Interviews with Software Manufacturers: Functionalities and

By Michael Roth

Participants:

Kara Longmire, Co-president and CEO, Alert Rental:

Larry Miller, vice president, Sycor Americas

James Morley, senior vice president of product management, Point of Rental Software:

Patrice Boivin, CEO, Orion Software

Adam Kropf, head of product & development, Texada

RER: What have been the most important new developments in your software in recent times?

Longmire: We’ve expanded our third-party integrations to 3D Event Designer and are about to release our newest integration to EasyRFID. We’re also beta-testing our mobile application, Alert Rover, which will allow users to check equipment in and out from their smartphones. We’re continuing to develop new features for Alert Rover, as well as ongoing revision releases to our Alert Rental Software. In fact, we’ve just released version 22 of Alert!

Miller: In the last year, we have added functionality to enhance remote interaction with Sycor.Rental, including:

·      Additional functionality for mobile workers to pick and deliver equipment to the customer site. Drivers have the ability to select the unit at the time of deliver and perform operational checks on the equipment. They can take a picture and obtain a customer signature. Upon the end of the rental period, the driver can inspect the equipment with a mobile checklist, take a picture and obtain a customer signature. The unit can be serviced and set “rent ready” and for delivery to another customer without requiring the equipment to be brought back to the home yard.

·       Additional functionality has been added to our customer portal that allows the customer to see a map of their equipment, lengthen or shorten the rental period, order a pickup, order a replacement, create a service request or request a new piece of equipment for future delivery.

·       Expanded IoT integration to vendor portals, third-party telematics providers and though Azure IoT Server, allows us to provide a more complete picture of where equipment is, how it is functioning and how much the rental equipment is being used. This helps drive down operational costs and increases revenue.

Morley: Our enterprise software is constantly adding cloud-based functionality to better connect mobile users, fleet telemetry solutions, and other third-party services. Integration capabilities through public APIs are allowing us to both bring new features to all of our rental management systems simultaneously and enable customer integrations to their specific set of tools. It’s even possible to host our enterprise solution in the cloud – businesses no longer have to manage their own internal IT hardware and they can realize benefits like self-healing and autoscaling.

    We’ve also added powerful search capabilities to all our software, so you’re able to easily access a contract, customer record, or inventory based on what you remember about it. Our cloud-native software, ironically, is adding offline functionality to support mobile staff doing work in areas without an internet connection.

    Ultimately, we’re increasing our flexibility to handle rental the way rental stores would like to handle their business – now and in the future. 

Boivin: We launched a complete BI that includes multiple performance indicators to manage your rental operations, and an amazing Utilization White Board to increase equipment usage. The White Board highlights the potential improvements that can be done, like finding equipment that is available or getting equipment on a contract faster. Salesmen can also use it to build a quote with simple clicks and the dispatch manager can assign a unit to a Reservation in seconds. It’s a real new approach to improve utilization.

Kropf: Last fall, we launched the Dashboard Calendar on the Texada platform. This tool gives rental company staff a bird’s-eye view of their business, allowing them to see reservations, deliveries, pickups, work orders, and contracts all in one place. The Dashboard Calendar provides you with the information needed to manage your team’s workload and the power to organize tasks ahead. We like to think of it as a digital version of the whiteboard found in many rental shops.

Since the launch of Texada Pay a couple of years back, our team has been working on some new and exciting features to simplify payments even more. One example is enabling invoices to be emailed directly through the Texada platform. This feature is easy to implement and spares your staff the headache of constantly having to chase down payments. It’s a win for the customer as well because the payment link is conveniently found in their inbox where they can pay from any device.

Other new and upcoming improvements include product substitutions, enhanced permissions and user security, improvements to mobile inspection forms, improved in-yard returns, and more.

What are likely to be the most important new developments in your software in the foreseeable future?

Longmire: We’re always asking our users for their input into development, so we’re continuing to work on what they’ve voted in for last year’s User Group. We’re also working more on our mobile application, Alert Rover. Our next step is to obtain signatures, and we’ll move forward from there.

Miller: Microsoft continues developing new tools such as the HoloLens, which has tremendous capability that will truly impact the way workers do their jobs. As Microsoft-based software, we are working with our development teams on how and where to apply this exciting technology.

Morley: The most important new developments for the near future are cloud enablement, continuing to enhance our mobile workflows and integrating them with the rest of our software, and using machine learning to deliver the most relevant user experience possible.

