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NES Rentals

#1 U.S. Renter of Aerial Lifts Knows Where Every One of Its Nearly 20,000 Pieces of Equipment Is At All Times

Xora helps NES Rentals keep track of inventory in 80 locations across 30 states, and be more responsive to customers.

The $25 billion U.S equipment rental industry was hit hard by the recession as rentals of construction equipment dried up along with construction activity. Now, increased demand during the economic recovery has the market leaders growing again. Among them is NES Rentals Holdings, Inc., the nation’s #1 company renting aerial lifts, and a leading competitor in many of its geographic markets with a broad offering of aerial equipment such as cranes, booms, scissor lifts and rough terrain forklifts for industrial and construction customers.

According to Ananda Rakhit, Vice President and Chief Information Officer of Chicago-based NES Rentals, though, the recession took its toll and forced some dramatic measures. “When the construction market completely collapsed, we took a big hit,” he says. “Fortunately, we had anticipated the problem and proactively took steps to alleviate it, including shrinking the company. We also limited capital investments to projects that would make it possible for us to do more with less.”

One such project was a comprehensive asset tracking solution, which includes the Xora mobile enterprise app and secure, cloud-hosted web management application as key components. Keeping track of its nearly 20,000 pieces of rental equipment was both a necessity and an opportunity for NES Rentals. A necessity because the large number of items that needed to be tracked over such a large geographic area made a manual system unworkable… an opportunity because the equipment rental business is highly fragmented and competitive, and time is of the essence when a customer calls asking about a piece of equipment.

Says Rakhit, “What we learned from the recession was to be more efficient to be more competitive. That included adopting Xora, which we did in 2008.”

An aerial lift business with its own ups and downs
Even before the recession, NES Rentals had its challenges. Its fortunes began turning around, however, when the then publicly held company hired a new President and Chief Executive Officer, Andy Studdert, in 2004. Studdert had previously served as Chief Operating Officer of UAL Corporation/United Airlines, where he led United to its highest ratings in company history for on-time performance and customer service (2002), completed the company’s largest ever cost-reduction effort, and guided the airline through the 9/11 crisis.

In his first two years, Studdert implemented a top-to-bottom overhaul of NES Rentals that included adding to and strengthening the management team and evaluating each of the businesses operating under the NES Rentals umbrella. In 2006, Studdert engineered the sale of the company to Diamond Castle, a New York-based private equity firm. This brought an infusion of capital into the company that would enable it to execute on its new strategy.

Over the next five years, Studdert and his team divested unrelated businesses and refocused NES Rentals on its core business of aerial equipment rental. The company also completed – ahead of schedule – a four-year $500 million fleet modernization initiative that stressed safety. And it embraced the Net Promoter Score® system of measuring customer loyalty and in 2010, set a new Net Promoter Score record for the aerial equipment rental industry with an annual score of 80.1. Companies like NES Rentals that achieve a score above 80 are in the same NPS category as some of the most efficient growth companies in the country – Apple, Amazon and Federal Express, to name a few.

Getting a handle on the company’s “stuff”
Meanwhile, in 2006, Rakhit had joined the company. A former colleague of Studdert’s from United and an experienced CIO with extensive experience in operations research and logistics, Rakhit’s main charter was to apply IT to both improve operational efficiency and support daily operations and management strategy. Among his early challenges was to create an asset tracking system. Says Rakhit, “We just really needed to get a handle on where our stuff was, and because our people are not sitting at a desk, it had to be a mobile solution.”

The other consideration was cost. With nearly 20,000 pieces of equipment, it would be very expensive to put a tracking device on each one. So Rakhit started exploring mobile phone based solutions. “Everyone has to have a phone anyway,” he says. “Why not look at adding an app?”

Rakhit’s  remembers seeing an advertisement for an application that would let parents keep track of their children through their mobile phones. “A light bulb went off in my head,” says Rakhit. “Maybe we could use something like that?”

And so NES Rentals began a pilot program with Xora running on garden-variety mobile phones in 2008. While promising, the pilot also showed that the company needed a more robust handset to make the business process of asset tracking work they way they wanted it to. In 2009, the company switched to Motorola scan-equipped mobile devices and put bar codes on all of its equipment.

“Whenever a piece of equipment transitions from one place and one status to another – from maintenance to ready to rent or from a customer site back to a branch location – one of our drivers or mechanics scans it,” says Rakhit.

Then the Xora mobile app automatically transmits data about the piece of equipment back to the Xora web management application, where it can be displayed and reviewed by branch managers seeking to locate equipment to fulfill customer requests. “Now, when a customer calls from a job site and needs a piece of equipment right away, a branch manager can tell him in less than a minute whether we have it and if we do, how long it will take us to get it to him,” says Rakhit.

In addition, office personnel and management use the historical and trends data in Xora for capacity and utilization planning. And the Xora data is integrated into a custom-built suite of back office rental management applications, which includes an accounting system and an ERP-like system, and is used by finance for inventory control.

Rakhit measures the effectiveness of the Xora solution in several ways: how easy it is to develop interactive forms for the Motorola scan-equipped mobile devices and how easy it is for drivers and mechanics to use them; the quality and speed of Xora as it captures bar code data; and the timeliness and accuracy of data transmission back to the Xora web management application. “Xora does very well with all of these key metrics,” says Rakhit.

And according to Rakhit, there is one more thing: “Everyone talks about applying innovation to your business, but sometimes innovation is just too expensive. So you have to be creative and innovate without spending a lot of money. That’s what we did. Instead of putting a device on every piece of equipment, we use about 400 of our 1,400 employees and 400 mobile devices to track 20,000 piece of equipment.”

Adds Rakhit, “What allows us to implement this solution the way we want to is that Xora is very flexible – we can do anything we want with the data that Xora provides us. For us, Xora is the perfect fit.”

“What allows us to implement this solution the way we want to is that Xora is very flexible – we can do anything we want with the data that Xora provides us. For us, Xora is the perfect fit.”

Ananda Rakhit, Vice President and Chief Information Officer, NES Rentals

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