LONGER READ: Data fusion
By Murray Pollok06 April 2021
Angus Kennard, former Kennards Hire CEO, explains why he has created a new business, Inauro, to help rental companies manage data.
My name is Angus Kennard, and until last year you would have known me as the CEO of Kennards Hire in Australia and New Zealand. I wanted to share with you some insights on a topic I am passionate about – the impact of real-time data technologies on rental operations.
And to begin I want to share with you what I have found after having been an early adopter: if you think you’re running a technology project, think again, and read on.
Every device and software vendor out there will tell you this technology can completely change the way we work in rental, but it doesn’t have to, and it probably shouldn’t.
I am a firm believer in the fact that we can, however, make technology work for us provided your strategy around this is driven from the imperatives of the operation.
The technology industry is by nature guilty of promoting pieces of the puzzle as the next big thing, driving large investments from early adopters, without being able to frame the complete picture in the context of a particular industry.
This means it is very hard for anyone that is not fluent in tech speak to grasp the complexities and challenges that such projects can face.
The more I talk to industry colleagues, the more I realise the level of investment that has gone into IoT/telemetry/tracking as a technology for example, often without a strategy to utilise this data in the operation.
Five years ago, I made the strategic decision to invest in a team to investigate what these technology advancements could mean for us, trying to get a grasp on the technology available, how it worked, and what it could provide.
Whilst IoT technology had been around for several years, there were very few initiatives underway in rental that we could learn from. We searched around other industries and looked at hundreds of devices and solutions.
After a lot of investigation and planning, we quickly grew confident that we would always find a solution to extract data from our mixed fleet of assets.
As a broad hire business (from general hire through to specialist access and rail operations), we had many challenges.
These included equipment from hundreds of suppliers with thousands of models and variants with wide ranging levels of complexity and value; an inconsistent technology baseline - from any given supplier we may have some equipment with embedded telemetry, some that had telemetry installed by a third party and some that had no telemetry at all.
We also had a geographically dispersed footprint, with inconsistent cellular coverage and a network of 180 branches, across two countries with more than 1,500 operations staff.
Our research made us confident that within an equipment type we would always have a way to visualise a common baseline, and that this baseline would likely become more valuable over time. It was clear to us that using a single telemetry device across our whole portfolio would corner us in a minimalistic view of our assets (typically location and runtime) whilst there was so much more to get by diversifying our solution options.
With this in mind, we then studied how our teams worked in the branches, how they could work if they knew more about how the assets were performing outside of the branch, and what ‘more’ did we need to really make an impact.
In doing so we found our next hurdle. It was complex in the way we operated to link the telemetry of an asset, to the asset in our asset management systems, to a contract in our ERP, to the customer in our CRM systems.
So, if we could not find a way to link this dynamically, in the context of a particular customer or contract, then we would create yet another data silo that would remain unused. No one at the branch would spend more than a minute juggling from one system to another to use this data – it needed to be in their hands, without them having to look for it.
We could not find a piece of software that could provide us the with the technology capability we needed, the operational flexibility we wanted within the business, and the scalability and integration capabilities we needed to truly leverage the data we were accumulating.
We needed technology to support our operation to be safer, more efficient and with better environmental performance, we did not want technology that would completely change our operation: in short, the technology needed to fit into how we worked, not change how we worked.
So, for three years we built an award-winning IoT platform that enabled the Kennards Hire operation to run more efficiently, that created more stickiness with our customers, plugged revenue leaks and created new revenue streams for the business. We were not looking at this from a technology lens, the tech was there, it was connecting the business systems with the technology and our people that the rubber hit the road.
We started to get interest from other parts of the construction industry about the software we were using. When this interest started coming from other industries as well, we knew we had an opportunity too good to pass up. So last July the team and I started a new business, Inauro.
We are no longer part of Kennards Hire, we are a stand-alone, technology business. We are a company dedicated to making technology work for rental and construction operations, built within the industry for the industry.
At our core we have a re-architectured, real time, data fusion platform, Perspio, capable of ingesting data from any source, analysing it and providing contextual recommendations to the right person, at the right time, in the right system to make your operational workflows more efficient.
Feel free to reach out and let us help you break across your data silos and truly operationalise your telemetry and business systems to make your data do the work.
International Rental News (IRN) put some questions to Angus Kennard about his new technology business.
First, can you give us some details about the company?
Our head office is in Lavender Bay, Sydney, and the team is now 12 in-house, with a number of contract companies completing development work for us. Inauro is owned by the two founders, myself and Craig Kesby, and has no operational or financial ties with Kennards Hire or the Kennards Group.
Are you targeting rental companies or contractors, or both?
We target both, with somewhat different propositions. For rental companies, we focus on making their rental operations more efficient, safer and more environmentally friendly. We help to get a common baseline for telemetry across the fleet. We then bring this telemetry together with the existing operational systems; your ERP, CRM, HRMS, LMS, etc.
For contractors, we focus on the same key outcomes around efficiency, safety and environmental performance. We do this by optimising site workflows, helping manage risk by bringing together all telemetry aspects as well as digital artifacts like inductions, site access, vehicle access, etc. with their backend systems. It is this data fusion that enables the benefits around efficiency, safety and operational performance.
Can your platform be added to an existing rental ERP system?
Absolutely, our platform actually adds a layer of agility in front of an ERP system to be able to leverage real-time data and create automation for operational workflows.
A lot of it is based on API [application programming interface] and will integrate to all systems that offer public facing APIs.
The ability to track usage could open the way to rental pricing based on utilisation. What are your views on this?
Well, that’s a thorny subject to some! From our point of view, we already have seen this method of pricing work and be successful - we have previously implemented completely self-serve operations at customer sites with on/off hire as close to the user as possible, and that has won rental companies a lot of new business.
There is a way to go until the industry gets to this more broadly, but the tech is available to do so and the customer pressure will look to drive towards this.
You are considering all kinds of data feeds (video, etc), but will these data options be of value to rental companies or mainly contractors?
Indeed, and they all gravitate around automation of branch operations, especially in the current context where human interactions need to be limited. Look at the concept of the 24/7 self-serve branch, where a customer has access to a part of the yard based on a one-time password, or on facial recognition, and can take his equipment on hire, have an automated pre-start checklist that validates he can use the equipment - none of these are telemetry items but create a complete customer experience that improves the branch operation.
There are also ways to increase revenue with more down to earth examples, as we have seen around refuelling. Now that you know how much fuel there is in the tanks and how many vehicles will need fuel over the coming period, you can offer a right-sized refuelling service by integrating the fuel partner’s systems in, even if it is a simple as a text message.
Does the system create a paperless depot, handling incoming and outgoing equipment at the depot level?
This is most definitely one of the key objectives of the system! With the system being able to automatically write to contracts (to the ERP and so on), there is little use for paper-based forms anymore.
The system can also integrate data from digitised forms (inspection or maintenance checklists for example) and make sure the people are covered as well (training and compliance information on staff through integration with HR systems).