All systems go

20 March 2008

Texada Software's the Systematic Dashboard provides access to information that allows managers to fo

Texada Software's the Systematic Dashboard provides access to information that allows managers to focus on key success factors and monitor them closely and take action before an issue develops.

Today's rental specific software systems can help companies improve performance and achieve all sorts of results, ranging from streamlined accounting, fleet inventory data, machine availability, machine service records, and the like. Elements of some software packages can help a company organize and modernize its record keeping, back end financials, accounting, contract management, estimating, invoicing and more.

Guelph, Ontario–based Texada Software, for example, produces a software package called Systematic Rental Management (SRM). The company introduced its first system in 1985, and all successive versions can be upgraded from the original. SRM is tailored to rental businesses that specialize in the high lift and material handling sectors. The system was created for both the big nationals and smaller independent rental yards and dealers. Last year the company released its Version 6 package, adding 150 features.

“When it comes to aerial reach, we have a very large customer base that falls into both categories of equipment rental that includes the all purpose and niche,” says Don Whitbeck, CEO of Texada Software.

Whitbeck says one of the reasons Texada has done well in Ontario is because there are extra government requirements with high reach rentals. State national and provincial entities require a pre–rental inspection on most lifts in material handling equipment because of a history of higher accidents and problems. Texada's software ensures that equipment is not rented until the checklist has been complete. This way, there is a log of pre–inspection activity in the event the government parties ask for an audit.

SRM also has an inventory tracking component. The software can produce reports that gauge what products are being used, and what products are not. This, Whitbeck says, is important as it lets rental companies know when to start thinking about purchasing more equipment or when to take a machine to the auction house or convert to a sale.

“When you talk to the guys who are specialists in rentals, there's only one real issue that they track carefully and that's equipment utilization,” says Whitbeck. “If you have utilization above 75 or 80 percent, you're hugely profitable; below 50 percent, you may not be here next year.”

In May, the company released its newest product, the Systematic Dashboard. The instrument gauges the health of the business. The product will give a “dial” on overall equipment utilization with three color codes: red (bad), yellow (average) and green (good). The Dashboard product can monitor the overall business or it can be modified to categorize different equipment, such as telehandlers, scissor lifts or booms. And within each of these machine lines, the product can break it down by size and model.

“It can also tell you how many customers were served daily and how that compares to the same day last year, month or week,” says Whitbeck.

End results

The Result Group, a UK–based software company with an office in Tempe, AZ and a project center in Atlanta, offers rental software business system that is Java–based and that covers rental, sales and equipment maintenance with financial, purchasing and integrated business intelligence report tools. Like most software programs, The Result Group's applications are constantly evolving. Introduced at the ARA's Rental Show last spring, the Budget product is a new format for the company's Classic software, which is pre–configured to allow companies to install quickly and with minimum implementation. The product is delivered via the Internet, and can be installed with online and telephone support, says Helen Sowerby, senior vice president of development.

Texada Software's the Systematic Dashboard provides access to information that allows managers to focus on key success factors and monitor them closely and take action before an issue develops.

In the last six months, the company has also introduced new modules, such as embedded web–based customer surveys, a fully operational document management system, an offline CRM system that allows reps on the road to synchronize with the core system when they have available connectivity, and a customer focused portal for customers to run reports, reprint documents and carry out basic inquiries on their orders.

Sowerby says the application has a number of features in the system that benefit rental companies ranging from usage and hourly based charging, detailed management of accessories and options, to preventative maintenance applications that will also produce and dispatch safety and test certificates with equipment.

The Result Group software can also track the use of equipment. Currently, the company's software can be integrated with Microsoft MapPoint and Qualcomm, both using cellular signals. But more recently, the company has completed an integration with a satellite–based tracking company.

“We believe it is important to offer a range of solutions within the tracking market, as it is rarely a case of one–size–fits–all, this is why we are adding a satellite tracking element to our existing options,” says Sowerby.

