Turning to rental-specific software - Industry’s attitude toward technology has changed
by Wayne Walley
Providers of equipment and event rental-specific software have seen a distinct change in the mindset of their customers when it comes to technology. As demand for contactless transactions and online ordering exploded due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, many rental operators learned more about what rental-specific software could do.
The result is that rental-specific software is being viewed as a necessity and software suppliers say their customers today are much more open to upgrading software systems and adding new features.
“Clients who thought we were crazy for developing e-commerce years ago and couldn’t imagine their clients creating real-time reservations are now recognizing that this is what their clients are expecting,” says Kara Longmire, CMA, CSCA, co-president and CEO, Alert Rental Software, Colorado Springs, Colo.
“We also see a growing interest in our cloud-based solutions. As many stores are expanding to multi-locations and cyberattacks are more common, they are understanding the value of a service that automates backups and secures their server/data,” Longmire says.
Mark Simonsen, director of sales and marketing, Baseplan, Houston, agrees that more rental companies today are wanting to allow and encourage customers to view rental-related information online and to make online reservations through a rental company’s website.
“There was a decade of e-commerce growth in just a few months in March 2020 due to COVID-19, so online transactions are going to become the standard in the rental industry. If you needed to rent a car, and it wasn’t available online would you still use that car rental company? This demand means Baseplan is going to continue to invest in its ability to integrate with customer websites and customer portals,” Simonsen says.
KJ Park, vice president, growth and strategy, Texada Software, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, also says his company has definitely seen a greater willingness in the equipment and event rental industry to adopt technological solutions.
“Our customers have seen an increase in online ordering for in-store pickup and delivery of rental equipment. Many clients have come to us to consolidate their fragmented systems into one platform. Using one platform reduces time spent learning and jumping through multiple systems, eliminates double entries and errors that come from transferring data across software, and gives one source of support instead of contacting multiple vendors for help,” Park says.
Wayne Harris, CEO, Point of Rental Software, Fort Worth, Texas, says many software customers wanted contactless solutions during the pandemic, leading to more adoption of e-commerce and mobile solutions. However, due to labor shortages, he says more rental companies are looking at software to help them do more with less.
“On the inventory side of things, there are supply shortages, making it more critical to maintain and keep your current equipment — think onboard GPS and telematics tracking,” Harris says.
“As software developers, we’re always paying attention to what customers are interested in and trying to figure out how we can provide value, whether it’s something we can integrate with, tweak a little bit from something we already have or build from scratch,” he says.
Larry Miller, vice president of business development rental and service industry, Sycor, Pittsburgh, also says the tight job market has led to equipment and event rental companies looking for ways to help fewer employees keep up with increasing demand.
“The overall shift of leveraging technology to increase utilization of their staff allows companies to keep overhead lower than in their previous business model. Microsoft stack and the Power Platform (Power BI, Power Automate, Power Apps and Virtual Agents) can allow staff to work smarter, not harder,” says Miller.
Dan Schwartz, president, Rental360, Stamford, Conn., says equipment rental companies are recognizing they cannot afford to be left behind when it comes to software and technology.
“They need to adopt modern tools and platforms in order to stay competitive and also to attract and retain younger talent that wants and expects to leverage the latest tech,” Schwartz says.
“We’ve also seen an increasing demand for customer relationship management (CRM) capabilities and collaboration tools. When equipment rental businesses are looking for new software, they are moving away from analyzing specific software features and focusing more on enhancements that bring value to everyone that touches the system,” he says.
Matt Hopp, general manager, InTempo Software, Springfield, Mass., says that as confidence in future growth continues to rise, adoption rates for new technologies are growing.
“Projects that were put on hold in 2020 are now back on the table. There’s a definite willingness to invest in new software, as long as it can deliver a meaningful return on investment (ROI). That’s driving our development initiatives and helping us prioritize features that can make the most significant impact on day-to-day operations,” Hopp says.
The result, according to Patrice Boivin, president, Orion Software, Montreal, is the emergence of three main trends in what software customers are seeking.
“First, rental companies want a unique system. Second, they want mobility. Third, they need a web portal,” Boivin says.
