As part of a series of interviews with software developers, RER recently interviewed Jack Shea, CEO of Solutions by Computer about the necessity of making rental databases accessible over the web, the revolutionary impact of hand-held devices, and the growing trend of e-transmittal of documents.
RER: Tell us about the latest technological functionalities of your rental business software.
Shea: Our fall software release R3.0 will contain several new functions that focus on productivity, specifically as it relates to inventory management. For example, we’ve developed an inventory-taking module that compares automated reporting against physical inventory counts, taking into account any changes in inventory during the process. It allows a rental business to accurately assess its inventory while remaining open for business, which is a major convenience.
What are some of the trends you expect to see develop in the coming years in terms of rental software capabilities? What are customers asking for?
I think there will be an increasing need to make the data in rental databases accessible over the web. We offer that now through our Internet Portal, but we also see it as an expanding frontier. Specialty rental companies are leading the trend; if you rent costumes or props, for example, you’re in a very visual business where customers need to know a lot about a certain product before they rent it. The Internet is the perfect vehicle for that.
RFID chips were a hot topic a few years ago but demand has failed to materialize from rental companies. The requests we’re seeing are very product-specific: for example, an A/V rental company that uses RFID to scan through padded shipping cases to verify that delicate components are inside without unpacking them prior to each rental. RFID has the potential to play a bigger part in inventory management down the road because it contains functional aspects of both barcode scanning and GPS tracking.
Other trends that are likely to endure for the immediate future are integration with third-party software packages and e-transmittal of documents. E-transmittal is a very popular feature with our customers, and it’s growing in usage.
How have smart phones and hand-held devices changed the way rental companies manage their businesses? How will this trend continue to evolve?
Hand-held devices have the potential to revolutionize rental business efficiency in a number of areas, including delivery and pickup. A dispatcher who can see the location of two or more delivery vehicles at any given time can advise or re-route drivers on the fly. This has positive implications for customer service as well as fuel costs. And the costs associated with this kind of tracking are quickly becoming incidental.
What technologies are must-haves for rental businesses going forward?
Rental software must address the rental transaction as part of the broader fabric of rental operations — not as an isolated function. The technologies that are most beneficial to rental businesses are those that take a 360-degree approach to managing the operation for profitability and customer service.
Have there been any surprises for you in terms of how rental companies are using technology in the face of the downturn?
One interesting tactic is the renting of “service inventory.” When end-renter activity tails off, it makes sense to look at your fixed costs with a fresh eye. We’ve seen rental companies get extra revenue out of idle equipment and trained staff by renting an asphalt-cutting service package to municipalities and utility companies — backhoes or cutting saws together with operators.
Our customers have the ability to use our software’s “kits” function to build service packages with an hourly rate — for example a mechanic’s labor rate bundled with the rate for a diagnostic machine, or an aerial lift operator and boom bundled with holiday lights. It’s a non-traditional way to create demand for rental inventory.