As part of a series of interviews with software developers, RER recently interviewed Andre Gilbert, president of Orion Software, about the company’s focus to simplify multi-branch operations, the future of the SaaS model and cloud computing, and the possibilities of the iPad.
Tell us about the latest technological advances and functionalities of your rental business software.
Gilbert: Orion Software was one of the first vendors to introduce rental software on the Windows platform in the early 2000s. This longevity allowed us to really expand on the landscape of functionalities that we could provide to our customers’ benefits. Our latest add-ons were focused on simplifying what used to be complex multi-branch operations: automating the delivery on one contract of products found in multiple locations, or allowing for the return of equipment in any branch of a network in a few keystrokes. These options also follow business-defined rules such as automated equipment transfer to the originated branch, or a seamless authorization process in order to allow for another branch to pick in ones fleet.
What are some of the trends you expect to see develop in the coming years in terms of rental industry software and its capabilities?
Software as a Service (SaaS) is definitively one of them. Multiple rental stores do have to migrate their legacy systems on newer platforms in order to simplify their support services and to lower equipment maintenance fees, and also in order to profit from benefits brought by newer-technology rental software. Hosted services, either in an SaaS model or in cloud computing (servers are not fixed nor identified per se), will allow corporations to move onto the latest systems without having to install and maintain servers, backups or system updates. These new platforms are quite new and we will see many different offerings in the near future, ranging from homemade servers with small security or backup systems for power outage, hard disk failure, or virus attack, to world-class server farms with server replication and the latest security features. We are proud to offer the latter and thus allow our customers to benefit from uninterrupted application service with a simple web access.
What are some of the improvements and new developments your customers have been asking for in your equipment?
Mobility is one future development avenue. We can now bring an iPad in a delivery truck and find the delivery site with GPS navigation, and it would be appealing, and the size of the screen allows for it, to finalize a contract or check for equipment availability with that same unit. Most of these features are already available in our Sirius Pro suite, but this avenue is bound for additional development and the delivery of advanced benefits to our customers.
How have Smartphones and hand-held devices changed the way rental companies manage their businesses? How will this trend continue to evolve?
These devices are currently and will continue to be extensions of the rental business computer systems. The idea is to work in real-time, at the customer’s location, and this trend is going to continue.
What technologies are “must-haves” for rental businesses going forward?
This is a difficult question. Many rental operators still manage large and complex operations with paper and pen or with obsolete, long-gone technologies. The rental industry is one of the last business spaces where you see Unix-based or AS-400 systems still in use. Obviously, the industry is not very keen on new technologies. But many operators are currently building a competitive edge using technology and, nowadays, integrated emails, equipment specs in PDF, mapping features, or web and remote access, are some of the many features that they can use to build a more competitive operation.
Have there been any surprises for you in terms of how rental companies are using technology in the face of the economic downturn?
Many industries benefited from the current economic environment to build a competitive edge or lower their costs using technology and, even though the rental industry was less affected than several others, we have not seen this movement that much. But some entrepreneurs benefited from this period to build long-lasting competitive advantages and they are very well positioned to gain from the current recovery. It is not too late to act, though!