RER recently interviewed Point-of-Rental Systems’ CEO Bob Shaffer about the latest trends in rental software technology. Shaffer expects event-triggered text messaging to continue growing as well as the use of mobile devices, data mining and RFID tags.
By Brandey Smith, rer
RER: Is cloud computing now the norm for rental equipment companies? Why or why not?
Shaffer: Yes and no. Most rental management software providers run in what is called a client-server environment. The server can be a Dell or "the cloud," for example. In either case the terminals located on the counter, in the shop and in the office are simply displaying and sending data to the server or "the cloud" to be processed. Of course if you're using "The cloud" for your server it may be located thousands of miles away and you connect via the Internet. For several years cloud computing has been the norm for large rental operations having hundreds of locations like United Rentals. These companies have large IT departments that contract with large cloud service providers like Amazon. For these companies the cloud is indispensible. It reduces IT costs and enhances database integrity by having their irreplaceable data stored at several cloud sites located in different geographic regions.
On the flip side, there are thousands of independent rental stores that avoid the cloud in favor of owning their own server. These smaller operators can use a cloud application but when comparing costs even spending $100/month to rent a server from a cloud provider is difficult to justify when you can buy a small server for $850 and you still have to buy terminals, printers and other peripherals. One huge advantage of the cloud is that you don't have to worry about your data being "backed up." But, you can use the cloud to solve this problem by subscribing to an Internet backup service.
The cloud potentially presents other issues. Suppose you'd like to move away from your rental management cloud-based software provider. Since your database of customers, inventory and everything else is in the cloud, who owns the data? How fast can you get a copy of it? These issues aren't insurmountable but it's up to you to make sure they are covered in your licensing agreement.
RER: How are Smartphones and other mobile devices, and their applications changing software development?
Shaffer: These devices are creating new opportunities to deliver automatic text messages, reports, quotes and contracts to both salesmen, delivery personnel as well as the customers. They can also be used to check pricing, customer history, balances and other info. In some cases special truncated reports have been designed to display better on the smaller screens and websites hosted for rental stores by us have been formatted for mobile devices.
RER: What are the latest integrations that rental software now accommodate? What can users expect in terms of software integrations in the future?
Shaffer: Some of our more recent integrations include voice communications and real-time GPS tracking of delivery and service trucks. GPS tracking is real-time interfaced with our Dispatch Center module to display where the vehicles are located. Our hosting of websites for Point-of-Rental Systems users has been a big hit. Changes made to inventory in the Point-of-Rental Systems database such as images, specifications, and pricing are all automatically uploaded to the hosted website at night. Recently we've received a certificate of PCI compliance for our credit card processing interface to PC Charge.
RER: What sort of new technologies can rental companies expect to find in their rental software updates in the next few years?
Shaffer: I expect to see more automatic texting and e-mailing of important triggered events to salesmen, management, operations and maintenance personnel. Data Mining will be used to automatically provide alerts to management. RFID tags will become the norm to inventory individual serialized items. RFID currently has application in linen rental and it will spread to equipment rental over the next couple of years.
RER: Are you using social media, i.e. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, to communicate with your customers and demonstrate new software features?
Shaffer: Point-of-Rental Systems is on Facebook but not for the purpose of communicating with our users. We have a private User Forum at point-of-rental.com website for that purpose. We prefer to use e-mail to communicate with customers. E-mail has the advantage of communicating with multiple people within the store simultaneously and it doesn't force our customer to frequently visit our Facebook page for timely information. Our most recent mass e-mail to end users was our monthly QuickTips publication. These tips alert end users to various features in the software they may have missed. One QuickTip was titled "Point-of-Rental Shortcuts." It describes various shortcuts within our software that will minimize the number of keystrokes necessary to accomplish various tasks.
RER: I know many rental businesses only use a fraction of the functionality of their rental management software. Tell me two of the most underutilized software features that rental companies could benefit from if they knew how to better take advantage of them.Shaffer: There are a slew of features that are rarely used but not one or two that stand out because the management style, focus and niche of most stores is quite varied. My advice, regardless of which rental management software you are using, is to assign a specific individual in your company to be responsible for getting the most out of the system. Look around your business. Do you have any employee with some business acumen? Possibly a younger employee that enjoys working with computers, is detail oriented and has been with you long enough to understand the business? If so, give that employee at least half a day a week to look around your system menus trying to find features that may be exploited. If there is a training mode use it. Have them print reports and screens that look interesting, take notes and be responsible for finding and reporting to you at least one interesting feature, report or display per week.