Jason Albus –application developer, Point of Rental
Clark Haley –CEO, BCS Prosoft
J.J. Shea –general manager, Solutions by Computer
Rod Theoret – general manager, business development, Texada
Michael Saint –president, Corporate Services
Paul Chapdelaine –president, RMI Corp.
Patrice Boivin – CEO, Orion Software
Richard Hercus –director of sales, Enterprise Solutions Group / Americas, Ramco
Rob Ross –president, Alert Management Systems
RER: What is new technologically with your company’s software?
Theoret: Texada Software has recently released Systematic Rental Management 9.1.2, which allows clients to access the application directly from any of the supported web browsers. We have also enhanced the SRM security by requiring multi-factor authentication when connecting from an un-recognized location. For SaaS subscribers we provide a secure web link (https) with a VeriSign-supplied web certificate. Other key features include support for paperless initiatives where users can both send electronic documents like invoices from the server via email and also save various electronic document types such as pdf, Word or any image type in the system associated with a transaction or asset.
Shea: Our Enfinity e-Sign electronic signature capability is our most recent release. It captures and tracks renter signatures remotely via the Internet — for example, delivery confirmations and rental contract commitments when the renter is not physically present at the location. Enfinity e-Sign is also environmentally friendly, which is a consideration for many businesses today.
Some other recent developments are the optimization of Enfinity for touchscreen displays that utilize Microsoft Windows 7 and Windows 8 operating systems, and the addition of capabilities for 64-bit Windows architecture. For the rental operator, 64-bit speeds accommodate the most currently available hardware and Windows servers and speeds performance of even the most data-intensive rental tasks.
Albus: We have been rapidly enhancing our technology stack. We rewrote our entire suite of programs in the Microsoft .NET environment. This arduous undertaking has laid a new foundation on the leading-edge programming platform, which allows us to utilize the latest gadgets and integrate with more third-party software. We released our Mobile WorkForce App into the cloud, which empowers our customer’s employees with the power of Point-of-Rental in their pockets via their smartphone or tablets. Using the WorkForce App, an employee can alert their customer that their delivery is on the way, gather on-time arrival/departure with GPS location data, collect customer signatures, upload photos of the jobsite/equipment, close service contracts, and more right from their mobile device. We have increased our customer’s security by processing credit and debit cards with P2PE encryption that ensures the cardholder data is never at risk for electronic theft or fraud. We are already preparing for the move to chip- and pin-processing mechanisms ahead of the planned changes by the credit card industry.
Haley: ARM has completely refreshed its underlying technology, which positions us to take advantage of new technologies on the horizon. As part of the technology refresh, ARM’s user interface has been improved making it easier to use and more intuitive.
Saint: A large portion of our recent development has been focused on role-specific features that operate on personal devices to accomplish very specific tasks in a remote environment using web services. One such feature allows for a salesperson to receive a PDF of a completed rental, which they then have signed by the job supervisor for completion, and allows for them to e-mail the signed document back and have the system poll the incoming e-mails and attach the documents to the proper order number in the system. The direct result for one of our clients to relieve the salesperson of having to hand-deliver the documents, or have a second person in the office upload to the system manually, has been a 50-percent decrease in time from order signature to order billing.
Another feature allows a field technician to update maintenance and usage information in a local database that is then uploaded to the system using web services once the user has access to an internet connection for uploading. This has resulted in field personnel saving time in getting data back to the office without having to physically go there.
Chapdelaine: Three major fronts to report upon:
Cloud Computing: Not sure that we can still call this “new” but the benefits of Cloud computing are just now beginning to be understood within the rental industry. We are proud of the fact that we have been able to configure a complete business solution with our Advantage system — including CRM, Rental, Sales and Service for revenue generation along with fully integrated back-office accounting and, full-office automation including Microsoft Office, Office 365 (for e-mail and collaboration) within a single product offering. RMI’s Cloud customers have been able to completely dismantle their server rooms and related infrastructure saving upwards of 40 percent in total cost-of-system ownership.
