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From Mobile Hydraulic Cranes to Mobile Apps
The JJ Curran Family Equipment Dynasty Breaks New Ground Once Again

February 2016 Cranes and Lifting Equipment

By Mary Kremposky McArdle
Associate Editor

Big rigs and mobile apps have joined forces to help contractors and fleet managers work faster, easier, smarter and safer, thanks to Detroit-based JJ Curran Crane Company and its technology affiliate, Fleet Cost & Care. In 1950, John J. and Jacquelyn Curran launched JJ Curran Crane and went full speed ahead into what was then the new market of mobile hydraulic cranes. The next generation of this family equipment dynasty broke new ground of its own by developing NexGen fleet management software solutions and the NexGen Atom mobile app. As the most recent brainchild of Fleet Cost & Care, “the Atom mobile app was launched in the Android environment in 2014,” said Jeff Curran, president of Fleet Cost & Care and CFO of JJ Curran Crane Company and Curran Lifting Systems.

In business for just over 65 years, the Curran companies are at the nexus of cranes and computer software technology. On the big-rig side, JJ Curran Crane Company is a large hydraulic crane specialist, offering rigs ranging from 8 tons to 450 tons. The crane rental and lifting equipment company has one of only six GMK 6400 cranes in the Midwest and one of only about 30 in the entire country. Showcasing its flagship GMK 6400 crane, JJ Curran Crane Company’s skilled operators recently maneuvered the massive crane through downtown Detroit’s tight grid of streets. The mission: Use the 450-ton crane and its 180.5 feet of luffing jib to hoist HVAC units and accessories atop the former Detroit Free Press Building.

On the software side, Fleet Cost & Care does heavy lifting of another sort. The affiliate’s NexGen fleet management software and its NexGen Atom mobile app both raise a company’s efficiency to the next level. NexGen is a vertical software system for the construction and equipment rental industries that is used for the management of fleet and personnel operations.

Fleet Cost & Care is one of the few companies to offer this type of software in the Midwest. “I am not aware of any other company that has developed such a system and brought it to market in this area,” said Curran. “Some companies in other regions have developed a system for their own use, but this has proved costly and disruptive to the companies over the long haul. Many of those companies have come to us to solve the problem of building, supporting and modernizing those costly systems.”

In fact, NexGen has gone global, and now serves companies in New Zealand, Australia, Africa, and to some extent, the Middle East. “In New Zealand, we deal with Porter Hire Ltd., an earth-moving equipment company and the largest equipment provider in the southern hemisphere,” said Curran.

As early as 1993, Curran developed and began offering first-generation fleet management software called Crane Cost & Care. By the late 1990s, companies across the globe began discovering this exciting fleet management software, thanks to what has now become as natural as breathing: the Internet search. “At the time, we couldn’t believe that companies from all over the world were finding us through the Internet,” said Curran. “After being in the software development business for 23 years, I am proud to say that we are currently doing business with over 300 companies.”

Most of Fleet Cost & Care’s customer base is still in the United States and Canada. Customers include All Erection and Crane Rental, the largest privately owned fleet of crane equipment in North America, as well as Northern Crane Services Group (NCSG), one of the largest equipment rental fleets in Canada; NCSG also owns companies in the United States.

In addition, Fleet Cost & Care counts several of its Michigan crane rental competitors as customers.

Creating Command Central

NexGen’s success is based on its ability to coordinate the complexities of fleet management. A fleet management company has to coordinate and schedule hundreds, if not thousands, of pieces of equipment that must be maintained, fueled and placed on far-flung sites. Operator certifications must match the equipment scheduled for each project. Safety is another paramount concern in this sprawling “convoy” of cranes and lifting equipment typically stretching across an entire region. Any glitch in any part of this complex logistical puzzle could potentially delay a construction project. No wonder being a heavy equipment dispatcher for a large fleet rental company may be the construction equivalent of working in air traffic control.

Computer software held out the promise of creating a system capable of coordinating this mind-boggling puzzle, but most companies in construction equipment and fleet management only had accounting software. “Most of our friends, associates and competitors didn’t have a system to help manage dispatch, maintenance and other areas in the operational end of their business,” said Curran.

Having grown up in the crane yard and learned every facet of the business, Curran was the ideal person to develop vertical fleet management software. “NexGen is an operating system that feeds into your accounting software and it helps you do all the scheduling, dispatch, equipment maintenance and invoicing,” said Curran. “It has full reporting capability on your entire operation from personnel and equipment to customer and job information. Companies can manage their entire operation through our system.”

