Interviews with Software Manufacturers: Leverage the Power

Aug. 9, 2018
Software manufacturers talk about dramatic advances in the power to track every physical movement, the condition of the asset, its profitability, how smart equipment can help your customer, and more.

Software manufacturers talk about dramatic advances in the power to track every physical movement, the condition of the asset, its profitability, how smart equipment can help your customer, and more.

The Participants

Kara Lawrence, CMA, co-president/CEO; Alert Management Systems;

Matt Hopp, general manager, InTempo;

Wayne Harris, CEO, Point of Rental Software;

Patrick Boivin, president, Orion Software;

Tim Levron, vice president sales, Corporate Services;

Helen Sowerby, Director of Sales, Wynne Systems;

Genisys 2 Sales and Development Team;

Mark Tedeschi, U.S. general manager, inspHire;

Larry Miller, principal business development manager, rental and service industry, Sycor Americas;

Isaac Ristich, director – innovation & technology, Texada

What are the new developments in your rental software since we last had these interviews a year ago?

Lawrence: Alert releases a new revision of our EasyPro software every year; each update contains dozens of enhancements and new functionalities that are voted on annually by our User Group. E-Commerce has been our biggest project this year; Alert EasyPro can facilitate a rental from start to finish on the rental operator’s website. This is an exciting development in our industry!

We’ve recently released an integration to Rouse Analytics, as well as a two-way interface to Zoho’s CRM software, more telematics interfaces, job costing, and on-the-fly substitution of kit pieces on a kit. 

Harris: Our Inspection App, which moves the maintenance process and its checklists online for easy-to-track accountability, is really getting attention for its ease of use. We’ve implemented our own digital signature software, which shifts even more paperwork online and makes filing incredibly easy.

Rental Elite was mobile-accessible this time last year, but now it’s truly mobile-friendly, with searchable report lists, new widgets like Fleet Utilization and Driver/Route on-time reporting, and intuitive charts that use responsive design to allow for easy viewing on every device.

Rental Elite’s new built-in CRM gives the sales teams mobile access to a prospect or customer’s rental history, billing history, quotes, and other data. It’s much easier than using a remote connection to get into the system.

Our cloud software product, Rental Essentials, has added several more features, including transaction, item, and customer tagging, and added integrations with payment processors like Cayan and Moneris.

Boivin: We developed a self-service application for rental companies that want to streamline the process in the stockroom. The drivers can take their equipment, scan it and leave with their contract. It uses RFID technology to simplify the process. They can also return items from multiple contracts in one simple process. We first developed it for a construction company but it can apply to any rental company.

Levron: Recently we have been focused on adding features to our iOS- and Android-based applications to support equipment and service dispatch, maintenance and repair logging, field purchase order and requisition and rental completion/pickup tasks. We have added additional data objects to support better analysis of equipment utilization, equipment purchases and maintenance costs and sales team performance data.

Sowersby: Our mobile applications have gone from strength to strength over the last 12 months. It’s now to the point where we have customers talking about using them as the main method of transacting with their customers, even at the rental counter--simplicity has been key as far as the end user is concerned. We can take advantage of the embedded technologies in the mobile device to capture geo-location for delivery and pickup signatures, pictures and customizable condition reports for damages and generally aim to close the traditional “holes” caused by non-real-time processing. 

Genisys2: In our current product we implemented the ability to send text messages from AlphaRENTAL such as promotional texts, customer reminders for delivery, and more. We have integrated with Trackunit to provide GPS and meter monitoring of rental equipment allowing the customer to accurately track the life and location of their machines. The new version of our rental management software is currently in development and is being redesigned from the ground up to improve the user experience in the software, streamline the daily functions of the rental office, and to create new capabilities for integration with third party applications and platforms.

Tedeschi: Businesses, now more than ever, want to have easy access to data that tells them exactly where their equipment is, who’s using it, how it’s performing and if its utilization could be improved. Mapping, GPS and telematics are the tools more businesses are looking for, which is why we recently introduced these elements to inspHire.

The built-in asset tracker, powered by Google Maps integration, gives users the ability to work from a single map view, enabling them to easily analyze and cross reference equipment location and status. This attractive visualization enables informed decisions to be made quickly and accurately all within once screen. To ensure we give our users the best experience, we’ve been able to create integrations with leading telematics providers such as JCB LiveLink and Trackunit, with further integrations including Teletrac Navman, set to be developed in the very near future.

To many businesses, in-store experience is pivotal to customer service. Throughout the year, inspHire has introduced a range of development geared towards tool rental stores including over the counter signature. This has been designed to speed up and streamline a customers’ instore experience, ensuring they get what they need, pay the correct amount as well as being able to swiftly pay and digitally sign any documentation.

