Computerise to survive

25 July 2013

Computerise to survive

In Richard van der Knaap's second blog commemorating MCS' 30 years in the software business, he considers how MCS and the hire industry both have had to embrace the onslaught of computerisation and the convergence of technology standards.

As the 90’s came in, Unix with green screen terminals started to become the standard for SME customers. With the huge success of Insitu, we realised that it would be more cost-effective for hire businesses to purchase and install our software if we could make it available as a suite of modules. Our customers would be able to add further functionality gradually over time, in line with their changing business requirements.

In the 1990s, every rental company had to embrace technology in order to survive. The advent of networks and data communication lines meant that rental companies could now open up more depots and communicate and transfer stock between them, all underpinned by their rental management systems.

By the way, it hasn’t all been a long, straight road, and we’ve had to step sideways at times. The 'Millennium Bug' kept us busy for a while, ensuring that our software didn't interpret the year as 1900 rather than 2000. The turn of the century came and went without a hitch, putting the software industry’s worst fears to rest.

Towards the end of the nineties, minicomputers were giving way to PCs, which rapidly became commodity items. Microsoft Windows became the de facto standard and all applications were designed with a user-friendly graphical interface. Traditional green screen terminals declined and were replaced by workstations.

Moving to Microsoft

Higher costs and technical challenges meant that the UNIX platform was starting to lose its hold on the industry, and so we developed a Microsoft Windows version of Insitu, reflecting the popularity of this platform. The new package was called MCS-rm. The ‘rm’ stood for 'rental management'.

MCS-rm has enabled our customers to benefit from high rates of return on investment, lower training costs and better scalability. Today, it is built on the Microsoft .NET platform which means that our customers can be safe in the knowledge that their software is future-proofed and will be easier to deploy and maintain.

In the early years of this century, the typical hire business was still small and its most important asset was its equipment. Technology facilitated the start-up of many more hire depots, fuelling competition. Hire companies had to provide value-added services to create a unique selling point and differentiate themselves from their competitors. Realising that to succeed they had to innovate, hirers drew on systems like MCS-rm to maximise their existing resources, cut costs and discover new revenue opportunities, all benefits that obsolete manual paper-based systems could not begin to deliver.

As a consequence, technology has had a massive impact in the industry. It has enabled hirers to provide competitive rental rates, more extensive services, streamlined documentation and high quality customer care. It has ensured that important business areas such as the workshop, health and safety records, financial and sales processes and customer interactions are automated and well managed.

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