Boivin: We are working on two fronts: First, the same portal that customers are using is also used by the salesmen with more user rights. The user interface is extremely intuitive and visual. They can send a quote to their customers in a few seconds. Second, salesmen will have access to the next generation of Rental CRM, with a complete set of features centered around construction sites and the recurring nature of the rental business.

Kropf: The team here at Texada is hard at work implementing a number of new features we have been dreaming about for a while. One thing that gets us all excited is the ongoing redesign of Texada’s user interface. Our entire platform is currently being overhauled to include mobile-responsive transaction screens, updated features, simplified workflows, and other upgrades to elevate the user experience.

The past couple of years we heard a lot about rental companies adopting e-commerce as a far more important part of their business and software manufacturers are offering more capabilities. Enhanced customer portals have been a big part of it as well. Now that people are returning back to more “normal” lifestyles and work methods, are e-commerce and enhanced customer portals continuing to be just as popular?

Longmire: Yes, they absolutely are, more than ever! As the public is more and more accustomed to shopping online, they expect every single vendor they do business with to have an engaging, useful, and thorough online presence. It’s the way we do business now.

Miller: Most of our enhancements involve interactions outside the brick and mortar of a branch. Field employees and customers need to be able to interact with back-office data in order to streamline transactions. With these capabilities, rental companies can do more work and manage more machines with fewer staff, which helps increase the bottom line while also improving customer satisfaction. Plus, with Sycor.Rental, all systems are hosted on Microsoft Azure so these interactions are safe and secure. 

Morley: Absolutely. While things are returning to “normal” in regard to COVID, rental businesses are still working against labor shortages, equipment shortages and rising costs. Their customers like being able to access rental and equipment information when it’s convenient for them. And big box retailers are helping make e-commerce the norm – for example, Grainger is expecting 80 percent of their sales to be through e-commerce by 2023. 

By making as much of the rental process as “self-serve” as possible, e-commerce features and customer portals are helping rental stores compete, serve customers, and reduce labor costs. 

Boivin: At Orion Software, we offer a shopping cart that can be setup in less than two hours, it uses the latest technology that allows to fully integrate it to our core software. It’s actually the same system on a web page and a mobile app. It is also very easy to integrate into an existing web site, while keeping the search optimization. For rental companies looking to have a presence online, it’s also a very powerful transactional portal that matches any of the best portals offered by the largest rental companies. Today’s younger generation entrepreneurs want to use the power of their mobile device to manage rental operations in a paperless environment. The key trend is having access to information at any given time.

Kropf: E-commerce and self-service portals are extremely popular, and current trends indicate that this popularity is increasing. As the cost of running a rental business continues to rise, rental companies will need to take every opportunity to increase efficiency and cost-effectiveness. At Texada, we have seen this in the demand for Texada GateWay, our self-service e-commerce solution. By allowing customers to rent and buy directly from the company website, GateWay gives valuable time back to rental company staff so that they can focus on other aspects of their business.

Rental companies are now receiving a lot of data through telematics communications. How is your software helping rental companies to process and most effectively utilize this information?

Longmire: Alert easily integrates with any telematics software that meets the AEMP standard. Alert’s telematics interface automatically updates fixed asset meter usage at cycle billing or check-in, which allows users to automatically bill for overages, utilize shift rates and properly trigger preventive maintenance notifications. In our next revision of Alert, we are expanding our interface to add the ability to show the location of the asset from within a ticket or from the Fixed Assets On Rent Dashboard.

Miller: We have connected telematics data to our customer portal. The customer can see where the rental units are at their sites and have access to operational data as needed.

Morley: Point of Rental has been on the forefront of telematics integration for many years. This includes supporting several generations of AEMP standards, but it also includes tight integrations into a variety of telematics trackers and data handling software. 

Whether it’s on-board telematics, self-installed trackers, passive trackers, battery-powered trackers – we’re integrating with companies that collect that data to allow you to see critical information within Point of Rental. This includes a growing number of features available directly in our mobile apps, which allow your staff to better handle field work without installing equipment in the truck. Not only can you see this information, but renters can see the real-time status of their on-rent equipment via your customer portal.

Boivin: Sirius e integrates with three different GPS systems to track the units and the equipment events and meters. We use it to update the meters in our application to invoice customers extra charges, to report maintenance due, and to locate the equipment on the map within Sirius e and on the Web portal. So, customers can themselves locate their equipment on their construction sites. All events are captured and made available to the users, to analyze the usage of the equipment when a problem occurs. Our Shopping Cart even uses the GPS location to locate the closest unit on the map, like a taxi mobile app. The system locates your position and offers you to reserve the closest one. We use that function in construction companies offering pick-up truck rental to their employees.