Miller: Our software Sycor.Rental is deployed within Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Finance & Operations, which allows our solution to span multiple countries, time zones, business units, and languages. We can provide a fully integrated “cloud” solution for companies that need “wall to wall” ERP functionality to span across finance, manufacturing, logistics, transportation, project/job, service, and rental. This allows users to deploy needed functionality on any device, anywhere in the world. Sycor.Rental is also IoT-enabled and by adding our solution, Sycor.IntelliCamp, users are able to optimize the up- and cross-selling of their rental fleet.

Ristich: The biggest change across our Rental focused software products is the introduction of RentalLogic and enhancements to FleetLogic and GateWay. RentalLogic is a streamlined rental management application designed for small to midsize rental companies built as a web application useable on any device. RentalLogic is launching later this month.

Through deep research with our FleetLogic users across the world we gathered insights into the key issues in rental operations.  This lead us to make significant updates to the mobile pickup/delivery, field service, and equipment check-in areas of the application.

As telematics grows in importance in the rental industry, the relationship between telematics and rental software is important. Can you talk about the integration between your software and telematics systems?

Hopp: Telematics has been a game changer for a growing number of businesses. We’ve heard some amazing stories from our customers about the transformative power of this technology. One of them, a director of fleet operations at a heavy equipment rental business in the Southeast, told us that thanks to telematics, he knew there was an engine overheat on a machine before his customer called in to report it. InTempo Enterprise integrates with the leading telematics companies. Generally, the data is “pushed” from the telematics provider to InTempo Enterprise. Our customers can then track usage and ensure equipment is being used properly according to each contract.

Harris: For several years, Point of Rental has offered features that integrate with TSO Mobile’s GPS- and fleet-tracking systems to allow managers to see routes, track drivers in real time, see odometers or hour meters, and so on. As the use of telematics has grown, we’ve added features that provide practical information to alert rental stores to take action before a problem occurs, such as to call equipment off rental or send out a mechanic before it’s damaged. We always try to stay ahead of the technology curve, so we are constantly thinking of ways that rental companies can benefit from machine data and how we can implement that in our software.

Boivin: Our telematics technology is a critical tool to improve customer satisfaction. The mobile devices play an integral part in our system. We can use the GPS of the mobile devices and push notifications to communicate with fleet drivers. The mobile devices offer a much more flexible solution as we can link a driver to a truck and add a new rented truck to the fleet in minutes or mix third-party trucking companies into the same dispatching center. The same quality process is maintained and customers can get their famous message: your delivery is on its way.

Levron: We support reading data such as location, fuel levels, ignition on/off for runtime and any other parameters made available from our telematics providers. These parameters can be used to determine required maintenance, billing rates that are based on utilization and visibility into unauthorized equipment movements.

Sowersby: We’ve had integrations from telematics devices for a long while now. Acme Lift is a customer that uses telematics across its fleet to manage billing, maintenance and trigger business processes. We have a lot more customers exploring new ways to use telematics at the moment. These include auto-stop and start based on user qualifications, tracking people against machines for usage and work time information, triggering work orders based on specific types of telematics exceptions, etc. There is a whole new world to be explored in customer relationships when it comes to telematics. And now, we’re seeing construction companies -- particularly the larger ones -- push rental companies for more information and more real-time action based on telematics and GPS data. 

Genisys2: An automated process is integrated with Trackunit to retrieve GPS and meter information for rental equipment utilizing these units.  This data is refreshed once an hour to enable real time monitoring of our clients’ valuable rental assets. For future development we have been in discussions with equipment manufacturers regarding their next generation of add-on and integrated telematics systems. We anticipate that as demand in this area grows, our software can grow with our clients through our expanded integration capabilities to bring this into the rental management system.

Tedeschi: In the early adopter stage, new technologies are often expensive and out of reach for the average consumer, in this case, smaller businesses. The cost tends to be unfeasible and the risk of implementing relatively untried systems can be a huge turn off. However, as these technologies move through the early adopter stage and into early majority, it’s proven to add value to your business and more people get on-board, meaning the costs begin to fall, making it more accessible to the wider audience. This has been very much the case with telematics, so much so that many manufactures are now installing tracking units as standard.

Telematics data brings a wealth of information to a business, combining this with the as equally as important rental data stored within inspHire and it’s a rental company’s dream come true. This plethora of data helps businesses take their operations to the next level, maximize utilization, encourage accountability, increase ROI and improve customer service.

GPS tracking enables you to pinpoint the exact location of equipment and live performance data, such as operating hours, allows you to analyze how customers are using equipment and if they’re using it correctly.

As well as operator and equipment performance information, it also promotes proactive equipment maintenance and repair. Pulling through live data such as mileage covered and hours worked enable inspHire to notify customers when every piece of equipment is due for a test or maintenance, helping businesses to keep equipment safe and ready to use at all times. As well as this, you’ll be able to spot any irregularities in the performance data, allowing you to action preventative maintenance work, helping to avoid any further damage to equipment.

