RER conducted a series of interviews for our October issue on software technology and will be publishing a number of them in RER Reports. The third installment is with Jack Shea, CEO of Springfield, Mass.-based Solutions by Computer. Shea, often viewed as the godfather of software designed specifically for rental, discusses the importance of cost efficiency, inventory management and customer relationship management as well as how the growing variety of rentals is expanding the scope of rental software. Shea was interviewed by RER’s Michael Roth.
RER: What have been some of the new developments in software over the past year or so from Solutions by Computer?
Shea: In terms of general software releases to our installed base, we have distributed enhancements to both our CounterPRO and Enfinity system users over the past 12 months. Our most recent release is Enfinity 2.0, which includes a Customer Internet Portal to give end-renters access to their account information online and to create quotations or reservations. It’s a strong relationship-building tool that our customers can use to retain and attract business.
On a more targeted level, we’ve been engaged in developments for specific customers as well as for customer types who can benefit from Enfinity’s integration with third-party software. The system’s open architecture is very powerful in this regard; we’ve integrated Enfinity with software such as PartyCAD, which is useful to virtually all event rental businesses. We’re also working on custom development projects. For example, we recently completed a custom order entry function requested by a rental business that has a propane delivery service. And a customer’s own order entry system is being integrated with Enfinity.
What are your customers in the rental business asking for particularly? What do you see as their priorities currently?
That question doesn’t have a single answer anymore. The concept of renting has spread to all kinds of products and services that would have been unimaginable 20 or even 10 years ago. Rental companies are asking for software functionality that fits the requirements of their specific type of business. That’s why Enfinity’s object-oriented design is so exciting; we now have the technological foundation to meet the needs of even the most unusual rental operations. Rental is no longer a homogenized industry — even within its equipment, tool and party sectors — and we have addressed that.
From a software perspective, what do you see as some of the important things a rental company should be concentrating on in the current economic environment? What are some of the ways you can help rental companies deal with the recession?
I would put cost efficiency, inventory management and customer relationship management at the top of the list. All three are essential in a down economy, or frankly, in any economy. There are many ways that our software helps our customers control costs and maximize ROI, starting with operational efficiencies at the point of transaction and extending through the fulfillment process.
Beyond the transaction, smaller rental businesses tend to under-utilize their databases in marketing to customers and prospects. A great deal of valuable marketing information is captured automatically in the course of transacting rentals. This can be extracted for direct mailings, coupon promotions and frequent renter rewards, and to guide advertising expenditures.
Once a customer is in the fold, you want to keep that customer as close as possible. Rental software that includes CRM features can help strengthen relationships at a fraction of the cost of personal contact. Enfinity’s Internet Customer Portal lets a rental business offer its customers the convenience of online reservation processing and access to account information, which in turn helps end-renters manage their own costs and cash flow.
What are some new technologies that are important?
Any functionality that improves inventory management, CRM and cost control is important. This includes tracking technology such as RFID, barcoding and GPS, as well as optimization tools at every stage of the transaction. I mentioned earlier that our software has been developed to benefit the fulfillment process, for example with truck loading and delivery routing.
Two costly things can go wrong during the delivery process: items can fail to get picked and loaded, and items that have associated components may be loaded with some of the components missing. In both cases, the rental company has to absorb labor and fuel costs when the truck circles back warehouse-to-customer, the only other alternative being to replace the missing components locally at retail cost. Our systems use multiple technologies to ensure complete deliveries: Recommended Item advisories, Accessory Kits, and Barcode / RFID scans as items are loaded. This can result in huge savings for event rental businesses in particular, and also with component-prone categories of equipment rental.
What are some of the new capabilities you expect from software looking ahead five years?
The market will answer that question going forward, particularly as rental operations test the waters expanding into non-rental lines of business and vice versa. Future software developments will not be defined by the vendors, but by rental companies who know what they need to run successful businesses in their niches. The range of potential new capabilities is virtually limitless.