A company from Finland developed technology that shortens shop queues during rush hours: “A problem may be merely a consequence”
Health centres and grocery shops are examples of places where queues could be shortened through careful data collection and analysis. When the peaks in customer volumes are known, more staff can be allocated to shorten the queues. The analytics service developed by the Finnish technology company Fidera is already being used in several sectors from industry to fast-food chains.
Even though the correct way of queuing is deeply instilled in all Finns, not many enjoy it.
Large grocery shops during rush hours are a typical example from everyday life, with customers having to stand in queues for quite a while in the worst case, when not enough employees have simply been allocated for the work – and vice versa.
“There may be too many cashiers working at the wrong time, while it would be more efficient to stock shelves with new items. This is a familiar sight in large supermarkets,” says Fidera Oy’s CEO and founder Mikko Jalonen.
The shop employees also benefit from optimal planning and real-time guidance: regular employees can be allocated full working hours and temporary employees are not needed.
The root cause for the problem can be found through real-time information on the situation
Fidera helps understand the situation through real-time goods and service process monitoring by combining RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification), Bluetooth and video analytics in an innovative manner. The products are suitable for sites where there are needs concerning real-time monitoring and supervision of people, goods, services and work phases in order to improve the efficiency of processes.
The service is based on IoT (Internet of Things) technology, which can be used to collect large volumes of data quickly and efficiently.
Mikko Jalonen says that the service has been developed together with several partners, including Stanley Security, the largest provider of technical security services in Europe.
Through this, it has been possible to obtain experience on technology modelling from a wide range of sectors. The company was established in 2013 and started its operations by resolving access control challenges in a new way, and it has stayed on the same path: new use cases are constantly being developed.
“We first developed automatic access control with Skanska by using RFID, which had by that time been an emerging technology for over ten years.
Based on the experiment, Fidera designed a concept that was first implemented at a construction site. RFID tags were attached inside the workers’ helmets, with the major benefit being that there was no need to use a separate device for accessing the site. You can just walk or drive to the site, with access data automatically saved in the system.
With this, deviations can be noticed immediately. The data can then be combined with camera analytics to identify persons accessing the site without permission.
“This is how we differentiate from our competitors: we offer real-time, comprehensive overview of sites instead of individual measurement points. For example, the information can involve access control or positioning of persons or goods or alarms on moisture damage,” says Jalonen.
Jalonen mentions Finnsementti as an example of a company that already had industrial automation, maintenance work reporting and equipment data available. The industrial automation already covered approximately 2,000 devices, but a large number of critical parts, such as engines and bearings, were not monitored.
In the Finnsementti case, Fidera took control of the critical parts that had no sensors and linked them to the existing data.
“We can combine data with the same system that enables us to carry out big data analysis or AI-type reasoning concerning future malfunctions. Instead of the origin of the sensor data, we are interested in how to utilise the data in the best possible way,” Jalonen says.
Challenges in the construction industry inspired the development of monitoring
Over the years, especially the construction sector with its special needs concerning monitoring has learned from the challenges related to access control. There may be hundreds of professionals from various fields working on a site, with partly different and partly the same access gates being used. Efficiency of access control plays a key role especially in terms of safety, but it is also important for working hours monitoring. When the working hours of an individual worker can be verified through automation instead of using time stamps, conflicts concerning working time can also be avoided.
In addition, access control is especially demanding in the construction sector: information on how many people are working on the site is required by the tax authorities. It may be impossible to install a traditional time stamp device on site, for example, when the construction site is a bridge or a road section that is eight kilometres long. Large construction sites may have several gates, and there should be no queues extending to roads that are in normal use.
“Digita provides us with employee IDs that can be linked, for example, to a certain area on the construction site, which enables easy access control,” says Jalonen.
Another good example is remote health care, where monitoring has been found to be an easy and practical tool. A nurse can use a smartphone application or other positioning device to document the length of a customer visit. The customer’s home is equipped with sensors that are used for the nurse’s home visits.
According to Jalonen, the competing solutions are based on the health care personnel documenting their visits themselves, for example, by using a mobile application. Fidera has started to automate this so that it is no longer necessary to log in, as visits are documented automatically.
“This minimises the possibility of human mistakes, oversight or other wrong information,” Jalonen summarises.
A high-speed network and comprehensive sensor selection are the key
Fidera collects the data for analytics through the LoRaWan network provided by Digita, with the network offering new possibilities for data collection. Cooperation with Digita also enables a comprehensive sensor selection. Fidera chose Digita as its cooperation partner because Digita’s LoRaWan network was found to be an inexpensive network that covers the entire Finland with high quality.
According to Jalonen, Digita’s comprehensive sensor technology was especially convincing. When Fidera receives an order from a customer, it can provide the customer with the required sensors quickly with Digita’s help, and the sensors can be used for immediate collection of measurement data.
“Digita’s positioning devices can be used for various positioning needs: for example, a reindeer that has fallen behind its herd or a valuable tool lost on a construction site. In addition, information on the utilisation rate and location of items such as machines, equipment, vehicles and even trailers can be included very quickly and at low cost, which is one of the major benefits of the LoRa technology.
Jalonen encourages companies to quickly deploy data collection technology and to see if it is helpful. Results are available immediately, so you can soon see the benefits. Jalonen would not rush large investments.
“When you notice a problem, you should first install sensors and then start to evaluate the collected data. I recommend that you start to experiment even though the needs are not clear. It doesn’t cost much and data is quickly available.
Jalonen knows from experience that the root cause of a customer’s problems is often something else than initially thought.
“Often the problems experienced by the customer are merely a consequence of the actual problem. If you immediately order a solution for that, it might turn out to be just a plaster on a wound. When you start solving the problem with IoT, you can collect a lot of data, analyse it and target the root cause with the solution, that is, target the actual problem directly.