Miller: Our software is IoT-enabled, so when equipment is used on any given day, the data – provided by on-board units – is imported into Sycor.Rental and will be invoiced to the customer automatically. In addition, preventive and predictive maintenance is supported by intelligent data coming from sensors attached to your machines. And by adding Sycor.IntelliCamp, users are able to leverage machine learning. For example, future stock can be calculated and if a surplus is detected, proactive campaigns will find the best potential customers for those specific items.

Ristich: We view telematics as foundational technology, important for many rental business operations. The Texada platform has supported the AEMP 2.0 telematics standard for some time now and for users of our platform there are great insights that can be gleaned from integrating live machine telematics. In managing SLAs and keeping maintenance intervals and inspections current, a technology integration with telematics data, combining historical asset records and work orders from FleetLogic and SRM can provide a significant efficiency and management advantage.

Texada continues to deepen our partnerships with telematics hardware vendors and OEMs and we are exploring more customer-focused enhancements in this area to provide even greater value.

Lawrence: Alert EasyPro integrates with any number of telematics systems that use the AEMP standard, which is a standard format that was adopted by the equipment tracking software companies. Meter readings are automatically imported into Alert from the units on the equipment, making billing simpler than ever. GPS locations are also tracked and saved, which can prevent potential conflicts.

One of the challenges rental companies face is figuring out how the level of profitability of each piece of equipment, and each cat-class or equipment segment. How can your software help with that challenge?

Harris: Reporting is a critical part of rental software, which is why we provide reporting on key performance indicators like ROI, dollar and time utilization, future reservation value, etc. These reports are based on each item’s rental and maintenance history, and really help you figure out whether it’s time to sell or if you should keep your equipment for another season.

Boivin: We developed a series of performance indicators to assess the performance of assets in a complete dashboard. We consider multiple factors with the objective of maximizing the long-term return on investment. We have our own analysis approach that we perfected over many years.

Levron: Our solution is designed to give the customer a total revenue and cost picture of their equipment, either individually or per class. We consider rental and sale of rental equipment on the revenue side, maintenance costs, repair expense, depreciation, purchase cost, improvement costs.

Sowerby: We’ve always designed software that centers on the asset. That means we can get ROI and TCO data to the individual asset level. Once you capture the information at the lowest level you can roll it up to cat-class, equipment segment and any other master data that you wish. This allows you to compare data by manufacturer, model number, location and region. You can truly understand which pieces of equipment are working best for your business and your customers. Once you add telematics data into the mix, you can pull out some interesting reports around some of the costs associated with equipment based on alerts, like accurate usage information or sensor data if you’re looking at engine temperature. This can add depth to your ROI reporting when it comes to delving into the costs. 

Genisys2: Our new platform is designed with advanced reporting and business intelligence in mind. Our software provides many different utilization and ROI reports which are continuously enhanced and customized through data presentation graphs, dashboards and reporting. You can drill down on the equipment segment and view all aspects of each piece of equipment’s costs and revenue return.

Tedeschi: As the saying goes, if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. One of, if not the most important questions any profitable rental business needs to ask itself is, ‘Do I know how much my equipment is making and costing me?’ inspHire makes it easy to find out that information with a built-in suite of comprehensive reports as well as easy to understand, eye-catching business intelligence dashboards.

More specifically, detailed reports such as the utilization report give you a breakdown of time used against potential time used for every piece of equipment. It will also compare the actual revenue vs the potential revenue. Having easy access to this information empowers businesses to take further action and do further research to discover why equipment isn’t being utilized to its full potential and what can be done about this.

Taking the utilization report to the next level, the Asset Analysis Report details the depreciation value of an asset, revenue made and costs attributed such as maintenance and repair bills. This is a fantastic tool that can give you greater insight and help make more informed purchasing decisions. If you know a certain type of kit has spent a lot of time in the shop and is costing more than it should to maintain, you may veer away from this when looking to renew or expand your fleet. Alternatively, you might notice that particular items are exceeding your expectations, are popular with customers and you’re seeing a good ROI. With this information, you may decide to purchase more of these.

Once businesses have been able to analyze this information, it is likely to give them ideas of certain equipment they may well need to market more. Using inspHire CRM, you can build highly targeted, attractive email campaigns with Mailchimp integration. Taking the knowledge gained from inspHire reports, you can segment them in inspHire CRM to match very specific criteria. For example, you’ve noticed that a certain type of equipment isn’t being utilized effectively, you may decide you want to send a promotional campaign to all of your customers who have previously rented that equipment from you. You know they’re interested in this equipment as they’ve used it before, therefore, you’re sending them a relevant offer that they are more likely to take up.

