Wireless Access Drives Car Rentals - (q&a)

Roy Russell is vice president and the No. 1 IT guy at Zipcar Inc., a profitable and growing 6-year-old Cambridge, Mass.-based car rental company with annual revenues of $15 million. Talk about managing traffic: Russell has to make sure 50,000 registered members can share 900 cars in 28 cities across the country using wireless access cards. Russell sat down with CIO Decisions to talk about the early days and Zipcar's new lost-and-found service. 

How did the idea for Zipcar, which offers rentals by the hour or by the day, get started?
Little mom-and-pop operations in Europe with quaint ways of doing things -- 20 cars and lockboxes and little log slips you'd fill out. We looked at that and said, "Well, maybe that works because you can trust your small population of 300 people who might be using this small fleet of cars." But we wanted to come at it with a big, American approach.

Were there any missteps along the way? In the early [reservation] system, we hadn't finished all the development of the wireless stuff, so people would go to cars and assume that everything was working like magic. But in fact, if they had gone to any car at any time of day, they would have been allowed access. But nobody knew that. Again, it was starting out very small, and there weren't any bad apples, so it was OK.

Have you used automation to reduce human-based transactions? [We have with our] lost and found. People are always leaving things in the cars -- cell phones, BlackBerrys, gloves. So we put in place a big, simple lost-and-found system. You could lose anything in any one of them. But in fact, you could only lose [something] in one of the cars you've been using. So you go to the lost and found [section on the Web site], and the only cars you will see -- in terms of [reporting a lost item] -- are the cars you've used.

For the full interview with Roy Russell, read "A CIO Conversation."

Linda Tucci is senior news writer for SearchCIO.com. Write to her at ltucci@techtarget.com.

This was first published in March 2006

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