Mobility: We are continuing to extend deployment of mobile functionality. We have “real-time” mobile functionality available for field sales and service personnel that is absolutely changing the way that Advantage users are conducting business. On the rental/sales side of the business, we can produce quotes, process customer acceptance and generate new orders from most any smartphone or tablet without the need to ever generate a piece of paper. And as good as the rental and sales order functionality is, we see the biggest benefit in the area of service where techs are able to collect their work orders directly on their phones or tablets, complete their work orders and capture customer acceptance signature on same phone or tablet, close and invoice the work order upon customer acceptance, and collect service revenue (via credit card) instantly — all before returning to their service vehicle.
Reporting: Gone are the days of having to log into your system to request a specific report. Today, we can queue up any number of reports to be generated at any time interval and have them automatically formatted and e-mailed to any number of recipients (even if they are not licensed system users).
Boivin: New user interfaces that streamline the rental process for simple or complex rental transactions. Tablet-style transaction screens combined with drawers that can be pulled at any time to get additional information, drill-down reports and web portal.
Hercus: We have embraced mobility-first development efforts that provide superior use of landscape. We develop for the smart phone (iPhone, android), then tablets such as iPads, then desktop. Bringing to the corporate world the look and information that is needed to strengthen a company’s corporate ability to compete.
We have defined our approach as MUSIC (Mobility, Usability, Spatial, In Memory, Context Aware Computing). Mobile is the new terminal.
While Mobility brings a lot of added value, we have redesigned our user interface for the enhanced customer experience as well as adding Wizards, which allows each customer to modify according to their business requirements. We have recently released a series of workspace screens, which are role-based work areas that encompass all areas of the role with a graphical and pleasing view. For example: a purchasing workspace that can include the number of purchase orders to process, the number processed already for a time period. Any alerts for delays or high-priority purchases, with the ability to drill into the desired information without leaving the screen. Again, the gauges and dashboards provide the user with a complete status of their daily tasks. Additionally a manager role has the view of the department’s performance with similar drilldown capabilities.
Ross: The mobile revolution continues to drive trends in our industry, from the use of tablets and smart phones, to 'paperless' systems for document-handling and signature capture, to transportation and equipment-tracking efficiencies.
Alert's latest innovations reflect the demand for even more mobile and paperless solutions. Alert has been growing its portfolio of Mobile Apps, including last year's (2012) RER Innovative Product Award Winner, Mobile Inventory Manager, which offers the ability to conduct a (paperless) physical inventory of assets using smart phones or tablets.
In a previous annual revision, we made a fundamental technology change: We changed the way we store, log, and deliver all rental documents to .pdf format. This change set the stage for compatibility with off-the-shelf Apps (which many of our customers are using) as well as development of a slew of new features and products that are now available with our latest annual release (Version 15). Here are some highlights:
Dispatcher Dashboard is our new 'Virtual White Board' that lets the dispatcher drag-and-drop tickets, trucks and staff to planned routes with ease. The driver gets route-specific reports, maps, and tickets all in the correct order via one click of an e-mail button. A truck-mounted GPS system is uploaded with route instructions with one click. Route planning includes the ability to add additional staff, incorporate lunch breaks, return to warehouse in mid-route, and more.
Sign & Rent is our new web-based signature capture and contract management system that allows the driver to collect a 'digital signature' on-site, or, if no one is available on-site, by calling the customer's office or emergency contact. The customer can sign on any device, including a smart phone or a Windows PC. So this means, you will always get a signature before your driver leaves the site: No more blind drops! A web-based version of the rental contract is stored and displayed from a secure server, so the ticket is actually being signed in 'real-time', vs. depending on e-mail for delivery. Confirmation copies (in pdf) are automatically e-mailed to the customer and filed in Alert EasyPro for easy retrieval from within customer and contract records, eliminating time-consuming manual processes, such as combing through e-mails and organizing files of signed attachments.
