Interviews with Software Manufacturers: Connected Assets

July 14, 2023
Simplifying and integrating procedures, the influence of artificial intelligence, and partnering with the customer, are just a few of the topics on software suppliers’ minds.


Patrice Boivin, CEO Orion Software

Mary Crosslin, co-president/chief operating officer, Alert Rental

Matt Hopp, general manager, InTempo Software

Adam Kropf, head of product development, Texada Software

Joe Lewis, CEO, Fame Rental

Larry Miller, Larry Miller, vice president of business development for rental and service

       industries, Sycor Americas

RER: What have been the most important achievements of your software in the past year?

Boivin: This year, the focus has been on two very important market segments: the scaffolding and distributor features. First, we added a full set of features to manage the standard fixed quoted price for the construction industry. It allows users to prepare a quote with a fixed price and billing by stage with extra claims. Second, we added more features to better serve distributors for selling, financing and servicing equipment. We now have advanced functions to manage the maintenance of customer-owned equipment with the lifetime maintenance schedules in the shop and onsite. With these additional features, Sirius is an ERP that can manage rental, distribution and services with specific features in all the market segments of the construction industry.

Crosslin: We are most excited about Rover – our mobile app. It has been enthusiastically received by our clients and is helping many of them become more efficient in the yard when out-bounding contracts and streamlining the check-in process.

Hopp: We’ve been developing a true connected assets platform that helps independent rental companies level the playing field with national chains that have historically been at the forefront of the telematics space. Our solution, InTempo MX, goes beyond “dot on a map” location and usage data. It puts this data alongside customer, contract, jobsite, and service/work order data to support faster-than-ever decision making.

For instance: service managers can look on a map and see which machines in a particular city are coming due for preventive maintenance. They can then send field technicians to go complete the PM work without having to manually track each rental asset’s assigned schedule. (This can be hugely time-consuming for companies with fleets of several hundred categories/classes of equipment.) Similarly, managers can spot machines that are due for return but not yet scheduled for pickup, or those that are overdue for pickup, quickly resolving delays that could otherwise cost them critical rental revenue.

Kropf: Texada has delivered a new generation of counter operations with a whole new experience for counter operators to be able to start creating contracts within minutes of logging in for the first time. These are available to you regardless of whether they are at a desk or in the field.  

Texada has expanded our solutions to the heavy equipment industry by acquiring Logimove for best-in-class mobile inspections, and Uptake Cloudlink business for CRM and equipment service management. With these acquisitions, we have added new components to the platform, which integrate equipment dealers’ and rental companies’ back offices with their service operations, their sales operations and e-commerce.

Lewis: Our FameAir platform is new and revolutionary in almost every sense. We have devoted ourselves to making it both comprehensive and stable, and that is a game-changer for the rental industry. Fame Rental is a fully integrated ERM system that connects everyone in a rental company in real time — with rental equipment (assets) being at the center of the universe. For all that we have accomplished in the past two years, we are just getting warmed up! Stay tuned.

Miller: Sycor.Rental has received some major upgrades in the past year: 

  • Dispatch Board

The old DispoControl functionality has been replaced with a new Graphical Dispatch Board. This view provides equipment to be listed in a left/vertical column with an adjustable calendar across the top from left to right. The calendar is scalable from a day to a year. Equipment rentals are blocked out on the calendar that can be color-coded. They show active rental as well as transport times, repair down time, etc. Multiple filters can be deployed to show different views including equipment locations/branches.

  • Transportation Module

The Transportation Module has been upgraded to improve usability and flexibility. Equipment can be managed though customer pickup, company delivery or third-party delivery. Trailers are identified that allow multiple orders to be loaded for scheduled drop off.

  • Mobile

The Sycor.Rental Mobile App continues to gain more functionality so that it is usable for yard equipment picking, driver delivery and drop off, and equipment service.

What have been the most important advancements in capabilities, i.e., enabling rental companies to improve their efficiencies?

Boivin: Rental efficiency is very much dependent on speed to get equipment back on rent. The utilization of equipment is the most important performance indicator that has a direct impact on profitability. Our solutions are focused on utilization. To achieve success, every step in the process needs to be under one system that can handle dispatching, maintenance, inspections and returns very efficiently. Our Utilization Dashboard is the key tool to see opportunities for improvements in real-time. It’s an actionable board that provides insights on any given piece of equipment to increase utilization. We believe that with this feature, rental companies can improve their profits as a percentage of revenues by more than 25 percent.  

Crosslin: At Alert, we think that the expanding synergies between technologies and tech partners is the best way rental companies will leverage functionality and level-up efficiencies. Rental stores in every market and every part of the world are dealing with some of the same challenges – at its core: how to do more with less. That means, more than ever before, embracing technology to reduce friction for their clients to do business with them and automate wherever possible. You can see that in the integrations that Alert has invested in with companies like Easy RFID, DPL, and Zoho in the last year, as well as enhancements to tools within Alert such as Document Center, Dispatch Dashboard, and our web services offerings of e-Commerce and Customer Portal. 

