machine back from a rental, then inspect it, get photos, wash it, and refuel it in that order, our software will help you ensure that your team is on the right step of the process at the right time. It cements your processes and really cuts down on training time -- you’re not having to memorize the steps of the process, just what you do on each step. It also provides visibility for your counter or sales staff -- if someone’s asking where that piece of equipment is, they can see where it is in the process of getting ready to rent without going out back or calling someone. It also still includes internal messaging, so even if you’re not doing something that has a corresponding software action, you can get information from your co-workers quickly, easily, and without leaving your software.
Boivin: The demand for mobile app is amazing. We enhanced our mobile apps to a level that allows customers to ensure full accuracy of deliveries and maintenances. We even added multiple features with RFID to speed up the scanning process through an automated garage door equipped with readers.
Miller: We continue to improve our mobile solution to allow rapid return of bulk (non-serialized) equipment and serialized units. Allowing a yard worker to return thousands of pieces in a matter of minutes is necessary in some rental industries. Yes, it is important to provide low/no touch interaction with staff. Mobility eliminates the physical paper trail and provides data electronically from the mobile worker and customer.
Longmire: We’ve been working with our clients and their IT firms to help them work effectively at home through secure VPNs. Alert on the Cloud (Alert’s hosting product) allows for workers to access Alert anywhere in the world through a VPN! In fact, our entire staff worked from home during the lockdown period of the pandemic, without missing a beat, because of this helpful tool. We were already fortunate to have developed and deployed our powerful paperless rental completion application in our Sign and Rent Application, which allows clients to sign for rentals on any device, as well as in the rental stores via tablets if the Alert user wants that capability.
What are likely to be the new trends/new directions in software in the foreseeable future?
Gray: Looking forward, the rental software industry seems headed in at least three primary directions.
First, with the expansion of new technology from cloud software providers, there is an increasing need to integrate with their offerings. Web services and the ability to quickly integrate data from different systems will be key.
Next, there is no doubt that sensors, logistics, and IoT will continue to be a substantial value add to the rental industry. Software providers would be well-advised to plan their development with robust telematics capabilities in mind.
And finally, cybersecurity will become increasingly paramount over the coming years. As evidenced by recent headline-making ransomware attacks, large influxes of actionable data pose can become inflated attack surfaces if left unprotected.
Hopp: Security has been one of the biggest trends of the last few years, and that’s just as true in the rental space as it is in other industries. We’re seeing buyers become increasingly interested in the security of their Internet of Things, and we’re responding accordingly.
We’ve rolled out a new user interface with considerable security enhancements; one of the largest is that users can maintain and manage users internally so they can only see what they’re authorized to see. Delivery drivers can’t see customers’ sensitive financial data, and equipment inspectors don’t have access to personally identifiable information. However, that platform also offers more than just security upgrades. The interface gives users much more flexibility to add custom features and upgrades – more quickly and at a lower cost.
Wilson: We foresee the following trends, all linked to what we call "Telematics 2.0" capabilities. Our hardware and software roadmaps address each of these areas of opportunity:
· Safety – ensuring safe access to machinery.
· Sustainability – supporting sustainable operations.
· Machine Electrification – developing tools to support battery management and lifecycles.
· Predictive Intelligence - infusing A.I. (artificial intelligence) into next-generation digital service models.
· IoT Expansion - continuing IoT evolution beyond the machine (i.e. tools, accessories).
· Indoor Tracking - improving tool and equipment monitoring in sheltered environments.
Fort: First of all, it’s still going to be about mobility. Users want to be able to do everything they’re able to do on their computer on a tablet, on a phone - any device, anywhere. We’re building an environment where all of a business’ devices and data are connected in real time so no one’s ever out of the loop. The other big trend is taking all the business data that you’re collecting as a rental store and presenting it in a way that leadership can take intelligent action on - we provide customizable dashboards to break that critical information down.
Further down the line, there will be a lot of building further on data collection and machine learning, using AI to implement truly dynamic rates or automate asset lifecycle features.
