Embrace Technology for Maximum Benefit

May 1, 2011
Staying on top of new technology will help rental businesses achieve greater efficiencies and position them to better compete in the marketplace.


Bob Shaffer, CEO, Point-of-Rental Systems

Richard Hercus, director of sales, Enterprise Solutions Group - Americas, Ramco Systems

Michael Saint, president, Corporate Services

RER: Is cloud computing now the norm for rental equipment companies?

Shaffer: Yes and no. Most rental management software providers run in what is called a client-server environment. The server can be a Dell or “the cloud.” In either case the terminals located on the counter, in the shop and in the office are simply displaying and sending data to the server or “the cloud” to be processed. Of course if you're using “the cloud” for your server it may be located thousands of miles away and you connect via the Internet. For several years cloud computing has been the norm for large rental operations having hundreds of locations like United Rentals. These companies have large IT departments that contract with large cloud service providers like Amazon. For these companies the cloud is indispensible. It reduces IT costs and enhances database integrity by having their irreplaceable data stored at several cloud sites located in different geographic regions.

On the flip side, there are thousands of independent rental stores that avoid the cloud in favor of owning their own server. These smaller operators can use a cloud application but when comparing costs even spending $100/month to rent a server from a cloud provider is difficult to justify when you can buy a small server for $850 — though you still have to buy terminals, printers and other peripherals. One huge advantage of the cloud is that you don't have to worry about your data being “backed up.” But, you can use the cloud to solve this problem by subscribing to an Internet backup service.

The cloud potentially presents other issues. Suppose you'd like to move away from your rental management cloud-based software provider. Since your database of customers, inventory and everything else is in the cloud, who owns the data? How fast can you get a copy of it? These issues aren't insurmountable but it's up to you to make sure they are covered in your licensing agreement.

Hercus: Today cloud computing is not the norm, but as customer awareness increases over the next five years, it will be. Cloud computing is talked about often by technical teams, but the CEO levels do not understand the underlying technology. Additionally, there are different types of cloud computing. For example, private clouds essentially provide applications access on a single instance of the application, while a public cloud allows multiple companies to access the same application and store your data with security. As companies transition, I have found CEOs are more comfortable with the private cloud. As companies understand the technology, they will feel more comfortable and less apprehensive with the data being stored somewhere else, and they will benefit from the financial savings that cloud computing offers. Today, we have more than 300 customers running our applications using cloud computing.

RER: How are Smartphones and other mobile devices, and their applications changing software development?

Shaffer: These devices are creating new opportunities to deliver automatic text messages, reports, quotes and contracts to both salesmen, delivery personnel as well as the customers. They can also be used to check pricing, customer history, balances and other info. In some cases special truncated reports have been designed to display better on the smaller screens, and websites hosted for rental stores by us have been formatted for mobile devices.

Hercus: Companies who embrace technology benefit from greater efficiencies and an overall greater ability to compete. This is true with Smartphones and other mobile devices. The ability to have real-time data and alerts or business flow processes provided on Smartphones and mobile devices will continue to increase in all areas of a company. Solutions providers are enhancing their product lines to their customers with increased solutions for Smartphones and other mobile devices. One example would be for physical inventory counts. In the past, there was a need to print physical count sheets where people recorded numbers that others possibly could not read. Today, they take a hand-held device, scan a slot location, and enter a quantity. Another example would be the notification of a credit change, which could be automatically sent to a sales manager that would allow proactive measures.

Saint: Smartphones and other small computer devices are assisting in the marketplace, but only a small percent of rental companies actually employ them. When they do employ them, they typically serve a limited role.

RER: What are the latest integrations that rental software now accommodate? What can users expect in terms of software integrations in the future?

Saint: Tax compliance software; GPS services; routing services; ERP software packages; API interfaces based on Web services; EDI, Web services and other electronic methods of billing and purchasing; other specialty software packages (example: manufacturing); report writers; and credit card processors.

Shaffer: Some of our more recent integrations include voice communications and real-time GPS tracking of delivery and service trucks. GPS tracking is real-time interfaced with our Dispatch Center module to display where the vehicles are located. Our hosting of websites for Point-of-Rental Systems users has been a big hit. Changes made to inventory in the Point-of-Rental Systems database such as images, specifications, and pricing are all automatically uploaded to the hosted website at night. Recently we've received a certificate of PCI compliance for our credit card processing interface to PC Charge.

Hercus: Our solution is completely SOA, (Service Oriented Architecture) and designed for seamless integrations. Some of the capabilities include: ACH — payment transmissions to banks, portal integration for customer/supplier/companies' own websites, handheld devices and EDI — purchase orders, invoices, and more. In the future, I see increased features with GPS integration and telemetry-run hours automation. Also, additional cloud solutions will be integrated.

To read the full transcript, visit rermag.com.