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Press Release 2001

June 16, 2001 - Equipment Renter Gets Mobile Boost - By Mitch Wagner & RSC

Rental Service Corporation Mobile Project Summary

  • NEC MobilePro 800 mini notebooks (Windows CE) given to 500 sales force
  • Equipped staff has achieved 10% more revenue than non-equipped counterparts
  • Remote use enables faster reaction to emergencies
  • Application developed using @Hand middleware - handles synchronization with AS/400
  • First implementation does not use real-time wireless network connection

Construction equipment rental company Rental Service Corp. increased revenue for some of its sales staff by about 10 percent by giving them mobile computers.

The company, which rents construction equipment to commercial builders, deployed the mini-notebooks to about 500 salespeople in a $1 million initiative called Market Growth Management. Sales staff equipped with the handhelds generate about $12,000 more monthly revenue than those not equipped, said Jeff Cummings, vice president of strategic accounts for Rental Service Corp.

The company plans to deploy handhelds to an additional 450 sales staff by the end of the year, he said.

The devices used are NEC MobilePro 800s, mini-notebook computers running Windows CE. The application, which was written by Rental Services Corp. using mobile computing middleware from @hand Corp., gives sales staff access to Customer Relationship Management (CRM) information such as profiles of customers, products, territories, new leads and order status. The @hand software handles synchronization with the company's main data store, which is on an AS/400, as well as distribution of bug fixes and updates to the client software. Server- side business logic runs on SQL Server.

Rental Service is the second-largest construction rental company in the United States, operating under two brands, RSC, and Prime, a company that Rental Service bought in February.

The mobile units give salespeople the freedom to get out from behind their desks and build relationships with customers, Cummings said. The applicaton also allows salespeople to react quickly and change customer orders in the event of inevitable emergencies. ''Construction is almost crisis management. We have to be flexible,'' Cummings said.

The Remote Service application won a ''Moby'' award from analyst firm Mobile Insights for best sales force automation application using mobile computing.

''They were able to integrate it really quickly and easily with existing legacy systems, deploy very quickly and begin to see ROI in terms of cost reductions and mproved productivity, almost immediately,'' said Mobile Insights analyst Terry Nozick. ''That's a very efficient and leading-edge kind of mobile technology deployment."

Many enterprises deploying mobile applications use wireless connectivity and deploy the application on a server, accessed from lightweight Web pages. But Rental Service chose not to use wireless connectivity due to cost and unreliability concerns, and that meant running the application on the client, updating occasionally by synching to the enterprise network. Because the application would run on the mobile unit, it required a heavier and more intelligent client, which the @hand software enabled Rental Service to write, Cummings said.

Rental Service rejected wireless connectivity because it believes the techology to be immature.

"Wireless is okay if I've got small pockets and I feel comfortable that wireless works in those areas. But my folks operate everywhere from metro areas to remote areas, and wireless does not work that well in a lot of pockets once you get out of true metropolitan areas," Cummings said. Also, the technology is difficult to install and expensive. The mobile computer itself costs $800, and a wireless modem is $400, and service is $50 per month. ''And then you're not even sure it's going to work? To me, it's a little premature,'' Cummings said.

Rental Service selected the Windows CE mini-notebooks because of their size, battery life, cost and ease-of-use. Some 60 percent of users had never used a computer before and they needed something simple. Likewise, weight and battery life were considerations. "We like the size. It has a full-sized keyboard on it and a nine-inch screen," Cummings said. The screen is large enough to show a presentation to a customer. Information that fits on one of the NEC device's screens would have to be split among several of the smaller screens of the PalmPilot or Pocket PC. "If you've got to take a customer through ten clicks to tell him what he wants, he's going to lose information along the way," Cummings said.

Still to be done is equipping 300 sales staff who came on board from Prime with the mobile computers, as well as 150 Rental Service salespeople who joined the company since the Prime merger process began. Rental Service decided to cease deployment of new mobile computers during the hubbub of the merger, to keep things simple.

Rental Service will test full-blown notebook computers for the new users, because some of the newer machines have similar capabilities to the mini-notebooks: long battery life, instant-on functionality and displays viewable outdoors in natural light, Cummings said. On the other hand, while notebook pricing has come down, they're still significantly more expensive than mini-notebooks. The overall focus of the program has been to keep the application simple. "We didn't want to turn our salespeople into computer data entry people. We wanted to make the sales process more efficient. I feel that we've done that,'' Cummings said.

 

 

 
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