Boivin: The future will be mobile to the point that the traditional model of a rental store will be transformed. We already see the trend of customers using mobile apps to order equipment and pick their equipment directly, bypassing the counter. The traditional rental man is definitely out!
Miller: More and more customers are working to eliminate data redundancy. They want one system that is fully integrated/connected. Fundamentally, we can discuss financials, inventory, sales, service and rental. What people really want is connectivity between email, document management, CRM, BI Reporting, Mobility, Telematics, eCommerce, AI, Virtual/Mixed Reality; all in one platform. They are looking for this single platform that will grow with them as technology evolves and as their business needs change.
Longmire: We continue to work with our clients to innovate Alert software. Our best inspiration comes from their creative and entrepreneurial minds! We’re thrilled to be hosting our annual User Conference in person again this year, and we collaborate with our users to generate suggestions for upcoming enhancements. Our 2020 Alert User Conference was completely virtual and was so well received that we are incorporating a Virtual Track for clients who can attend from any device if they so choose for 2021. Looking toward the future, we think the trend towards initially less expensive subscription modeling – Software as a Service or SaaS - will continue, as will the ability to be increasingly mobile.
Vijayvargiya: Some trends that we expect to see in the future of software include the expansion of mobile functionality, higher demand for online bookings, and an increased amount of online rentals. We see the future moving towards that digital space where customers have much more control over their transactions and rentals.
What new features have customers been asking for that will be important?
Hopp: We have been working on a number of unique APIs that let InTempo communicate with other software programs. This will let customers more easily share information across their platforms – whether those are legacy systems or newer cloud-based technologies. Meanwhile, it makes life easier for our customers’ IT teams; implementation is faster and requires fewer resources.
We also continue to add more and more flexibility to push and pull data with third party software packages, such as SmartEquip, IntelliChief, Banks, and others.
Wilson: Working alongside our customers, we see that each have their own unique priorities and gaps to resolve. However, we also see common themes and expectations emerge. Our top customer-requested feature upgrades include:
· Access Management Solutions: support for safe access to machinery and support for new rental revenue models.
· Remote Machine Controls: growth of touchless remote services and interfacing with machines and controllers.
· Integration and APIs: enhancement of connectivity between business systems and more cross-platform data sharing.
· Advanced Insights: expansion of machine data, and supporting tools, to extract insights and measure performance.
· Predictive Solutions: elevation of advanced machine data to predict what might happen before it happens.
· Tracking Lower Value Items: additional location awareness and better control of items such as tools and equipment accessories.
Fort: I mentioned business intelligence in my last answer - that’s one of the big things people are asking for. We’ve gone from “We don’t have enough information to make intelligent decisions” to being overwhelmed with the sheer amount of data we can collect. BI helps organize the data in ways that people can understand, so they can respond appropriately to what’s happening and adapt proactively.
In addition to that, mobility and paperless operations are something that we’ve considered important, and we’ve been building out for a long time now. COVID really pushed the industry’s collective mindset from “these are nice features to have, but we don’t need them right now” to “we need these to attract and keep customers.” Overall, rental stores are becoming a lot more proactive in adopting technology early on, rather than waiting until it’s a necessity.
Miller: Enhanced customer portal; tire management.
Longmire: Our clients continually find new and interesting business intelligence to interface with. We’re always open to integrating our outstanding rental platform to anything that will help our clients be more efficient and profitable. The trends we’re seeing right now are for CRM (Customer Relationship Management), warehousing software, GPS truck routing (so many neat features for our users with our new integration to Fleet Up!), and a very engaging CAD software called 3D Event Designer. Our integration is very exciting!
Vijayvargiya: Rental companies continue to demand more paperless solutions across their business. This includes paperless signatures, work orders, tickets, and even invoice payments. The less time a rental company spends manually entering data means more time they can spend building relationships with their customers.
Gray: Despite having an expansive catalog of over 200 web services, we are always working on new integrations as requested by our customers. Spanning integrations with ERPs, CRMs, telematics, and beyond, one of our software’s greatest strength is its ability to work in concert with whatever tech stacks our customers rely on.