Make life easy

19 March 2008

Reiner Gradwohl demonstrated the transponder key that gives access to the ‘Mietstation’ rental cabin

Reiner Gradwohl demonstrated the transponder key that gives access to the ‘Mietstation’ rental cabin.

Making life easier for rental managers is what the latest IT technology is good at doing, and sometimes in ways that go further than you perhaps expected.

One example is Aggreko's use of Californian company Satmetrix's customer feedback system that allows the company to monitor customer response to its service. The rental company implemented Satmetrix's CEM Customer system last year and it is now working throughout the organisation.

It is a web-based system that e-mails a customer after a transaction inviting it to respond to a short online survey. This allows the customer to rate the service they have received and to state the likelihood that they would recommend Aggreko to colleagues.

The end result is a ‘Net Promoter Score’ that allows Aggreko to assess its performance almost real-time, and on the basis of a product type, geographical area, by depot, and even by salesperson or service technician.

Simon Lyons, Aggreko's global head of marketing and communications, tells IRN that the system has become an important way to measure the performance of the business. He says equipment utilisation used to be the big indicator, but that the net promoter score, linked to the profitability of contracts, is now providing a powerful driver to improve the business.

He says managers can look up the promoter scores and link it to the profitability of contracts, so, for example, managers can assess if sales staff are achieving good scores, but at the expense of low pricing.

The system can be set up to automatically alert managers if a customer posts a very low score, with these ‘alarms’ triggered to different levels of management depending on the customer or the degree of dissatisfaction.

In practice, it could mean that Aggreko's CEO could be on the phone to a major customer just minutes or hours after a low scoring contract. This allows the company to react quickly to looming problems and helps minimize the loss of future business.

It is also possible to continually change the benchmark levels of what is considered an acceptable ‘score’ and what isn't, thus acting as a driver to continual improvement.

This is breaking into the kind of ‘dashboard’ solutions - with easy visual presentation of data to rental managers - that is increasingly being offered to rental companies by software suppliers. Wynne Systems in the US, for example, has teamed up with InfoManager Inc in Indianapolis, Indiana, to offer United Rentals and other companies a data analysis tool that gives managers data in a format that allows them to act quickly.

Matt Hopp, director of business solutions at InfoManager says the system, “Manages by exception, allowing managers to find that extra 1%. It allows managers to see what they need to do every day.”

For example, it could highlight instances of over- or under-utilisation; show equipment that is unavailable and ranked in order of utilisation; and it can include a ‘traffic-light’ system showing the performances of individual sales staff or managers against pre-set targets. You can track rental rates, analysing, for example, how often they are within 90% of the daily rate, and you can do the same thing on a weekly or monthly basis.

It isn't just a tool for senor managers. Service staff, for example, can log on and analyse work orders for particular brands of categories of equipment. They can also prioritise their work by seeing which machines in the system are currently in demand.

Another dashboard system comes from Canada's Systematic. Its new business intelligence tool, Systematic Dashboard, uses graphical displays - including classic ‘speedometer’ gauges - to give an instant picture of almost any facet of a rental company's business, from financial metrics to asset management and rental management indices.

Systematic's president, Don Whitbeck, says the system will revolutionise a rental company's operations because it “ensures that managers spend little time tracking down information, because it is right there in front of them all the time, so they can spend more time focused on their customers and equipment and less time focused on their business information.”

Other pioneering technologies of the past few years are now receiving a new approach. Hand-held computers - PDAs - were becoming a popular choice to automate the delivery and collection of equipment, with customers signing off the documents using the wireless digital devices.

However, the PDA is not everyone's favourite tool - it is expensive, offers more functionality than is often required, and is a desirable ‘consumer’ item, which means that it is likely to get stolen.

An alternative is now being offered in the shape of the digital pen and paper. Touchstone Group in the UK has partnered with Destiny Wireless to provide a digital paper and pen system that rental companies will like because it still provides customers with paper delivery and collection notes, but digitises the information for the rental company. The pen is a one-function device, costs around half the price of a PDA, and doesn't have the attraction of a PDA for a thief.

The system works by using special gridmarked paper and a digital pen. The writing on the paper is scanned by a mini-camera in the pen, and the coordinates from the gridlines are transmitted back to the rental company. The data can either be transmitted back immediately - for live applications - or stored in the pen and then downloaded back at the depot.

Delivery and collection notes are printed via Touchstone's Microsoft AX/ERP system in the standard way - using special grid lined paper.

As Chris Town, recently appointed head of Touchstone's new rental and construction business division, says “a lot of contractors still like a piece of paper at the end of the day.”

Touchstone has also been looking for some time at the concept of an un-manned rental station, and is now working with a client in Scandinavia, with some concrete products likely within the next 12 months.

Already offering a similar concept is German entrepreneur Reiner Gradwohl, who has developed an unmanned, automatic rental cabin that can be used by rental companies and contractors to access tools and small equipment.

The ‘Mietstation’ cabins - 29 of which are currently being rented in Germany by companies including Wacker, Hotchief (Streif Baulogistik), Hilti and Wurth - can be accessed by a pre-registered customer using his credit card, trade card or special transponder identification tag.

Mr Gradwohl tells IRN that up to six cabins can be linked together, and that they can provide a wide variety of options: contractors can store their equipment in the cabins; rental companies can rent equipment from them; architects can hold drawings securely; and you can rent larger equipment, with the keys held safely in the cabin. It can also be used as a kind of post-box for the rental company.

Inside the box, a customer can ring the rental company if the item he wants is missing, and there is a camera to record transactions. A loudspeaker system also allows a rental company to talk directly to a customer in the cabin.

Customers, and rental companies, can see via a web link what equipment has been rented and what is still available. Private customers can also rent equipment, with the cabin able to take a deposit from a credit card.

Mr Gradwohl, who developed the system seven years ago and has 18 years experience in the rental business with Comrent and Liebherr Mietpartner, says that fingerprint recognition is the next step.

The cabins are standard container sized and are built for a life of at least 10 years, he says. The purchase price for a rental company is around €40000, or you can rent one for €1600 per month.

An automatic rental depot-that's must be the ultimate in making life easy.

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