GPS Equipment Tracking re-launches our GPS integration for collecting meter readings and locating equipment in the field. Our system has been re-written for the AEMP Telematics Standard. Our first systems in the field will be integrated with Topcon Tierra, the world leader in equipment tracking via satellite.
What are some of the capabilities and trends you think will be driving the industry forward in the coming years?
Albus: Direct access to the software/data from any internet-enabled device with role-based functionality.
Haley: Being able to access the system anytime/anywhere will become increasingly important in the future. ARM’s technology refresh puts us in a position to take full advantage of better and faster connectivity so that we can deliver important information when and where it is needed.
Saint: Expansion of technology in data capture methods such as touch screens, voice recognition, RFID, integrations with other systems and devices to intelligently push and pull data will become more important as users look to enhance their capabilities past keyboard and mouse input.
Shea: One important driver is the need for open software design — that is, rental software that easily integrates with other software and third-party technology. We’ve recently completed integrations with multiple ERP systems, enabling users to operate more efficiently by automating the workflow between their ERP system and Enfinity.
Another driver is the mobile work environment as it relates to rental operations as well as the rental customer. Enfinity users use functionalities such as e-Sign to keep pace with customers’ increasingly mobile lifestyles. It provides both convenience and a competitive advantage. Mobile tech has definitely opened up new possibilities for rental companies in terms of how they serve customers and pursue new business. Our focus in developing remote capabilities is to make sure that they’re rental-savvy and easy to use. We put ourselves in the mindset of the rental operator and develop based on our users’ needs.
One prolific use of our software is the E-mail Updates function. These are automatic e-mails generated by the system that notify rental operators on their mobile devices when certain circumstances occur. Typical notifications might be delinquencies resulting in overbooking, wait-listed items that become available, risk alarms and quotation follow-ups. The software’s settings allow for each type of notification to be sent to a different person if necessary, so the right people are alerted even when they’re on the road.
Ross: Inexpensive mobile technology makes it easier to get the right equipment in the hands of your customer and to know exactly which serialized units they have. Alert's new QuipScan software offers the ability to use simple wireless bar code readers to load and unload serialized equipment, eliminating the need to select a particular unit at the front counter or to document the selection of the actual unit picked in the yard or warehouse. QuipScan uses a standard laptop or PC in the loading area as the home base for the bar code reader. No specialized mobile computers, tablets, or cellphones are required. Zap it when you load it (or unload it) and all the work is done.
Chapdelaine: I believe that the current state of technology is far ahead of the typical business’ ability to absorb it. As such, I believe that a solution provider’s ability to help its customers take advantage of all that its system has to offer is becoming a critical factor in driving the industry forward. At RMI we include unlimited consulting services within our monthly subscription pricing to help our customers take advantage of all that is available to them. We are able to do this from the savings that we have generated by no longer having to support many versions of our software. Now that all of our cloud customers are on the latest release level of Advantage, we can concentrate on helping them get the most out of it.
Theoret: With the emergence of cloud computing more clients are reducing their IT overhead by having business applications sourced outside of their infrastructure. This holds true for the rental industry as the Texada SaaS solution has become widely accepted by our clients. Now our clients can focus on asset utilization and profit and growing their business with no more worry about system back-ups, software upgrades or hardware failure. Mobility is a trend where the need for field worker access and employee productivity will be key in reducing errors, removing time delays in paper work and improving asset availability.
Boivin: The user friendliness is the most important trend. The market is demanding solutions that are easy to use and available on mobile devices without compromising the completeness of the information. The simplification of their operation is key. The best companies succeed by being efficient with accurate information in real-time.
Hercus: Increased user experiences that are device independent. Smart phones are becoming mainline within our personal lives with banking, airline information, etc., that have very simple applications that will be expected in the corporate world.
Operational Efficiencies: Real-time equipment tracking, real-time visibility and performance will gain momentum with real-time asset condition.