Miller: Sycor.Rental provides embedded PowerBI-Analytics for revenue and margin analysis. Our software can allocate revenue and cost of individual equipment items even if they are rented as an assembly or highly configured piece of equipment. This allows the analysis of profitability at the most granular level you desire while presenting billing at an equipment level that is desired by your customer.

Ristich: SRM has always been able to track financial information, costs, revenue, utilization for every asset. From original equipment cost including any freight, duty, or currency charges as well as all costs associated with servicing the assets over time, users have been able to roll all of this up to cat-class level for any reporting or to look at these details at an individual asset level. Adding to this, with fully integrated, accounting in SRM, contract, billing and equipment maintenance details can also be tracked via a single pane of glass within SRM.

Lawrence: Since Alert has been writing software exclusively for the rental industry for over 40 years, we know a thing or two about how to calculate profitability, and how rental operators want to see it. There are literally hundreds of reports that are included in the system, dozens of which relate to this issue. In fact, ROI can be measured at the unit, class, or category level with just a few keystrokes.

Hopp: What differentiates InTempo Enterprise from many other solutions is that it is an end-to-end ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system. This means Enterprise provides insights into the full lifecycle of each asset from purchase to disposal. Within our work order system, you can track every touch to the asset from preventative maintenance to labor to recapitalization. You can also see any purchase orders, rentals, and disposition of every asset. In Enterprise, everything is organized by cat-class so you can drill into look at utilization and ROI on each asset. Above that you can look at equipment groups, bringing all of your boom lifts together and continue to roll up into the groupings that make sense in your business. These are all available as standard reports.

Another challenge for rental companies is the profitability of bidding on a job, and what type of rate makes sense for them in terms of the kind of ROIC they require. How can your software help rental companies to bid on particular jobs or determine the type of rate that makes sense?

Boivin: Based on our complete dashboard by asset class, we set target ROI. When doing quotes, users have access to a graphic interface to determine the appropriate pricing. Based on the target ROI for each asset and the operational costs required to rent the equipment, users can set the price for an acceptable profit. The software alerts users and the management when the margin is below the target. We also integrate with comparative prices databases to complement the analysis.

Levron: Our systems are designed to make as much data as possible available to the user to support their job pricing decisions, such as job utilization and pricing history for similar jobs, current costs for equipment, parts, incidental items, or service labor rates and win/loss rates for prospective jobs. This data is used to ensure costs are covered as well as the rates the market will support for their products or services.

Sowerby: An increasing number of rental companies are looking to outside sources for rental rate information. We can interface out to some of the industry rate specialists who look at big-data type analysis to gauge pricing and rates more accurately. For those companies that choose to manage rates internally or who want to preserve some degree of uniqueness in the market, then we can offer in-depth reporting of past history based on cat-class and customer. Tracking profitability is a whole new ball-game! This is when the power of a fully-integrated ERP comes into play, as you can track contract-related POs for transport, re-rents, permits and all of the other costs which can otherwise get lost on a large rental contract or large job site. Reporting software comes into play and we allow customers to embed custom dashboards into the everyday applications that their users access so that the right information is visible at the moment that the user needs to take a business decision. 

Genisys2: As part of the application’s standard reporting package, it can report profitability at the customer, job, category or item level and a history of metrics associated with job costs. Clients can use this reporting capability to make better decisions about how to set both standard pricing as well as job costing.

Tedeschi: To understand the full life costs of a rental asset, it is essential all expected costs are captured at the point of asset creation. This includes depreciation, finance or leasing costs, expected monthly budgets for pro-active services, inspections, repairs or any unexpected overheads that are due during the life of the equipment. By purchasing the item in inspHire, the creation of the asset is automated based on a template stored on the equipment category, so the expected life and monthly or annual depreciation costs are instantly calculated. The ability to store monthly and yearly cost budgets and finance & leasing costs allow these to be taken into consideration.

Using this information, a cost forecast can be created for each asset or group of assets by category. By running a report from a rental contract from the expected rental start to end date, the total forecasted costs of the assets during the life of the bid (if known) can be calculated. This will allow the bidding team to calculate the correct amount of rental charges to bill the company, taking into account forecasted costs, while maintaining a profit margin that suits the needs of the business. These can be set at customer or rental contract level giving complete flexibility. Stored rental rates will be used for any future contracts for a particular customer.

By utilizing other reports within inspHire, the ROI of assets can be reviewed in real time outside of a contract. All overheads relating to the items or item categories are shown, taking into account depreciation to date, services, repairs and all invoiced revenue is calculated giving true ROI to date. The forecasted income reporting will also allow users to predict, assuming that all items are still on rent, all billed and un-billed revenue to a set date in the future, allowing calculated budgetary decisions to be made on the fly.

