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, Bob Shaffer, CEO, Point-of-Rental Systems, talks to RER managing editor Brandey Smith about strategies to test the reliability of a software provider’s customer service, his growth prediction for the use of RFID tags to inventory rental fleet and the eventuality that all legacy-based rental management software will have to be replaced.
RER: 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?
Shaffer: I don't know any small (1-5 stores) and only a few medium (6-15 stores) rental companies that have even one dedicated IT person on their staff. Instead, they depend on their rental management software vendor to support that product and their hardware vendor to provide connectivity and hardware support. Very large companies with many locations that long ago had multiple servers in different regions consolidated on one large server within the company or went to the cloud a few years ago.
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.
Shaffer: The availability and quality of customer support should rank high when choosing a rental management software provider. Call the providers support line on Sunday or after hours. Did they answer? Insist on getting a long list of users of any system you are considering and call the users. Ask them the logical questions such as 1) Is support real-time or does it usually require a call back? 2) How would you rate the quality of the support i.e. do the support personnel understand whatever type of rental you are into so that they can understand your questions?
Having support available can be the difference between your system working or literally dying. Eventually, usually because of a hardware problem such as a disk crash or an erratic processor, your system will become inoperable. Suppose you are using a system that is no longer supported. What would you do if you start up your system in the morning and a fatal error message is displayed on the screen?
Describe the very latest technologies that rental businesses are benefiting from both in terms of hardware equipment/devices and software features. What do you see coming?
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.
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.
Shaffer: Are you planning to add stores, get into equipment sales or start repairing equipment you don't own? If so, you've got to be certain your rental management provider offers modules that will process those transactions. For example, some rental management software wasn't designed from the ground up for multi-store environments. If you buy those packages you may be surprised to find that your software in store two wasn't designed from multi-store and is simply another copy of the software in store one. If so, you wouldn't be able to transfer inventory from one location to another and all stores would display availability only for inventory at their own location instead of their store and others in their region.
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?
Shaffer: Eventually, something will happen that forces the legacy user to upgrade to a new platform such as Microsoft Windows or go back to pencil and paper. Legacy (character-based) systems are increasingly unsupported. And, even if supported, replacement hardware is becoming difficult to find. Suppose you’re backing up your files to tapes. In many cases replacement drives and even the tapes are becoming difficult to get. And, in some cases newer features such as direct faxing and e-mailing quotes, contracts and statements aren't available. Most legacy systems integrated to legacy accounting programs. Most of that software is no longer updated or supported so newer depreciation methods just aren't available and most don't have an option to integrate with Windows-based accounting systems such as QuickBooks and Microsoft Dynamics.