The NexGen Advantage

NexGen software offers fleet managers efficiency in three areas: Real-time tracking of your manpower and fleet; detailed revenue and expense reporting at your fingertips; and the ability to maintain and manage your fleet’s and team’s schedule with ease.

Curran details a few of NexGen’s specific benefits:

  • No Duplicate Entries - Enter the data only once and watch it ripple through the company’s entire operations and accounting system. “NexGen eliminates any duplicate entry,” said Curran. “I can prepare a quote for a customer, detailing all of the labor and equipment that they are going to need for the job. I can convert the same information into an actual work order, or job ticket, before forwarding it to dispatch. The same entered data is automatically flowed into the accounting software to bill and collect from the customer. Finally, the information can be used to create a report on how well we did on the project.”
  • A Collective View in Real-Time - Every person in the organization can view the same data in real-time. Essentially, everyone in the organization is on the same “page” and the information on the “page” is up-to-date. “If a change is made, everyone can see it,” said Curran. “Not only that, we can react to the change more quickly because it is in real-time.”
  • Less Mistakes – NexGen means less hassle, less time, and more importantly, less mistakes. Real-time information is available to every department and is depicted in clear, sometimes color-coded graphics. A GPS-based mapping system even pinpoints the location of every job and machine. “NexGen can eliminate errors such as double bookings by clearly showing who is available to work, as well as when they are available and what they are qualified to operate,” said Curran.
  • Concise Overview for Improved Management - The system offers a concise overview of every job with an option to click for a more detailed view if necessary. This eagle-eye view promotes better management of resources. “It’s like building a puzzle,” said Curran. “I have these employees and I have these pieces of equipment and I want to use them as optimally as possible. NexGen allows you to see all of your resources and to manage them effectively.”
  • An Effective Assessment and Planning Tool - “With its reporting capabilities, I can see how each project performed, either profitably by job or profitably by the type of unit or equipment,” said Curran. “I can see what I am doing well and what I need to improve. I can detect any problems more quickly and act to resolve them.”

Demand for NexGen has not abated. “Companies have a very strong appetite to view and understand the system,” said Curran. For the last twenty years, Curran has been on what he calls a world-wide tour. He travels once or twice a month across the United States and around the world, even visiting customers as distant as New Zealand. Web conferencing is also conducted weekly.
A third-generation Curran is now an integral part of Fleet Cost & Care. “My son Jack has been selling software with me for three years,” said Curran. “He brings experience from outside of the company, having worked for Inc. 500 software development companies in the Chicago market. He is very hard-working and very talented. He also grew up and worked in the crane yard during college. ”

Introducing Atom Mobile App

Fleet Cost & Care began development of the NexGen Atom mobile app in winter 2012, releasing versions in 2012 and 2013 before a full-scale launch in the summer of 2014. In the software development phase, Curran experimented with different mobile devices and software systems to find the optimal end product. “Some people think technology increases stress, but not if it works well,” said Curran. “We set out to build our system to be very user-friendly and very step-oriented. If you could use an ATM or buy an airline ticket online, you could do your job with this mobile app. We are finding that managers, employees and customers all like it, because the Atom mobile app is indeed easy to use, and it makes their jobs easier to perform.”

Today, Fleet Cost & Care customers - and every JJ Curran Crane operator and mechanic - has a smartphone in their pocket or a tablet in their truck. The Atom mobile app obliterates the barrier between field and office. Gathering electronic signatures on the Atom mobile app and moving the data into NexGen’s centralized operations software system helps a company improve safety, efficiently process payroll information, accelerate invoicing and aid in the risk management of rental equipment.

  • Safety - Atom mobile app’s safety checklist creates a daily safety regiment. “It gives the operator a reminder on a daily basis to check the ground, overhead and wind conditions and to check the fluid levels within the machine,” said Curran. “It reminds you to check all the fundamentals much like an airplane pilot does before take-off. The checklist is our attempt to create a fundamental method of actually influencing the safety behavior of personnel by providing the fundamentals in an easily accessible format.”

