The Editor's Page: Technology curves

Over the years, I’ve seen this type of story repeat itself several times. A new technology or new product is introduced with all this fanfare, promising to change the world as we know it with bold predictions of rapid growth and untold wonders that everyone will benefit from.

A few years later, the technology or product hasn’t quite lived up to the hype and most people write it off as a failure and forget about it. Then, in what seems like a sudden surprise, the new technology or product has matured and surpassed all expectations, albeit later than initially projected.

I saw this happen with cable television. The industry touted an aggressive five-year subscriber growth plan in the late 1980s and early 1990s that would result in cable TV networks reaching more than half of all TV viewers and becoming staunch competition for the established broadcast networks.

After five years, I remember cable fell short of its projections, the broadcast networks were still dominant and life continued for them as if the cable threat was over. Here we are, 20 years later, and cable networks are among the most viewed and now reap a significant share of the television advertising dollars spent each year. One broadcast network — NBC — is now owned by Comcast, one of the nation’s largest cable TV providers.

This brings me to global positioning system (GPS) technology. Not so long ago, there were several companies targeting the equipment rental industry, promising all sorts of things GPS devices would be able to do in addition to helping prevent theft and locate a stolen piece of equipment.

At the time, I remember speaking with several rental store owners and managers who were intrigued, dabbled with GPS and then moved on because the benefits didn’t justify the cost and it was hard to calculate any return on investment.

As often happens with technology, things get smaller and cheaper. New applications are developed and suddenly here we are at a junction where telematics or machine-to-machine communications is doing everything that GPS once touted as possible and a lot more, at a price point that rental stores probably shouldn’t ignore, considering the possible benefits.

Telematics today isn’t quite as advanced as it will be, but as our cover story starting on page 28 points out, standardization efforts by the Association of Equipment Management Professionals (AEMP) could set the stage for a data explosion that can help rental stores better manage fleets and provide all kinds of new services for customers.

For example, Dahl’s Equipment Rentals in San Jose, Calif., has worked with DPL America to provide them with data on such things as run time, fuel consumption and more for equipment that uses DPL’s GPS devices. DPL America stores all the data indefinitely and allows Dahl’s access. As a result, Dahl’s can create reports for customers showing run time of machines a customer rented for any time period from 2007 on, which those customers need to submit to the California Air Resources Board (CARB) in the county they were working in. Providing that service is something that helps make Dahl’s more competitive in a crowded rental market.

Services are available now that can track more than the location of equipment and provide data like run time and fuel consumption. Another step is having machines that can report faults and allow for remote diagnostics, so that a rental store can send the right service technician with the right parts the first time to fix a machine or determine that the machine needs to be replaced and deliver another machine so that the customer experiences no downtime. How valuable is that?

Wayne Walley is editor for Rental Management, the official magazine of the American Rental Association, 1900 19th St., Moline, IL 61265. He can be reached at 800-334-2177, ext. 253, or 309-277-4253; fax 309-764-2747;