In RER’s July issue, we interviewed software providers about how the cloud computing concept continues to penetrate the rental industry, and we will be reprinting them in the coming weeks in RER Reports. In this interview, J.J. Shea, chief operating officer of Solutions by Computer, talks to RER managing editor Brandey Smith about the benefits of a Software as a Service model, the critical nature of customer service and staying on top of new software functionality.
RER: The cloud computing concept has steadily grown as its benefits become more apparent to businesses and individuals alike. Do you think the popular release of Apple’s iCloud will further enhance awareness of the cloud computing concept and make offsite storage of data more comfortable for rental business owners?
Shea: Apple’s iCloud doesn’t specifically affect our rental systems, but the buzz about it adds to the awareness of cloud computing in general and makes business owners more comfortable with the idea of utilizing the Internet as a channel to access software, as opposed to housing the programs on hardware at the business. It can be particularly appealing in the rental industry because the rental environment is famous for being harsh on computer systems, and for the most part that’s a non-issue with cloud.
Does Apple’s iCloud offering mean that smaller rental businesses with fewer locations will soon be best served by utilizing a similar cloud model for their software implementation and data storage? In other words, since iCloud is designed for individual users, do you expect similar cloud offerings to follow that offer affordable cloud benefits to small businesses?
At Solutions we’ve been offering SaaS for over a decade. SaaS is cloud computing in which Software as a Service is delivered over broadband Internet. In our experience, the SaaS option is continuing to grow in popularity with smaller rental businesses. Access to the software is usually purchased on a subscription basis and includes software support. We offer two SaaS models: CProRent for CounterPro users, and Enfinity SaaS; in both cases, the applications are housed at our headquarters.
Explain how all the outside data management that the cloud provides will affect a rental business’ IT costs. How much of an annual savings do you think a small- to medium-sized rental business might expect to achieve when it no longer requires onsite IT personnel?
With SaaS and other cloud modes there’s no need to buy a server or software license, so there’s a large primary cost savings. As far as ongoing costs are concerned, all of our systems are engineered so as to not require onsite IT personnel. That being said, there’s always some ongoing cost benefit to the business because most of the routine demands of the system are outsourced to the provider. In small- to mid-sized rental businesses, where employees charged with system management typically have customer-facing roles as well, cloud computing can be a way to let the staff focus more intently on rental.
Many rental management solutions providers tout their superior customer support capabilities. How important is customer support to consider when selecting a new software provider? Give me an example of a situation when support was invaluable.
It’s critically important. Anyone who’s ever had a hardware failure, particularly a server, knows how critical it is to get up and running quickly. We have a team that does everything possible to minimize downtime for a customer who goes through that, including after-hours support and remote diagnostics. In cases where a customer’s server has failed, we’ve been able to get the business back up and running on a SaaS setup quickly until the server is replaced, even though the customer may not normally be on SaaS.
On a less dramatic note, it’s important to have people at the other end of the support line who understand rental operations and can get to the heart of a question quickly. Our head of customer service ran a rental business himself earlier in his career. We’ve provided support to thousands of rental operations over nearly 30 years, and we’ve seen software put to use in all kinds of rental applications and very specific ways of doing business. It gives us an invaluable knowledge base for our support operations as well as our development efforts.
Explain how software is developed so that it not only meets a rental company’s current business needs, but is equipped to grow as the business continues to grow.
Our Enfinity and CounterPro software handles everything from a single user to hundreds of users and locations because the system infrastructure was designed to be scalable from the start. The same basic functionality that is available to 100 users in a large rental operation is also available to a single-user business. The only way to achieve that successfully is to envision and build a proper infrastructure from day one — not only to accommodate an unlimited number of users, but also to accept an unlimited number of third-party software applications.
What advice would you give to rental businesses that are still using relatively out-of-date legacy software systems that don’t offer the latest integrations and efficiencies?
I would call that standing still while your competition is moving ahead. Rental systems are every bit as valuable as your best employee, but only if you take advantage of what’s out there. When a contractor wants to rent a new compact equipment model, or an event planner asks for the latest tent technology, it’s because everything improves and becomes more effective with R&D over time. The same is true of rental systems: rental is a data-intensive business and the benefits far outweigh the costs of staying on top of new software functionality.