Miller: Quotes and orders feature a profit margin calculation that take all entailed items and services into account. Different versions of rates and discounts can be adjusted in that calculation and finally decided to be valid for a quote / order.

Ristich: Texada created the Rental Simulation Worksheet, which allows users to run price/rate change test simulations to determine the impact on rental revenue when a different special rate structure is applied, based on past invoice billings from contracts over a selected period. This will help clients make more informed rate change decisions across all of their customers/sites.

Lawrence: By tracking equipment both time and dollar utilization as well as ROI, and by looking at job costing for similar jobs, a savvy rental operator is able to use data that Alert EasyPro already gathers to determine optimal pricing.  Another technique is to look at quotes that were successful vs. quotes that weren’t successful to see if pricing is out of touch with the market. Intuitive reports that are already in the system make this type of analysis simple.

Further, our clients have requested a roundtable at this year’s users’ group meeting to discuss two new ways to scale pricing, based on both utilization projection and/or amount of time in advance of the rental for booking.

Hopp: In InTempo Enterprise, you can capture information at a job level as well as a project level. Let’s look at an example with a factory. Say you are renting separately to an electrician and a plumber at the job site. You can put a project over a job so that it crosses over customers. This makes it simple to analyze ROI and other key metrics, and gives you the insight you need to set appropriate rates. 

Harris: We integrate with Rouse Analytics, which provides comparisons with competitors in a rental store’s area. This helps ensure rental stores are pricing equipment and bids in a way that makes sense for their market and will lead to long-term success for their business.

Increasingly rental customers want as much access as possible to manage their accounts online, have access to billing online, be able to order equipment and call it off-rent online and even be able to determine the availability of equipment from a rental company’s fleet. Are you finding this to be a growing trend and how are you improving in being able to facilitate these functions?

Levron: We are seeing an increase in demand from our customers to offer their customers self-service portals for their rentals and account management needs. Typically, these service sites need to integrate into our customer’s existing website, and we use a standard set of components that can be designed according to their specific requirements.

Sowerby: We’ve introduced both consumer-orientated mobile apps to allow customers to access quotes, off-rent equipment, etc. via their mobile devices. We have also broadened out our customer portals to provide more and more functionality to end customers. The question of availability within a rental fleet still remains a contentious issue with many rental companies preferring not to make that information available online, or, if they do, to provide limited information so as not to deter rentals for equipment that may not be available in the immediate area but is available elsewhere. We also have options to allow rental companies to embed self-service reporting and dashboards tailored to individual customers within their portals giving customers access to meaningful data and helping them provide information effectively to their own businesses. 

Genisys2: Remote and online access continues to be a growing trend for the progressive or more newly established rental managers or operations.  Website access via cellphones and tablets to a subset of our robust application continues to grow.  The full capabilities of our newly developed cloud-based product will be available to all online devices. This decreases the capital investment to start using the software and reduces their administration burden while at the same time increasing their flexibility and scalability. It is important to us that as our customers grow our software grows with them. Rental management success is a continual path and never a final destination.

Tedeschi: As a society, as consumers, we are becoming increasingly demanding. We want to be served at our own convenience, on any device, wherever we are, quickly. This has been the norm in industries such as retail for years and we’re gradually seeing this transition over to rental.

The inspHire WebPortal gives businesses using inspHire the ability to serve their own customers through a branded, personalised online portal that seamlessly links with their website. Using the WebPortal empowers customers to access all of their important account information, whenever they need to. Functionality allows them to view their contracts, invoices, equipment certification and specifications as well as a historical archive of all of these documents.

Not only this, WebPortal also comprises of a product catalog and rental contract request system enabling customers to manage the existing equipment they have on rent as well as view the availability of other equipment in the rental company’s fleet. Directly within WebPortal, users can easily request to off-rent equipment or extend their existing contract if they need it for a longer period of time. The product catalog, which is easily populated by the equipment images and descriptions you have within inspHire, allows users to add items to their shopping cart, where they will also be prompted of any accessories that can be used with the item they’re looking to rent. Once they have confirmed their request, a notification will be sent through to the rental desk, of which they will just need to accept or decline the request. All data entered by the customer will be pulled through meaning no data input duplication as well as reduced admin time and costs.

As well as inspHire WebPortal, our open API also allows businesses to integrate inspHire with their dedicated e-commerce solutions, enabling customers to make payments directly through their websites.

As these technologies advance it is inevitable even more of the rental process will be able to be completed online. Having taken that next step to easily allow payments to be made online, we are going to be able to view live inventory availability and raise orders directly through the system, without any human interaction needed, in the near future.

Miller: Sycor.Rental allows office and field personnel to access equipment availability and pricing for each customer. Customer portals allow the customer to have a view into the equipment on rent, view hours of usage, indicate service needs, requisition additional equipment, or schedule equipment pickup or exchange.