“In the context of a growing market with the tight labor market, rental companies are looking at a central platform without any redundancy, integrated with the accounting features of enterprise resource planning (ERP). The mobility is a must as it allows agility for a faster response time that customers are demanding. Lastly, the web portal is a tool to capture and grow the customer base,” he says.
What’s here and what’s coming
More than 50 software suppliers are listed as exhibitors for The ARA Show™ 2021 in Las Vegas, with many ready to show off new features, updates, integrations and adapting to technologies like artificial intelligence (AI).
“Some of the latest advances we have seen in software for equipment and event rental companies include an increase in machine learning or AI, which allows the system to predict when an asset needs to be repaired before it breaks down. This predictive maintenance is based on the history of that asset or similar units with the same make and model,” says KJ Park, vice president, growth and strategy, Texada Software, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada.
Dan Schwartz, president, Rental360, Stamford, Conn., also says incorporating AI and machine learning into software solutions is what enables the systems to be more intuitive and allow equipment and event rental companies to do more with their data.
At the same time, Schwartz says these advances mean equipment and event rental companies do not need to rely on people to do tasks manually, like document automation, real-time insights and dashboards, seamless integrations and more.
Kara Longmire, CMA, CSCA, co-president and CEO, Alert Rental Software, Colorado Springs, Colo., says technology just keeps getting better and that software providers also are focused on integration with other service providers, such as SmartEquip and 3D Event Designer.
“The integration with 3D Event Designer means event rental businesses can show their clients their event, with the rental store’s own inventory, and then populate a rental ticket with the inventory the client selects,” Longmire says.
Mark Simonsen, director of sales and marketing, Baseplan, Houston, also cites integration as a key factor when it comes to the advancement in technology for rental companies.
“It is important for rental companies to break down their customer’s journey into micro moments and ensure that their rental software is supporting that journey. These micro moments could include paper processes, duplication, online transactions or displaying live information regarding equipment on rent for customers. There has been a great deal of advancement in integrating a customer’s rental software with mobile applications, integrating with websites and customer portals, and integrating telemetry data from machines to trigger workflows and events,” Simonsen says.
Larry Miller, vice president of business development rental and service industry, Sycor, Pittsburgh, and Matt Hopp, general manager, InTempo Software, Springfield, Mass., say a key advance is related to mobile solutions and mobile applications that continue to become more robust.
“Equipment rental of serialized transactions are different than event or non-serialized rental transactions, but systems need to handle both with ease and the use of mobile applications needs to adapt quickly to the customer’s changing environment,” Miller says.
“Many rental processes, such as collecting customer signatures at delivery and inspecting equipment when it’s returned, aren’t completed at the rental counter,” Hopp says. “In the past, employees would have to wait until they get back to the office to complete these workflows. This left opportunities for steps to be missed or forgotten. However, mobile apps make it possible for yard staff, maintenance teams, sales teams and delivery drivers to get things done anywhere. This leads to fewer delays and better visibility.”
Hopp also says many rental stores are looking to integrate their rental software with other programs, including Salesforce, Concur, SmartEquip, several telematics applications and more.
“Because APIs — application program interfaces — let these systems share data without extensive customization, rental organizations can use their platforms more efficiently with fewer technical barriers,” he says.
Wayne Harris, CEO, Point of Rental Software, Fort Worth, Texas, says the biggest software advances for equipment and event rental have been related to e-commerce and mobile functionality.
“The rental industry has been kind of chasing retail companies as far as e-commerce goes. The personal touch is what sets rental apart from other industries, but how do you get customers to the point where you can demonstrate your knowledge, skill and care? You have to get them in the door,” Harris says.
“To do that, you have to have a great online presence. If someone came into your store and wanted to rent something, you wouldn’t say, ‘Sorry, if you want to reserve that, you’ll have to call in.’ But rental stores have been OK telling people who want to rent items online that they can’t do that for years. So being able to get as much of the rental process as possible online has been big,” he says.
Patrice Boivin, president, Orion Software, Montreal, has a similar opinion. “The future will be connected to the point that the traditional model of a rental store will be transformed. We already see the trend of customers using web portal apps to order equipment for delivery or directly pick their equipment, thus bypassing the counter and the representative,” he says.