Final solutions

In New England, Solutions by Computer has reached its 25 year milestone as a provider of software solutions to the rental market. In 2005, the company introduced its Windows–based Enfinity software, a rental management system for rental, sales and services businesses.

“Enfinity offers automatic periodic billing, which is ideal for aerial rentals, since lifts are often out on rent over a period of several months or even years,” says Jack Shea, president of Solutions by Computer. The software has features that can flag the service department when a machine is due for mandatory inspection to comply with OSHA and ANSI standards. Shea says as an example, some lifts require inspection every 150 hours or three months (whichever comes first). The product will identify when the first of these two benchmarks comes due by constantly monitoring hours (via GPS data and/or service records) and tracking elapsed time. The system can schedule the inspection, assign an available mechanic, and document the results to help avoid potential liability in the future.

Enterprise Software

What should software offer to help run a rental yard more efficiently? Steve Milcik, sales manager for Orion Software, says rental companies should look for three benefits from the use of this specially targeted software:

1. Improve business processes through easy transaction processing, automatic price and taxes calculation; provide different forms through only one entry (reservation, delivery slip), monitor return of investment (ROI) through maintenance and rental tracking, directly email or fax confirmations, etc.

2. Enhance customer service through real–time availability information, providing usage notes, providing complete and professional invoices, etc.

3. Gather and share knowledge through picture integration, safety notes entry, kit and accessory functions; which allow for easier employee training and provide the ability to create new resources to serve customers better.

Orion offers a Windows–based system called Sirius Pro, a software solution that helps with automatic price and tax calculations, invoices, tracks credit limits and accounts receivable, eliminates time consuming tasks, such as manual form and statement of accounts entries, shows equipment availability and more.

“The system tracks the rental times and will pro–rate rentals,” says Coastal Equipment's President Todd Oden, who uses the Orion system for writing rental contracts. “You can figure out the hourly usage rates. It's a real benefit to all types of equipment. It's all computerized to bring up reports of rental equipment, maintenance reports, and to track statistics on rentals and such.”

The Result Group offers rental software business system that is Java–based and that covers rental, sales and equipment maintenance with financial, purchasing and integrated business intelligence report tools.

Shea says his customers are showing more interest in GPS and RFID (radio frequency identification). Although the technologies have different applications, they are similar in the sense that adoption by rental companies has been relatively slow to date, he says. The company has observed that this is changing, but it is likely to be a slow adoption rather than an instantaneous move from rental companies.

“My personal belief is that RFID will eventually become a staple technology in rental operations because of the numerous efficiencies it can produce at an affordable cost,” says Shea. “In addition, RFID conceivably can be applied to almost every type of rental, making it broader in scope than GPS.”

But with all the options the various software packages offer, do the businesses using them actually use them effectively and efficiently? For the most part, the answer is yes. Most of the software manufacturers say the learning curve is short. Installation can be done via web, eliminating the need for on site calls. Products can be updated quickly and easily.

On the other hand, Solutions by Computer's tech support can come to the rental yards business and get the system all set up. Training, on the other hand, can take a bit longer. Solutions by Computer say it trains the users for three days to get down the basics. And obviously, as customers become more familiar with the system's capabilities, more of the features are employed.

Rental yard EZE Rent–It Centre Ltd., based in Chilliwack, BC, uses the Solutions by Computer Enfinity software. President Russ Walsh says the program allows the company to handle reservations, pick ups, and gather information on customers for cash transactions much easier. He does say he would like more training on the system and is looking into setting up another session with the company.

Pressure to compete and win in the marketplace oftentimes depends on a company's technological know–how. During the dotcom boom, when the Internet revolutionized the way information was exchanged, it took some time for smaller companies to catch on and then catch up. Today, interactive web sites are a mainstay in the equipment rental and sales business. Enterprise and tracking software systems give these companies the tools and the knowledge they need to run their businesses in the most efficient manner and to cull the data they need to grow their companies.    ALH

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