Ristich: Our GateWay product has been offering this for the past several years, and the customer demand has exploded over the past six to twelve months.  Not only are Rental Companies wanting to provide basic functions like viewing invoices and contracts, but also more rental management options like quoting/requesting/terminating rentals as well as paying invoices and requesting equipment service online. 

Rental companies want to offer this along with their own branding, and making it accessible on any device from smartphones, tablets as well as traditional computers.

Lawrence: Yes!  From placing dinner reservations to vacation rentals, the public is becoming more accustomed to on-demand reservations, bill pay, etc.  Alert recognized that need years ago and has been enhancing the features of our Customer Portal, where rental customers can log on to their accounts, manage billing, take equipment off-rent, and even pay securely. 

One of the other well-established features of Alert that has been popular is the WebRequest function, where clients can place their request for quotes that can be ported into Alert, so it is clear E-Commerce is truly the next step in online rental. Our E-Commerce solution allows clients to build an entire order, which includes availability, from start to finish without having to call the store.  They can pay for the order at the time it’s placed and be prohibited from making changes within a certain date range of the order. With clever programming, limitations that are inherent to online rental are easily managed and mitigated.

Hopp: It’s no surprise that in today’s world, customers expect to be able to get the information they need, 24/7, without having to pick up the phone. Customer Portal for InTempo Enterprise is designed to solve that problem. The Portal not only enhances the renter’s experience, but also translates into less busy work for employees. Our Customer Portal enables renters to view and pay invoices, see equipment on rent and create pickup requests, pull trend analysis and job costing reports, and more. In the future, I expect use of Customer Portal by end users to increase, especially as the next generation enters the workforce.

Harris: Rental customers, like all of us, are used to being able to do nearly everything online if they want to. Our Customer Portal allows rental customers to review and pay their bills, check past statements, rent items and call them off rent. It provides everything a customer expects from a business they work with today.  

Boivin: This has been our focus over the last three years. The growing trend of online internet transactions is finally taking off. If you look at the stock market performance of companies that have internet solutions in the retail market from those that don’t, it’s clear that the same trend will have a radical impact on the Rental world also. For web portal to work, it has to offer real-time availability and pricing and a complete set of functions to control all assets rented. The key is that customers need to trust the portal and be able to book at any time during the day. It’s important to note that many pretend to offer it but only few software providers can actually do it.

Mobility has been a major topic in recent years, being able to do just about everything on a smartphone that can be done on a laptop or desktop. Any new developments in that area in the past year?

Sowerby: We’ve been working hard on building out our mobile apps in the past year, focusing on the areas that supply the biggest impact in terms of ROI for our customers. As we’re seeing, the largest positive impact is to those who perform repetitive tasks but use only few functions of your ERP—like yard personnel. We’ve really focused on their workflow, and have developed features that are really pushing productivity and simplicity. The user interface is simple and straight-forward, and includes features like equipment search, check-out/in, loading and unloading, image capture and signature capture. Each of these features are designed to make every step faster and easier. There’s no point in developing a smaller scale ERP for mobile if it doesn’t offer better productivity or efficiency. 

Genisys2: As a cloud-native web application built using responsive design techniques, our software is as at home on a tablet as it is on a computer and is still very usable even on phone-sized screens. Our mobile application has been enhanced with the ability to log equipment in and out of shop and much more. We find this helps customers minimize paper processes and increase productivity by accessing the system real time.

Tedeschi: Whether you’re back at the store, out on the road or in the yard, there’s always something important that needs doing, tasks that you need your rental system to track. With the ever-increasing capabilities of mobile technology even more of the rental process is becoming mobile friendly.

Over the past year we’ve put a lot of time into developing our mobile offering, adding a lot of features and functionality that rental businesses have been asking for. Our transport planning functionality has now been completely integrated with inspHire Mobile, enabling routes for delivery drivers, service engineers and service tankers to be sent directly to their mobile device, from here they can open up Google Maps, which will guide them through the most efficient route to take. Not only this, businesses can now track their mobile workforce, within inspHire’s back office system, using the built-in GPS on their smartphones or tablets. This is not just a fantastic feature for monitoring their progress and productivity, but it is also an invaluable customer service tool as you can now give more accurate estimations to your customers of when the item or job they are expecting will arrive.

As well as introducing our transport planning functionality to inspHire Mobile, we also launched a new Over the Counter Signature’ feature. Now, when a customer comes into the store to make either a purchase or rental, you can process their payment and immediately capture their signature on a mobile device, enabling them to digitally sign any documentation you need them to. This will speed up the customer experience and will also give you a full digital paper trail.