    The safety checklist and the system’s electronic signature capability send a message to the field operators that working safely is a high priority for the company. The Atom mobile app also helps manage the company’s risk and compliance exposure. “Atom mobile app helps me lower my risk, because I can easily document what is going on out on the jobsite,” said Curran. “It can potentially lower your insurance premiums, and if an incident does happen, you can better prove that you are a safety-oriented company.”
  • Payroll – The electronic signature capability easily transfers payroll information from the field to the office. “Instead of the costly and time-consuming process of either driving the paperwork back to the office or scanning, faxing or calling, the payroll information is electronically signed and transferred through the mobile device directly into the system,” said Curran.
  • Invoicing - “The Atom mobile app improves the ability to invoice customers more quickly and more accurately,” said Curran. Speed: With the ease of electronic signatures and other software capabilities, documents can be forwarded to the office on a daily, rather than a weekly, basis.

    Accuracy: Because the mobile app moves the data into the NexGen operations software, “the person preparing the invoice can follow the job’s trail, and for example, read the way the job was quoted and estimated versus the way it actually happened in the field,” said Curran. If eight hours of labor is quoted, but the person worked 10, everyone can understand the reason why by following the documented trail.

“NexGen and the Atom mobile app improve the accuracy and speed at which we build our jobs on a daily basis,” said Curran. “We can accomplish daily tasks faster, and with real-time information.”

Curran looks into his “crystal ball” for future developments in information technology. “Better devices, more power and less cost will be part of the technology revolution, stage two,” predicts Curran. “You will be able to do more with a single device and with less investment. Accessing information to get your job done will be even easier and simpler. The devices, along with cloud computing that eliminates the need to invest in network hardware and in maintaining that network, is all part of this move forward.”

Fleet Cost & Care already offers cloud computing hosting. “A customer can use their own hosting service, or we can use a turnkey approach, offering you hosting capability and installing our system on it for you,” said Curran.

The Curran clan learned business fundamentals directly from the family patriarch and company founder, John J. Curran. “We had to have our details in order and use sound ideas and methods,” said Curran. “We learned not to cut corners.” This philosophy has certainly led to the success of Fleet Cost & Care and to the continuing business growth of JJ Curran Crane Company.

JJ Curran Crane Celebrates Over 65 Years in Business

Both Fleet Cost & Care and JJ Curran Crane are forward-thinking companies, the latter having celebrated its 65th year in business in 2015. In the 1950s, JJ Curran Crane serviced the industrial giants that supplied gasoline, steel and power to stoke America’s post-war boom. Today, Marathon Oil, U.S. Steel, DTE and Consumers Power still rank as large-scale, long-time customers of JJ Curran Crane. “We are fortunate to work for some of the biggest industrial companies in Michigan,” said Jeff Curran.

But as the company’s shamrock-shaped logo proclaims, “It’s Not Luck, It’s Know-How.” Founder John J. Curran had an immense curiosity about equipment, and he took part in shaping the direction and usage of hydraulic cranes. The mobile hydraulic crane first appeared in the late 1940s. Crane manufacturers in the 1950s produced a procession of larger and increasingly more rugged hydraulic cranes. The company’s patriarch became enamored with these machines, and he also listened closely to his customer’s equipment requests. “He asked the hydraulic crane manufacturers to continue to make larger cranes with even higher reaching and heavier lifting capacities,” said Jeff Curran. “If they would build the machines, he would buy them.”

A love of hydraulic cranes, combined with an entrepreneurial spirit, proved to be the perfect formula for success. “He was a risk-taker with a bold personality,” said Curran. “He was an entrepreneur in an era when being one was a bit unusual.”

John Curran began as an excavation contractor. He began buying cranes for use on his own jobs, but other companies soon began to ask Curran if they could rent his cranes. “He began renting out his cranes, and the business just grew with the auto and steel industries in the 1960s and 1970s,” said Curran.

The company has continued to thrive, and its hydraulic cranes, booms and luffing jibs have helped build the Detroit skyline. JJ Curran Crane has worked on the construction of Joe Louis Arena, Ford Field and Comerica Park, including lifting and setting into place the iconic tigers at the stadium entrance.

Today, the company continues its family tradition of quality and service in the commercial, industrial and energy sectors, including helping to build large wind turbine farms across the Midwest. JJ Curran Crane even handles specialty projects in the residential sector.

It’s all based on an excellent business and family foundation. “As a company, we are very proud of our family heritage,” said Curran. “My mother and father established good solid fundamentals, and my brother Larry, president of JJ Curran Crane and Curran Lifting Systems, as well as co-owner of Fleet Cost & Care, and I have tried to carry it through to our generation. We are proud of our exceptionally strong service, our experience and of our ability to keep customers coming back.”

Publish Date: 
Thursday, March 3, 2016