Business on the move: With increased competition workforce needs to react to the client requirements on time with business data on their mobile devices.
Workspace for rental company staff: To enable multi-tasking and provide alerts based on critical needs. Alerts can provide efficiencies and proactive processing.
What are some of the key features you find your rental customers are asking for?
Theoret: A number of clients have approached us with regards to providing solutions for employees that are outside the rental yard. Providing functionality on an independent mobile device for specific business process to reduce paper has become a hot topic. Web-based access and paperless initiatives are key areas that we have addressed with SRM 9.1.2 that were recently delivered based on market needs and customer requests.
Shea: Customers are looking for flexibility. They want the software to be able to adapt to the way they do business and change as their business environment changes. Even small business environments utilize multiple technologies these days. A rental management system must be able to work efficiently alongside other tools and technology.
In addition, rental software should be as intuitive as possible. And when changes to operating parameters are necessary, users with no technical background should be able to make most of those modifications themselves. If a change to something like inventory setup structure requires the system vendor’s intervention, the software lacks inherent flexibility.
Albus: They have asked for and we have responded with increased mobility for them and their employees via our Mobile WorkForce App. As the name implies, Mobile Workforce empowers workers on a jobsite as well as in the rental yard, capitalizing on their mobility. Not to be confused with the fully functional remote-access capabilities that have been available in Point-of-Rental for years, this module does not require full access to the company server. Many rental employees are purposely restricted from editing contracts by management; these workers tend to be drivers, yard, or prep employees whose job descriptions do not include dealing directly with the Counter System to edit contracts. The Mobile Workforce App is designed to allow those valuable employees to update contract-related information in real-time from their mobile phone or tablet without running Counter System or a remote desktop.
Mobile Workforce allows the mobile worker to eliminate the paper equation by performing tasks onsite without having to be granted full access to the company server. For example, service personnel performing maintenance on a portable sanitation unit can access the service contract from the jobsite and scan the barcode on the unit to mark the service completed. The task is then instantly reflected in the contract, automatically noting the latitudinal-longitudinal location as well as the date/time stamp. Similarly, a driver delivering a high-reach lift to a jobsite can open the contract from that site and take a photo of the item delivered as well as have the customer sign for it right on the device. The photo is saved as a contract attachment. The signature capture is instantly reflected in the contract, eliminating the need for paper to be delivered back to the office and filed. In addition, if an employee is sent out to survey a site for delivery and setup, notes can be added to the contract or reservation, detailing the surface and size of the area or any other number of logistical elements.
Haley: ARM customers are looking for more and better dashboard reporting. Smart rental managers want their rental management system to organize the information stored in a way that helps them make better business decisions more quickly.
Saint: Clients are focused on getting more information in a shorter period of time. Most of the requests have to do with capturing maintenance data quicker so decisions can be made on readiness of equipment, allowing the company to accurately quote equipment availability to their customers. Since our clients’ bill for their rentals after rental completion or at end of month, updating their rental contracts with the proper rental times and costs are also in demand. Clients want to be able to leverage current technology in phones, PDAs and tablets to capture this information easily and accurately, so there are a great deal of client-specific interfaces being developed for these features.
Ross: If this is any indication, this year's International Alert User's Association Conference (IAUA, November 7-9, 2013) is titled: Re-Inventing the Wheel: IAUA Profitability and Mobility Conference.Our customers are seeing the value of re-thinking even basic processes to take advantage of relatively inexpensive mobile technology, wherever it makes sense to the bottom line. At the conference, our 27th, rental business owners have a chance to see what their peers are doing as well as work with Alert programmers and staff, providing their own input and ideas for technology improvements.
- Cloud Computing –in the early days, we spent all of our time trying to explain the benefits of the cloud. Today, customers are coming to us because of our cloud offering.
- Mobility –means efficiency. We’ve eliminated the paper flow while dramatically shortening the transaction life cycle.
