iPad in business: an interview with Acorn Rentals

Macworld Australia Staff
12 November, 2010
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Since our interview with MicroStrategy in September about how the company has introduced iPads to its operations, even more companies have been taking to iOS. One such business is Acorn Rentals – a company that temporarily replaces vehicles after an accident. Those not at fault get a free rental car while their car is being repaired and the costs are recovered from the insurance company.

Acorn provides this service Australia-wide and has been in operation for 20 years. In that time they have run their entire rental bookings system and managed all data on a custom FileMaker setup, which has been constantly refined over the years.

This has culminated in the company recently implementing FileMaker Go on iPads for all its delivery drivers. Not only can the drivers access the database, but head office can quickly see how far the drivers are away from a customer.

We asked Michael Costin from Acorn a few questions on how the iPads are going.

AMW: What sort of hardware have you been running FileMaker on over the past 15 years?

MC: Many years ago we started out with a simple Filemaker database on a single computer. Over the years as we refined our rental process and the company expanded, we have continued to constantly tweak the application. After 15 years of development it is now a very sophisticated piece of car rental software – perfectly streamlined for our business. These days we have a special FileMaker server in our head office which all our office staff are able to access over our network, as well as the iPads running Filemaker Go.

AMW: How does FileMaker typically help business run smoothly?

MC: Filemaker is the core of our day-to-day business. Every potential client is assigned an RA Number. Within this unique file on the system we are able to store all their information, insurance details, delivery details, time stamped file notes of all actions taken and a wide range of other functions. We schedule all our deliveries and pick-ups through Filemaker as well.

AMW: How many staff now have iPads? How much time does it save having access to the FileMaker database?

MC: We currently have 5 iPads in operation in Sydney for our delivery drivers. Previously rental agreements made out on the road were completed on paper. Now using FileMaker Go on iPad we have full access to our database remotely and can input our client and vehicle details directly into our server in real time, saving us countless sheets of paper and hours in office administration. Furthermore, our drivers now have visibility into vehicle movements via the iPad so additional pick-ups and deliveries can be made without returning to the office. Using satellite tracking on the iPad it also allows us to locate drivers and provide more accurate arrival times for our clients.

AMW: Can you estimate how long it takes to make up the purchase price of the iPads?

MC: We look at the purchase of the iPads as an investment in savings on administration time and costs as well as saving on the costs of consumables like paper, toner cartridges etc. It is hard to put a dollar figure on that, but over time the iPads will pay for themselves.

AMW: You mention being able to locate drivers using GPS. How exactly do you do this? Do you use MobileMe?

MC: Yes, we have MobileMe on all our delivery iPads plus a main iPad back at the office. Using this we’re able to see the precise location of all our drivers out on the road. This helps us give customers an estimate of when the vehicle should arrive or when we can expect our drivers back at base, removing the need for phone calls back and forth with our drivers.

AMW: Why did you opt for iPads rather than iPhones or iPod touches?

MC: The simple answer is screen real estate. Since we are accessing our Filemaker database out on the road the bigger screen of the iPad allows us to view it all easier. The Acorn FileMaker system until now has only been used on our desktop computers, so the iPad was best for use with our existing software.

AMW: Finally, and most importantly, would you recommend these solutions to other businesses?

MC: We’ve found this setup to really cut back on office admin and it’s another step in our move to become a paperless organisation. This setup has worked well for us because we have had 15 years of developing our Filemaker system behind us. We trialled FileMaker Go and were instantly amazed with the possibilities, power and ease of use. It’s exactly like using FileMaker Pro in the office, just with a slightly smaller screen!

For anyone currently using Filemaker in their day-to-day operations, the use of Filemaker Go can give you true mobility with minimum headache. Tackling the project from scratch would prove to be more of an undertaking, but for our purposes we were able to purchase the iPads and FileMaker Go apps and then start using them with relatively few modifications to our existing Filemaker system.

The only minor complaints we’ve had would be the limits of the 3G networks when it comes to data speed, but this really has had minimum negative impact for our purposes.

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