As part of a series of interviews with software developers, RER recently interviewed Bob Shaffer, CEO ofPoint-of-Rental Systems about the importance of communication tools and why rental businesses should always invest in a reliable backup system.
RER: Tell us about the latest technological advances and functionalities of your rental business software.
Shaffer: Communication tools have become important. That is, communications by and between store management and their employees via Google, Yahoo or Microsoft Calendars or via our proprietary “Task List” feature. Examples include: communication between employees and store customers via our built-in Customer Relationship Management (CRM) module; communication between large account customers and the rental business using the customer portal feature in our hosted websites to provide customers real-time information about their inventory on rent, inventory off rent and their accounts receivables records; and automatic communication via texting from our software directly to the store salesmen responsible for different accounts.
GPS integration with delivery and service vehicles will be a reality in the next release of our Dispatch Center option. This will provide real-time location information about delivery and service fleet vehicles.
What are some of the trends you expect to see develop in the coming years in terms of rental industry software and its capabilities?
Eventually passive RFID tags will have application but the “read range” and expense keeps this technology from “prime time” except for a bar code substitute that is mostly only useful for tracking sales inventory.
What are some of the improvements and new developments your customers have been asking for in your equipment?
Point-of-Rental Systems releases an updated version of our Enterprise software yearly that introduces new features and streamlines existing ones. Providing users frequent updates keeps the product "state of the art" without users having to specifically request new features.
How have smart phones and hand-held devices changed the way rental companies manage their businesses? How will this trend continue to evolve?
Several new features to our integrated website hosting services will be released soon. People accessing our customers’ hosted websites via Smartphones such as the iPhone and BlackBerry will be able to browse our customers’ Point-of-Rental-hosted websites a lot more effectively. Customers looking to rent or buy equipment will be able to view a stripped-down version of the store’s website that has been Smartphone optimized. A “Call Now” button has been added to allow those users to telephone the store directly from their Smartphone. Other features include links to the store’s map using GPS technology, store hours, and an optional electronic Coupon page. With the rising number of Smartphone users, our new mobile-friendly website features will put your rental inventory in the hands of potential customers no matter where they are.
What technologies are “must-haves” for rental businesses going forward?
"Must haves," are entirely dependent upon the type of rental business. High-revenue, multi-location construction equipment rental operations need near-real-time website integration with the option of their primary customers having access to their own accounts receivable, items currently on rent by jobsite and items called off rent. They want automatic text messages sent to their salesman based on account activity and changes in account status. They want robust backroom accounting with multiple depreciation schedules having many types of depreciation. Most all stores are interested in directly faxing and e-mailing individual quotes, contracts and statements. Some are interested in the ability to fax and e-mail statements "en masse."
Have there been any surprises for you in terms of how rental companies are using technology in the face of the economic downturn?
The biggest surprise is how many of the smaller operators that still use legacy (UNIX, AMOS) operating systems have let their systems decay to the point that some are using servers without a working backup device! It’s fine to continue using these systems, but their owners should at least break down and invest in a reliable backup system. And, if one is not available for their platform, they need to upgrade to one that does! What is the best backup technique? Our experience sides with subscribing to an Internet-based backup service that automatically backs up all important files. We recommend Mozy but there are many other companies in this business. The consequences of being without a backup are dire and can result in so much lost cash flow (i.e. receivables) and increased expenses (labor to reconstruct the database) that it forces the store to close.