- Reporting –Deliver what I need without my having to ask for it.
- Customer Self Service –Including:
- Product availability
- Product ordering
- Scheduling service
- “Off renting” product
- Make payments via the web
- Billing history
- Complete Solution – Systems are becoming too complex to be pieced together internally. One of the benefits of a “complete cloud-based solution” is that the integration, updating and upgrading are all handled by the solution provider.
Boivin: More user-friendly interfaces for availability management; also mobile solutions and web integration.
Hercus: Customers are requesting real-time information to make accurate business decisions in a simple fashion. This increases the mobility demands, which allows the information on any device, for checking equipment availability in the field and processing reservations with e-mail confirmations. Proactive processing rather than reactive.
What is new (if anything) in the kind of reports you offer your customers and what are the kinds of reports your customers are most likely to take advantage of?
Shea: While Enfinity has hundreds of standard reports available, the ability to get inside the data in “custom” ways can be critical to some rental operations. Our Enlighten software is designed to let rental operators create any analyses they want, simply by composing queries or modifying one of the queries in the Enlighten library. The module has limitless drill-down capabilities into data about customers, inventory and transactions. You can drag, drop and rearrange elements to achieve virtually any objective, and see the results in absolute real-time.
For example, the Inventory On-Yard query displays all of a company’s rental assets in real-time to see what equipment is at the business versus out on rent. We’ve developed the query to include the status of each unit: ready for rent, in repair, spare, etc. Enlighten now offers 18 separate queries, many of them based on feedback received from our customers. And our system users have gotten very creative in writing their own queries to analyze specific business decisions and operations.
Theoret: The reports that are included in the SRM are very extensive, including full financial reports, commission structures and equipment utilization. These reports can print directly to MS Excel or be e-mailed in this format. We have added some new reports for fleet utilization and continue to extend the reporting library for supporting standard reports like the ARA Metrics.
Albus: Lots of analysis reports. Also creating more interactive reports that allow the customer quick access to the details. Customers like reports that give them a high-level overview to identify problems or opportunities that they may be overlooking.
Haley: ARM is one of the very few rental software publishers that have been able to meet the new rental metrics requirements set forth by the ARA for reporting utilization. But we’ve taken it a step further and provided the metrics reporting via our Business Insight Explorer. This powerful reporting tool allows a user to “slice and dice” the data and output it via a standard report format or graphical representation. In addition, the data can be exported easily to Excel for further manipulation if needed.
Saint: Our focus is on providing client-specific reports and tools that allow users to leverage existing report designs, or easily create their own. The area of most interest in reporting data is in cost, utilization and profitability. No two clients will look at their data the same, so having flexibility in delivering meaningful results quickly is important as systems and processes are able to gather much more information at a faster pace.
Chapdelaine: Reports have become much more user specific and streamlined. With the ability to schedule the generation of reports and have them e-mailed to the appropriate audience we are finding that fewer and fewer reports are ever being produced on paper. Rather, they are being delivered directly to the users’ smart phone or tablet.
Boivin: A new set of operation indicators to advise users of upcoming activities to be pro-active and very efficient. The drill-down reporting capabilities combined with executive performance indicators.
Hercus: I personally discourage report requests. Reports are only as current as when they were processed. Today real-time information can be provided in more effective ways such as dashboards, portlets and visual displays with drilldown features. Aging reports for example was often a report with three buckets — 7-14-21 or 30-60-90 — but now is provided as a dashboard with three towers that can be accessed to provide the increased data. This is much more desirable. Information that was once provided on a report will be more dimensional and provide increased information, which is pleasing to the user.
Ross: We are expanding our ReportShare service, which is our web-based service to allow our customers to freely share custom reports they have written. (As far as we are aware, this is still the only ‘free-ware’ software service in our industry.) In addition to adding more customer-written reports, we are expanding it to include ‘Custom Dashboards,’ written using our Dashboard Generator.