Kropf: Through Texada, rental companies are able to bill their customers based on actual meter usage and with real-time updates from telematics. This provides you with an accurate breakdown of usage so that you can bill appropriately. We also allow rental companies to track rented equipment through Texada GateWay, so you can see where your equipment is located in real-time.

How does your software help sales staff and service personnel on the road?

Longmire: Alert’s Mobile Reports allows field personnel to access any number of useful reports on the go. We also offer scheduled reports, which allow offsite services such as accountants to access the system without having to really access the system. We’re continually generating new ways to get information while out in the field, and as always, our users are driving what information they need to see.Miller: Employees need to understand their job responsibilities as well as manage customer expectations. This means “data.” They need this data in order to do their job well and to make good decisions. They need immediate feedback when problems occur without having to call someone for the info. Sycor.Rental makes this much easier because all your data is in one platform. With our software you get real-time data quickly so you have the latest information right when you need it to make the right decision.

Morley: Sales and service personnel are able to access and even update their tasks from any device, regardless of whether they have cellular service at the location or not. Updates will automatically flow when they have internet access again. Contracts, customers, and equipment are all searchable within one universal search, so you’re not having to navigate your way through several screens, either – it’s just a matter of typing in what you’re looking for and the app will find it for you. 

Boivin: The delivery staff and the service technicians are using the mobile app to get their agenda, pickup equipment, get the route plan, take pictures, confirm inspections and get customer signature. Sirius e gets the real time GPS position on the map for the dispatch manager to quickly assign new tasks during the day, based on their position. We also send notifications and an App to follow the truck in real time on the road to the end customers. The goal is to improve the quality of delivery and keep the customers constantly up to date 

Texada: The Texada Mobile application enhances workforce productivity by enabling mobile work orders, tickets, returns and so much more. By providing instant access to equipment location and status information, history, photos, and notes, Texada Mobile helps service personnel efficiently manage their workflow through an intuitive mobile application.

Texada Mobile also empowers rental companies to provide a better experience for their customers. By being able to fully process customer returns from the yard as well as inspect equipment on the job, companies are able to reduce the risk of unexpected equipment downtime. Everything in Texada Mobile is updated in real-time, which allows for instant changes, clear communication channels, and the ability to make last-minute changes to a driver’s workflow.

What are some of your long-range thoughts about where software is going a few years down the road?

Longmire: We’re going to see more and more mobile features. While rental is still mostly done at the traditional rental counter, the people working that counter and the people they’re servicing are more accustomed to getting work done on the go.

Miller: There are a lot of products on the market that are just plain “old technology.” You still see companies deploying the old stuff (e.g. AS/400 code) because it is inexpensive. You see a lot of “hosted systems” being sold that are really just “on Premise” systems being hosted on a public/private cloud. These systems use the traditional “Install version one, modify, modify, oh no, it’s time to upgrade” strategy. True cloud-based solutions, like Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance and Supply Chain Management, are updated up to eight times each year. 

These updates utilize sophisticated life cycle service tools that automate testing so that an upgrade to the latest version is literally an “over the weekend” IT job. This is probably the least discussed feature of Dynamics 365 and it can have a tremendous impact on the overall system cost. Another key factor is that as you “continually update” your system in this way, you get the latest system features provided to you as you go. In five years, you do not have a five-year-old system; you have a current, up-to-date system. Little by little, the old technology will eventually go away, just as we saw with DOS, Unix and GUI applications. 

Morley: There’s an Italian concept called “sprezzatura” – it’s when you’re working really, really hard in secret so you can appear to do things publicly without effort. As we simplify customer experiences, the software behind the scenes will be working harder than ever – to integrate with hundreds of other apps or programs, make use of new technologies like machine learning, and adapt to changing business needs. 

Sprezzatura goes beyond just the software, though. All these additional features still need to be easy to use and understand – rental software companies need to provide better training, more learning resources, more support hours. We’ve added a dedicated learning and development team at Point of Rental that’s focused on creating and organizing webinars, video lessons, and revising documentation. People are excited about the early results and efforts there will expand in the future as well.  

Boivin: Software will be more mobile and working on any devices. The technology to offer good user experience on a web-based system is getting better every year. At Orion Software, we are transitioning users to a web-based interface with the same functions that they have in the core Sirius e. That’s the advantage of a modern well-designed platform. There is no need to develop a new application. It’s simply a new user interface!