Further, we have expanded our service offerings to the rental industry beyond offering turn-key websites to add Alert Virtual Accounting – both of which are services offered to rental operations regardless of the rental software they use. Rental stores are realizing that their rental software ERP is the hub for all their technology. Everything ties into that tool: from GPS, RFID, CRM, and accounting to their website.

Hopp: Connected assets have been the key to the most impactful recent improvements. Telematics certainly isn’t new, but our integrated approach is. Rental companies no longer have to track down various data points from multiple systems of record. If they’re running a mixed fleet, they can have all the data streams in one place; similarly, they don’t have go back and forth between their telematics system and their core rental software to figure out which asset corresponds to which customer or jobsite when they’re writing a new contract or scheduling a pickup.

Kropf: Rental companies using Texada can now easily complete check in and out inspections from their mobile devices, spot equipment damages by customer, count inventory, and manage hourly employees’ time clocks.

Some of the benefits include: Damage detection, which reduces customer disputes, and increases the chances of customers being willing to own and pay for damages. Inventory count through scanning QR/barcodes and managing a digital counting process which reduces or eliminates inventory count errors during audit. Time clock functionality is a feature that enables workers to digitally punch in and out and delivers accurate payroll / customer billing of services.

Lewis: Our most significant advancement with the Fame Rental database platform is that all operational tasks for a rental company can be pulled together into one seamless, real-time, paperless source. Using FameAir's web platform, for example, a rental ticket is captured at the counter, a 'pick, pack, deliver' task is created for the team in the yard, inspections are performed, photos are taken and saved, and the customer's signature is obtained. The ticket goes “on rent,” with every function performed in a seamless, paperless process.

Even the exceptions and unexpected are covered with Fame Rental. For example, if during the inspection you find that an asset is determined to not be rent-ready, a repair work order is immediately generated, and that unit is marked as unavailable.

This question is not so much “What are your next products?” as much as “Where does your software go in the next few years?” or perhaps better asked, “What are customers expecting in the next level of software?”

Boivin: The trend that we see from customers is to get one integrated software (ERP) with the modern technology. They want to improve rental efficiency, reduce administrative tasks and provide a platform for e-commerce, all in one system. Customers want a software that is proactive with alerts and insights and that is saving employees’ time. The technology behind it must be modern and able to constantly upgrade to the newest version of infrastructure systems. This way, they know that whatever changes come, they will be able to meet the challenges for decades.

Crosslin: I’m not sure there is one ‘direction’ that our software is heading, but I can say one emphasis will be hyper-automation. What can we take off the shoulders of the rental store staff to free them up to do what they do best? This will involve additional web services, more functionality with our mobile tools, new ways to provide training, more ways to share data, and even more business services. We plan to continue to work with our clients to be a technology partner rather than a software vendor.

Hopp: Expectations for a seamless user experience are higher than ever. If a process requires 10 different clicks across four different applications, it’s never going to be done the way it was originally intended. Processes need to be simple to be scalable. That’s one of the reasons we’ve been involving our customers so heavily in the development of the InTempo MX platform. We want it to be so intuitive that a brand-new employee can figure out where they’re supposed to go the first time they open up the program.

    Of course, the other side of that thought process is the knowledge that no two companies have the same needs or the same processes. That’s why we’re keeping the platform flexible enough to support any unique approach. Users can configure custom dashboards (even for different departments within the same organization) to make sure they’re getting the right data to the right people at the right time. (That isn’t just limited to people within their organization; they can also share that data with their own customers, letting renters get crucial information whenever they need it.) That extra value-add takes our connected assets platform to the next level.

Kropf: Customers are expecting their software to meet them anywhere, therefore software providers must offer mobile, SaaS, and web-based applications. They will also be looking for an integrated platform, where all of their tools and systems are accessible in one place -- one admin panel, one login, one platform. Enhancements in AI will likely be table stakes. In rental, insights like predicting customer behavior and knowing when to upsell will be some of the big wins that AI brings to our customers. 

Last but not least, reporting and analysis will be just as important as other functionalities. It will be easier to visualize and identify trends, make better operational decisions using data, and get continuous feedback from customers.

Lewis: Our customers want all business functions neatly integrated, including outside web services. A good example is sales tax compliance. As an option, Fame Rental can seamlessly integrate with Avalara, the leader in this space. There are so many more functional areas like this, and we see Fame connecting to any industry best practices, seamlessly integrating the Internet of Things into everyday functions. 

Miller: As AI takes center focus, Microsoft is incorporating Copilot into their product line including Dynamics 365. Sycor will leverage this functionality for equipment availability/forecasting as well as predictive maintenance.

I’m sure you keep your eye on software developments in the world beyond this industry. What are some of the developments or trends in software that you’ve noticed in other industries that you admire, whether or not they are relevant to the rental industry?

Boivin: The evolution of Dot net from Microsoft offers opportunities to improve speed and security. By updating to the latest versions, we can provide more information in the same screen at a high speed. The security risks are clearly demonstrating that the cloud is the way to go with software hosting.

Crosslin: Some of the most interesting things happening in software and technology right now revolve around expanding the immersive experience. How things like AI and extended reality (XR) can be fused with machine learning to optimize how technology is delivered and applied to training and deployment of software. Anything that expedites getting software installed and implemented more quickly, with training happening more efficiently will be a boon to our industry.