We have also enhanced our delivery and pick-ups experience on inspHire Mobile by adding the ability to auto email documents straight from your hand-held device. For example, a delivery driver has requested a signature on site to confirm the delivery has been completed, this delivery note can now be generated and emailed straight to the site contact or a specified email address that can be typed in.

The generation that is now stepping into the rental industry have grown up with mobile phones in their hand, it’s how they function and businesses utilizing mobile will enable them to be most productive. As you mentioned, mobility has been a major topic over recent years and I can only see this gaining even more traction as it’s going to be a must to attracting young, up and coming, talented staff.

Miller: Sycor.Rental can provide a user-definable mobile platform to allow selected functionality for specific personnel roles in the company. This can even be extended to users that do not have continuous cellular or Wi-Fi connectivity. Users can perform the job function, collect data, take pictures, capture signatures, and have the system “forward/synchronize” the data once connectivity is again established.

Ristich: Many employees of a rental company work on the road, the yard, or the job site and mobile apps have become a critical tool for nearly all rental companies that want to remain competitive, increase efficiency and grow their market share. FleetLogic, our mobile work management system, covers your delivery team, service team, and rental operators by enabling everyone to get their jobs completed from anywhere. This year, we have shipped several major updates for FleetLogic with new productivity benefits and team management tools, making getting work done more accurately and faster than ever.

Lawrence: Alert has been developing mobility features for the past several revisions of our EasyPro software, and we keep focusing our development energies in this area.  Along with our newest E-Commerce offering, we have continued to expand our Sign&Rent capabilities to allow more and more remote functionality for both clients and staff: secure payment from your client’s mobile device can (if it is allowed) add the deposit to the ticket and even convert it from a bid to a reservation without taking any of your staff’s time; collection and auto-attachment of signatures, photos, notes, and even count sheets to tickets; and much more.

Mobile Timecard allows authorized employees to punch in and out from a remote location. Seamless integration with the rest of the timecard system makes this function easy to deploy, and our users are saving administrative time using this feature.

While we are continuing to expand our Mobile Reports options (which gives staff outside the brick and mortar building access to real-time Alert data via a URL), we also continue to add to the numbers of reports that can be pushed to staff and clients on a scheduled basis.

Hopp: We offer a powerful mobile app that comes with stunning dashboards, equipment rates and availability, and more. In the past year, we’ve added an equipment condition reporting module that enables drivers and yard staff to check equipment in and out, take notes, capture pictures, and email reports. The future of mobile should go one step further in creating efficiencies. Most rental businesses use post-it notes or whiteboards to write down notes and reminders because their customers are moving so quickly. Our vision is an app that will facilitate the entire rental process from the initial contact through putting the equipment on the truck and getting it to your customer.

For example, if a customer calls your salesperson and asks for a piece of equipment, the salesperson can use our app to see what’s available and what is coming back in the next couple of days. But let’s say the requested equipment will be returned in the morning. How do you use mobile to make sure it gets returned and cleaned up and turned around? The idea is to connect the responsibilities of the yard, the shop, the rental coordinator -- everything that needs to happen with each particular unit -- and make it seamless. This way, you not only have a record of the entire rental cycle, you’ve made it easier for your staff to ensure the best experience for your customers. 

Harris: Our Inspection App, Elite’s new CRM, and our digital signature applications are all web-based, which allows that information to be accessed from anywhere on a smartphone or tablet. We’ve seen that our partners are very interested in increased mobility, and our developments are all being built with that in mind.

Boivin: At Orion, users can do all their day-to-day transactions on a smart phone or pad. It’s not just a complementary app. It’s a complete set of functions to operate anywhere. It goes from quoting, shipping, invoicing, performing maintenance in the field and a full CRM, to a performance indicators dashboard and more. The nature of assets rental is that it’s constantly moving. The system must follow.

Levron: Additions to capabilities such as offline processing, dispatch of equipment and service, creation and completion of maintenance schedule/repair details, and tools for sales teams to enter prospect / lead information and new rental orders.

What are important future trends and developments that you see, both from what rental companies are asking for and what your programmers are working on?

Genisys2: The central decision theme in our new software is integrations. More than ever, our clients want to be able to link their rental management system to their telematics system or their liens management system. Genisys 2 continues integrating with equipment manufacturers, data analytics vendors, data presentation tools (such as Power BI), and new peripheral devices that take developing technology to ever-increasing new levels. We are building the next generation of rental management software with this firmly in mind.

Tedeschi: With the great advances in telematics and the industry likely to move towards most machines being equipped with trackers, it is likely that we’re in for a change in the way businesses are charging their customers. Currently, we see rentals charged for on a daily basis, this model has been a consistent for years, but with the development of telematics, this is likely to change. I feel rental is likely to move towards a more utilization-based rates model, meaning customers are only charged for the time they are actually using equipment.

