Coates Hire is hoping to augment some of its million-plus hirable assets with industrial internet of things (IIoT) telemetry as part of a long-running digital transformation.
The company’s group manager for program delivery and digital transformation Kirsty McKay told the recent Sitecore Experience ANZ conference that IIoT could offer benefits for both Coates Hire and its customers.
“We've got over a million assets for hire, and we've a really broad, deep range, from dewatering solutions, through to the stuff that you see like the orange road barriers,” McKay said.
McKay said that Coates Hire wanted to use telemetry to be able to advise customers, for example, “what the force is that's being exerted on that piece of propping to see whether there's any danger of it collapsing”.
Propping is a type of scaffold used to support heavy structures as they are built out.
McKay said that load-bearing intelligence could be a good service for Coates Hire to offer its customers.
She also suggested IIoT data could help a hirer’s procurement officer view the utilisation of hired assets onsite at any time - “is it being overworked or should we off-hire it?”
“That's the bit that we're really keen to work with our customers [on is] to actually make [IIoT] a win-win for both organisations,” McKay said.
Coates is not alone in its industry in pursuing IoT; earlier this year, Kennards Hire indicated it is deploying IoT to collect utilisation data on expensive assets.
McKay said that Coates Hire’s reasons to digitally transform were not dissimilar to other sectors - “legacy systems through to processes and policies that have been around for quite some time”.
“In terms of our digital transformation, we very much took a business-led IT approach,” she said.
“it was really about how do we make our technology actually work for us as an organisation, and challenge some of those processes as we were going through.”
Initial transformation efforts had largely been focused on backend improvements, such as to fleet maintenance.
“Rental is a really interesting model, in that what I rent to you today, I can rent to [someone else] tomorrow,” McKay said.
“When the equipment is returned to us, we obviously need to make sure it's safe [and check] if there's any maintenance required.
“There's a whole turnaround that needs to be done, so it's a really core function in our organisation to make that as slick as possible.”
More recently, Coates Hire has built a ‘headless commerce’ offering that it is offering as beta functionality through its website.
Headless commerce is an architectural model of decoupling the frontend and backend of an e-commerce system.
Coates Hire worked with Sitecore partner Switch I.T. on the headless commerce proof-of-concept, which was stood up over a 12-week period, initially targeting trade customers.
Customers that want certain products from Coates Hire can now hire them online, and arrange either delivery to a site or to pick-up from a small number of metropolitan locations.
“We've deliberately kept it small-scale, so it's only available in a couple of our metro locations,” she said.
“In July, we actually linked it with our main website, so if you go on looking for one of those products, you can now hire it now. So that's been really exciting.”
McKay said trade customers tended to be small operators, without dedicated procurement people to look after last-minute equipment needs.
Driving some of that business online also helped Coates Hire to understand more about that segment of its customers.
“This is for our ‘cash’ customers in effect, and it's an area of our customer base that we haven't really known all that much about, so all of a sudden, we're genuinely starting to gather some insights,” she said.
“Now we're starting to get learnings and make tweaks to this little headless proof of concept, because it's delivering value.”
E-commerce was also likely to play a greater role in Coates Hire’s business into the future.
“A lot of our organisation has been underpinned by the one-on-one relationships, that's a deep seated part of us,” McKay said.
“We also sometimes - a lot of the time - make assumptions about our customers, as most organisations do, and a lot of that is that workers on a construction site don’t to be ordering online.
“Well, you know what, they do. If you go to any of our major customers, they've got iPads, and it's full [digital] end-to-end.
“In actual fact, we can't take to [digital and e-commerce] quickly enough because that makes their life easier. It's the frictionless transaction.”
Coates Hire also said in a recent results presentation that it planned to introduce real-time pricing and product availability information on its website sometime this financial year.