Looking to capitalize on the vast stores of equipment performance data it has captured from its massive rental fleet, United Rentals announced a broad expansion of its Total Control fleet-management system and is hinting at major advances yet to come with Big Data and fully connected jobsites.

“What we’re seeing is the evolution of Total Control,” says Paul McDonnell, United Rentals executive vice president and chief commercial officer. “Key accounts are seeing the benefits, and we’re looking to be their long-term partner.”

United Rentals had several announcements at its Total Control and Innovation Conference held Nov. 11-13 in San Antonio, including a new mobile app for ordering and tracking rental equipment, and an update to its United Academy online certification tracking and training service. But company executives sought to establish why a rental firm is making such broad investments in technology.

“We do a lot of customer surveys and panels, and they’re asking us to continue to invest in the digital ecosystem, which is not just Total Control but other things,”  McDonnell told assembled journalists. “Regardless of whether the industry is adopting to change as quickly as we would like it to, we feel it is our responsibility to the industry to make the investments for  when that next generation of consumer steps up to digitize their business.”

Rental channels often seek to offer equipment with fewer optional high-tech features that require subscriptions and additional training. But that doesn’t mean rental firms aren’t tech-savvy, argues Chris Hummel, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at United Rentals. “There is an advantage to our size and ability to invest in all these technologies simultaneously,” he says. “From data capture and mapping of sites from drones, to robotics and augmented and virtual reality, we are able to play in a few of those areas at the same time and find the cross-pollination.”  

United Rentals’ recent investments in Big Data go beyond pitching their customers on better telematics, says Norty Turner, United Rentals senior vice president for services and advanced solutions. “Unlike some [Silicon Valley] technology companies, we have something they don’t, which is access to the site,” he says. “And we’ve been getting a pull from our customers, for this connected jobsite, whether it’s from us or someone else, they want it all to talk and share data. It’s a real groundswell out there.”