As we see the industry evolving, customers’ expectations are evolving with it. Understanding your customers, knowing what they need, what makes them tick and ultimately, what persuades them to make a purchase, or in this case, rental. We’re seeing ever-growing demand and requests as to the capabilities of inspHire CRM. A powerful CRM system that enables businesses to synchronize marketing, sales in a single system, empowers businesses to better target their equipment offerings. Most recently, we have added a wide variety of functionality to inspHire CRM that gives sales and marketing teams the tools they need to hit their targets, for example, the introduction of mandatory fields pushes sales staff down the ideal route, making sure they capture all of the necessary data that is vital to your sales process. Also, a brand-new sales funnel displays all of your customers in a visual, easy to understand format, allowing you to focus your time and effort on those that are most likely to convert to a sale.

Miller: Leveraging the power of AI and Machine Learning has been and will continue to be an important trend. At Sycor, we have been examining AI over the last couple of years and we will continue to utilize these technologies to enhance our software and further optimize our customers’ processes. Sycor.Rental is deploying Artificial Intelligence (AI) into our service and maintenance system, which will enable the user to define custom algorithm-based data feeds (equipment operating conditions, usage locations, oil analysis) to schedule service repairs or adjust maintenance schedules. This functionality will help contain costs, enhance revenue opportunities, and extend the life of the rental assets.

Ristich: We recently doubled the size of our research and development team, who have been extremely busy working on several exciting new products, and significant updates to our products SRM, FleetLogic and GateWay.

We are really excited about our newest product RentalLogic, a streamlined rental management application designed for small to midsize rental companies. RentalLogic is launching later this month. We are also investing heavily into emerging technologies such as AI, Machine Learning, and Augmented Reality.

Earlier this year we launched an augmented reality (AR) experience -  Vision X - which demonstrates our view toward the future mobile worker. We believe strongly in spatial computing and wearables, and just like the transition to mobile computing which has taken place over the past few years, spatial computing will be the next major interface shift. Wearables like AR smart glasses will enable new capabilities for mobile workers, such as interacting handsfree with multiple applications, or just using one’s voice for computing.

Using AI, and Machine Learning we hope to soon be able to provide users with smarter maintenance recommendations. Instead of using a maintenance schedule, which we already support in our platform today, we are looking to use multiple data sources, such as live asset condition (telematics) and historical maintenance data to optimize maintenance operations by lowering service costs, while also increasing asset uptime.

Harris: In the shorter-term future, we’re mostly focusing on data mobility, increasing access to the system from any device, anywhere. At each stage of the process, customers have raved about new interfaces, and we’re working toward getting to the point where everything’s accessible everywhere, as long as their permissions allow them that access. In the longer-term, the buzzwords are augmented reality, and virtual reality. Some manufacturers are using VR and AR to introduce people to new products and allow them to “try” equipment before buying it. Those products will become more widespread and valuable as they become less expensive to implement and more manufacturers sell products with those features in mind.

Boivin: We are developing a self-service stand to allow customers to do their rental contracts on their own, instead of waiting in line to get to the counter. The stand provides full information on the product with pictures and even videos. Slowly, the stand will replace the staff, reduce the waiting and frustrating time of waiting inline. It will be a transition to ecommerce solutions. Customers will be invited to download the mobile app or visit the web portal next time they need equipment. Thus, reducing the time at the rental store while developing a strong relationship that will stays for years. We believe that first rental stores that customers download the app from will be adopted for years.

Levron: The largest increase in requests for service have been related to custom interfaces and business logic to deliver efficiency for employees, support for defined workflows, data analytics to support business intelligence (equipment availability and utilization, ROI, customer valuation and retention, capital expenditure requirements, etc.) and integration of applications and services to provide the best possible solutions according to their situation.

Sowerby: There’s a strong need for simplicity, automation and personalization. With so much new tech emerging, companies are now re-evaluating their tech stack and looking for ways to make it easier to manage. They’re also looking for gains in productivity for their end users, which is why mobile has really become the driver when companies are looking for new software. Automation, while not a new trend, is going to continue to grow, and probably at a greater clip than today. With the Internet of Things and big data, the need to automate as much as possible is a necessity—to collect and disseminate the information, to auto-create orders or invoices—it’s near impossible to manage this without some sort of automation and triggers in place.

And personalization is going to take a huge leap. Studies are suggesting that by 2020, the customer experience will surpass pricing and product as the key brand differentiator. Online or offline, companies are going to start investing heavily in customer experience (CX). Many have already invested in customer portals and consumer-based apps as a starter, but the next step is how to deliver relevant and timely account information to your sales reps, call centers or branches—those who need to interact with your customer and create an instant relationship despite having never interacted before. This is when CRM integration and embedded dashboards will become critical.