Hopp: Simplicity of workflow within applications and seamless integration between applications are trends we focus on. Primarily we look at the applications we use internally and in our personal lives to identify processes we can emulate in our software. 

Whether in banking, shopping, dining, or any other area of the economy, our customers look for an experience that removes as much friction as possible for their customers. Identifying how to communicate with their customers, communicate internally, manage the rental relationship, and manage the payment process are all tasks our customers expect to be simple and seamless.

Kropf: This is of no surprise, but artificial intelligence and machine learning has had a significant impact on many industries, including healthcare, customer service, manufacturing and many more. It was impressive how quickly Microsoft adopted AI with the integration of ChatGPT into its platform.

More and more tools will require less development and the power is given to the users who become the creators. Technology becomes a commodity. Predictive technology around people and insights around training of people to reduce safety issues with analytics.

Lewis: What is fascinating about the rental industry is that the process of renting equipment and items is only a fraction of what they do. At the end of the day, they are businesses that need to operate like any other well-run business. That requires “best practice” capabilities for a myriad of business functions, business planning, providing field service and logistics, running a maintenance shop, and much more.

From setting Key Performance Indicators to utilizing practices like Lean Management, various industries — regardless of the business they’re in — can learn so much from each other. A great example of this is how various businesses use web technologies to bring their customers and key vendors into a digital enterprise. This gives them real-time visibility into those things where they can be better served and can better serve you. 

But on the flip side, some trends are concerning and should be acknowledged when crafting a five- or 10-year business strategy. The most unnerving is what I call “fragmenting your business into the cloud.” Running separate and fragmented point solutions for rental management, asset maintenance, field service and logistics, sales, CRM and accounting presents two huge problems.

First, because they are all separate from each other, there is no information sharing between programs. The saying “the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing” gets amplified in this scenario. That’s scary. Second, couple the segmentation with the fact that many or all these business functions are in a shared-tenet cloud solution. If you look closely, as with almost every cloud solution, you do not own your data. You simply have a level of access to it that is allowed by the provider. It has been said that the most valuable commodity in the world today is data - and you just give yours away. That’s doubly scary.

Miller: We believe AI will be a game changer. This technology is being embedded by the majority of ERP manufacturers. It will continue to increase the divide in functionality between the niche rental solutions and those rental solutions like Sycor.Rental that are built on ERP platforms like Microsoft Dynamics 365.

It seems there is a lot of discussion about artificial intelligence these days –AI is a popular buzzword. Is AI relevant to rental software?

Boivin: There are some potential opportunities to change the way we operate rental businesses. For instance, our Utilization Dashboard could be improved by pushing solutions directly to the users instead of providing only the dashboard with analytics. As soon as an equipment is returned, it could immediately propose where it could be shipped to next, considering the specs, the maintenance due, price, location of the customer and other trends.

Crosslin: The use of AI is everywhere, and this is a conversation that we have been having with our team and our clients over the past few years. The challenge in the rental industry is that there are so many moving parts that impact fulfillment, scheduling, deliveries, etc. that it is difficult to take the ‘person’ out of the equation. That’s not to say that tools that leverage AI aren’t already being used in everything from GPS and routing to automated responses and processes from websites, it’s already here.

Hopp: It is, but in a different way than say, ChatGPT or any of the other currently “buzzy” platforms. A counter rep can’t type “write me a rental contract” into an AI program and have it spit out the requested paperwork (at least, not yet!). However, predictive analytics are definitely making certain decisions easier. For instance, our work order solution helps service managers intelligently prioritize which machines should be scheduled for immediate service based on two factors:

1.    Whether it’s currently reserved for another customer

2.    Whether it’s one of the more popular machines in the yard, or whether demand tends for that particular machine tends to be lower

That data is now enabling rental companies to decide which machines to service ASAP and which to service “when they have a free minute,” using the work they do today to generate more rental revenue tomorrow.

Kropf: AI as a technology is very relevant to the equipment rental industry as it will help users be more efficient, and make better decisions about their rental operations.  Texada is currently using AI to automatically identify when a customer has damaged equipment while it is on rent and piloting with a large rental company who are finding hundreds of previously uncaught damages, enabling them to bill the customer.

Lewis: AI is relevant, and we are very closely tracking its utility for rental companies. My first observation is that AI is driven by data - and it needs lots of it. That is why cloud providers want your data, and why you need to protect yours. Secondly, having been in commercial software for more than 40 years, I have seen countless “popular buzzword technologies” get introduced, get over-hyped by marketing people, and then disappointingly delivered by the tech community.

On the one hand, I fear the extent to which that happens with AI. On the other hand, AI holds tremendous promise. Software companies like Fame Rental must deliver make-sense capabilities.

Miller: Our rental solution is built on Microsoft Dynamics 365. As Microsoft rolls out their ChatGPT-based AI solution Microsoft Copilot, it will be integrated into Microsoft Dynamics 365. You will be able to ask a natural language AI to complete tasks, build reports, and analyze business data from your rental software.