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Serendipity, Automation, and Rental Company Strategies

automation engineer holding scanner

Serendipity is sometimes a very useful inspiration for a blog! I’ve just spent a pleasant hour in an Uber heading towards LAX talking with a charming driver about where the dividing line should fall between automation and human interaction.

As a man making his living by driving, the potential advent of automated vehicles onto California’s roads is terrifying for his long-term job prospects. Automation is a very real disrupter for his everyday life.  Yet, despite this, he is quite positive about the advent of automation, because he sees the value of human interaction and doesn’t believe that people will really want to travel on their own in an automated vehicle.

He cites the example of customer service centers, automation is all very well when you want to check your credit card balance, but if you think someone is stealing your identity you want to talk to a human being… now! In his mind, the human interaction between driver and passenger far outweighs the technology that would allow me to simply call a driverless car and travel in silence to the airport.

The problem is, that as interesting as our conversation was, I’m pretty sure that he’s putting too much faith in that human interaction. The problem is that most of us are very used to traveling alone in a car, we have cell phones to talk to our friends, google to ask questions and find out about where we’re going.  The experience of driving alone is already familiar; it isn’t an alien concept.

If you’re a seasoned traveler you’ll be used to the idea that you walk straight from the plane to your rental car, pre-booked online, an email message telling you which stall its in and no need to interact with a human at all. For equipment rental businesses this model could work very well.  If all I want is a drill or a 250kW generator, do I really need to speak with a human being?

If you’re working on a technology driven construction site there are already automated tool boxes containing tools where you just get an unlock code sent to your phone to allow you to grab a tool from the box. It’s possible to achieve the same thing for an excavator by fitting it with an electronic lock controlled by a cell phone code. No human interaction necessary.

The rental companies that will do well in this new economy will be those that really concentrate on the full-service side of the rental process. Identify ways to provide more to the customer based on skilled knowledge than simply renting a machine. It’s possible that as machines get to the point where they can work autonomously on the job site, that the rental company personnel become more important to the construction industry rather than less. Selecting the right machine to work with the job site technology will require specialist knowledge across a whole range of equipment and this is a place where rental companies could step up.

People in this new economy will have to become more flexible and more knowledgeable, the question is whether those skilled workers will be available. The construction industry is entering yet another year where one of the most significant complaints across the globe is the lack of skilled workers in almost every construction discipline, automation offers a potential solution to this immense problem. The equipment rental industry needs to ensure that they can provide the human skills to help construction take advantage of automation and technology on every job site.

Written by: Helen Sowerby, Director of Business Development

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