This product allows you to create complex Excel Spreadsheet models and refresh the appropriate data cells in real-time, pulling directly from Alert EasyPro, without having to manually transpose the data. One application of the concept is to combine several ‘daily’ or ‘monthly’ reports into one easy-to-interpret spreadsheet model, which can include charts and graphs and allows an end-user to routinely accumulate (and save) additional calculations for analysis purposes.
For one of our customers, who has eight stores, we are streamlining the daily reporting process down to a single Excel-based model with a ‘Totals’ page and separate tabs for each store with all the latest financial details. This saves a tremendous amount of time and gives a clearer and more accurate picture of performance, all in real time.
Anything new in the area of customer interface for rental companies, that is, the kinds of services they can offer electronically to their customers?
Ross: Rental businesses continue to expand the services available to their customers through their web sites, including Customer Portalcapabilities, offering direct access to customer accounts and rental documents via secure credentials. In addition, we have introduced 'Alerts' to warn customers of overdue contracts and other conditions. Using our Report Publisherprogram, you can schedule reports to be sent automatically via e-mail to your customers as a service, such as a listing of all the equipment on the job site for the week.
Chapdelaine: Customer Self Service seems to be a “generational issue” where the younger the customer audience the more the desire for Self Service. At RMI we are addressing this demand as listed in answer 4 “Customer Self Service” above.
Theoret: Texada has been providing a Portal solution for our clients since 2007. We have upgraded this tool to use cascading style sheets and web services to improve the user experience and performance. Portal provides the client's customer with the ability to review/re-print invoices and contracts, request new equipment, call equipment off rent and even update job site information. Texada will be adding the ability to manage other areas of the system such as contact information (valid renter, email addresses, etc…) within the Portal soon.
Boivin: For most of the customers, they want to grow their business with a Web rental cart and streamline the communication with a web portal for their customers to access their account. The electronic signature on a mobile device is also a key feature for efficiency.
Shea: Our software is Internet-enabled through our Enfinity e-portal technology. The portal is another dynamic point of interface, like our e-Sign capabilities. The e-portal lets a rental company's customers submit rental requests electronically, call equipment off rent and view account activity reports from any browser. A customer can also check rates in the portal, and any special negotiated rates for that account will automatically display. In addition, the e-portal accommodates development of smartphone functionality for the field, such as the ability to reserve equipment on the fly.
Hercus: Yes. Ramco offers ERM solutions that comprise of customer portal through which your customers can access. Billing cycles, revenue tracking, ability to access, review and order equipment online and through mobile devices.
Albus: Point-of-Rental has offered rental store customers access to their accounts for billing, on-line payments, on-line ordering, and more for many years; and we continue to develop these functions so our customers continue to have a competitive/technological edge over their competition. Most of our customers heavily utilize our online checkout feature of our hosted web integration service to increase their bottom line by letting their customers rent online. Our websites pull data directly from their Point-of-Rental system so that all of the specs, rates and images are centrally managed from their rental software and instantly updated in the website upon any changes.
Another popular element is automated email/faxing of customer statements/closed contract copies to reduce employee efforts and get paid faster. One of our recent enhancements is our automated notification service which can let a customer know that a delivery truck is on the way, alert a salesman that his customer just cancelled a reservation, send selected reports to a manager at the end of day or as certain actions are processed such as a large refund, and multiple additional events that can trigger notifications via email or text. Overall we are consistently working to keep our customers and their customers in the loop even outside the walls of the rental store.
Haley: ARM has been focused on enhancing the internal user experience up to this point, but the new business framework will allow us to easily integrate customer portals in to the system as our customers require it.
Saint: Our clients are focusing on getting information to their customers for equipment ordering and account review. Creating web applications that allow their customers to search and request available equipment has meant a decrease in time rental dispatchers have to spend on the phone with their customers. Online account access has also allowed our clients' customers to view their invoices along with supporting documents for third-party costs, repairs and maintenance.