By Ally Kutz, contributing writer
Having insights into what end users want from IT solutions is always valuable, and this perspective will be particularly valuable as mobility, cloud computing, and Internet of Things (IoT) technology continue to converge. End users joined a panel discussion at the Smart VAR Summit: Age Of Intelligence — IoT, Cloud, And Mobility Convergence, powered by ScanSource, Zebra Technologies, and Business Solutions on October 14 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA.
End user panelists Kevin Neville, director of technology at United Rentals, Jim Shellhamer, technical system analyst at Lehigh Valley Health Network, and Jim Roth, director of information technology at East Penn Manufacturing, shared how their organizations are using mobility, cloud, and IoT — as well as how they plan to use them in the future. They also offered their opinions on how IT solutions providers should approach selling these solutions.
Mobility And Cloud
Neville said United Rentals is fully engaged in mobility and has a hybrid cloud environment, with technology interwoven into daily tasks throughout the company. “I’ll say from my perspective it’s almost insatiable appetite — once you do it right, you get it right into people’s hands. The ideas just keep coming — it’s one of the challenges, keeping up with demand, and I have a back log of apps that people want,” he said.
Shellhamer, said Lehigh Valley Health Network utilizes a private cloud. Security is paramount in the healthcare setting and mobile apps require security approvals to be used.
Jim Roth agreed with the rest of the panel that securing devices and data is a top priority: “We have a hybrid cloud environment — we have a few things like Salesforce and a time and expense package out in the cloud, but we’re manufacturers, so our intellectual property is as important to us as HIPAA security is to healthcare. “ Roth said East Penn Manufacturing has a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) initiative, with staff using tablets and smartphones. “Next year we’re getting into some architecture that’s going to allow us to handle our unstructured data and we’re going to put up a network storage device that lets us grow the capabilities of what we can do today, where we’re in a locked environment. We’re also trying to think every time we look at applications where we can go with the cloud,” he commented.
Roth also shared his point of view on IoT: “It’s not simply going out and automating that machine on the floor and maybe sending that data back to a server somewhere. It’s not robotics, necessarily, but it’s somewhere in between. We’re revving up the chain from simple, pure, functional automatics into telematics and information management.” He added, “We don’t want to be reactive, we want to be proactive. What we are starving for is the ability to be proactive with our machines and sense if something’s going wrong.”
Neville said United Rentals is also tapping IoT solutions, already making a large investment in more than 100,000 telemetrics assets — and setting a goal of 200,000 by the end of next year. “These devices are a boon for us because we’re able to collect and transmit data that’s essential to our rental process,” he explained. When United Rentals delivers equipment, these solutions allow them to keep track of exactly where it is. A mobile app enables managers to see where the driver dropped it off, where the customer is using it — or where the customer moved it, which makes its more than 1 million pickups easier and more efficient. The technology provides diagnostic information about the rental equipment and client profiles including what equipment they use and how they use it.
An additional benefit is the ability to bill for fractions of days based on the exact record of when the equipment was used. “There is a big customer satisfaction point here, so us knowing the real-time utilization and being able to make those billing adjustments as we go helps our customers understand where they stand from a budgeting perspective,” he said. He urged IT solutions providers attending the summit to consider how IoT solutions could have a positive impact on the customer experience. United Rentals deployed the solution to increase operational efficiencies and it resulted in ROI, but unintended benefits have helped them provide value to their customers and have cemented customer loyalty. “I think these are touch points that you can start to leverage in the sale process,” he commented.
Advice For Selling Solutions
Neville also shared advice on selling mobility, cloud, and IoT solutions. He said when designing a solution to consider usability from the end user’s perspective. “I can’t have an employee clicking one button when he wants to do X, and another when he wants to do Y, and he has 14 apps that he has to use. It’s just not viable,” Neville said. He suggested it would be helpful to have one application that runs multiple tasks.
In addition, he said to be realistic about the time it will take to deploy a new solution. “Traditionally, the sales cycle significantly underestimates the integration effort. You need to understand, because my employees ultimately come to me saying, ‘Why did this guy tell me I can have this in two or three weeks and you are telling me no way?’” He said this can impact your customer’s decision to work with you again in the future.
Shellhamer stressed it’s important that you know your product. “You need to understand the products that you represent,” he said. “Be good at it when you come to the table with it. Don’t be tearing the shrink wrap off when you walk in the door.” He added, “You need to be able to talk me out of things.” He said to be honest about the pros and cons of deploying a solution. “You know the product better than I do, and I need those answers. I need to know those drawbacks, because those drawbacks are going to determine whether I take it to the next step, I need to know who I’m I going to have to fight with to implement this on my side of the house.”
For additional coverage of the Smart VAR Summit, visit http://www.bsminfo.com/solution/smart-var.
Bernadette Wilson, associate editor, contributed to this article.