Push-to-Talk, 2 Way Radios (“Walkie-talkies”) and the Rise of IP Based Telephony. Is It Time for You to Consider IP Communication for your Mobile Workforce?
2-way radios have been around for many years. They allow 2 people to communicate quickly and clearly over a distance with great reliability. Invaluable when the pressure is on.
Although the rise of mobile telephony has presented a bit of a challenge to 2-way radios, GSM networks have traditionally rather let themselves down in environments where reliability is crucial, simply by being extremely, well, unreliable. Also, the running cost of mobiles is significant, and when you add in the fact that employees are always likely to be tempted to use them for nefarious purposes, the good old fashioned “walkie-talkie” makes huge sense for voice communication in industries like hospitality and security.
For those who may not be aware, 2-way radios are still commonly used in industries where being able to talk to someone NOW may be of life or death importance. This is basically because the technology “just works”. You push a button, and get a crystal clear, instant connection to the required person at the other end. When was the last time you could say that about your £800 smartphone? A 2-way radio channel will also NOT be shut down in the event of a terrorist attack or national disaster. We rest our case.
But the mobile device, especially the smartphone, suddenly presents a new challenge to traditional 2-way radio technology from a slightly unexpected angle. Forget GSM, and think IP telephony.
The idea of using a mobile phone to make an IP call, specifically designed to make and receive calls using the traditional GSM network, in many ways just seems a bit odd. But smartphones have suddenly become pretty good at switching between voice and data networks to make voice calls. BT Mobile in the UK has been doing it for a few years now, and with the genuinely improved coverage of 4g, HSDPA and 3g in the UK, achieving the networks’ long over-promised 99% coverage is now much closer to reality. When you add in Wi-Fi coverage, and the fact that a smartphone can switch between Wi-Fi and GSM networks without a hitch to continue an IP call, suddenly you are challenging the reliability of a 2-way radio to make and receive voice communications. The relatively short distances covered by traditional 2-way radio also has the potential to become an international call when you use IP.
The other traditional benefits of 2-way radios are also maintained. Secure, reliable, instant communication is offered via a smartphone’s PTT (push-to-talk) button, and the cost is low, because you are ideally using your own corporate Wi-Fi network or a data bundle. Way cheaper than traditional mobile voice bundles.
The cost-benefits are further enhanced when you consider that many security and hospitality businesses will already be using smartphones as part of a remote worker management solution. This will be a crucial everyday part of their business that they will be using in addition to 2-way radios. Well, suddenly 2 cumbersome devices become one. All that is required is some additional software or an app and a smartphone with a PTT button, but most enterprise level (especially rugged) smartphones will have that anyway.
Then you can add in all the additional benefits of VOIP calling and messaging. Such as voice messaging (including voice-to-text), on and offline availability alerts, queued messaging, accountability (of course everything is logged and recorded in a management suite) and the ability to generate open and closed work-groups for team communication. Think WhatsApp here, but a solution that is 100% designed to support a business rather than our teenage off-spring.
Concerned about security? Remind yourself of the story recently where WhatsApp got beaten up simply because the UK intelligence agencies were struggling to infiltrate the encrypted communications of terrorist cells who were using WhatsApp to message each other prior to the recent London terrorist attacks. So yes, your business communications will be 100% secure.
Interested in using 2-way PTT over IP in your business? Talk to us about how you can keep your existing estate of traditional 2-way radios, by using them to work in conjunction with any newly implemented IP-based PTT solution.
Call TourTraxUK and ask for Richard Dickety on 07779 563 678 or call the office on 01634 757 088 if you have questions or need any impartial advice.
HOTELS & HOSPITALITY: Using Technology to Make Your Customer Service Experience Pro-Active, Not Reactive
We hear it all the time. “I trust my staff”.
The sentiment is totally admirable. If you are really in the very fortunate position of being able to say with 100% certainty that you CAN trust every one of your staff to give the kind of attentive service that they would give to their own infant children… then you are doing something very, very right.
But let’s get real. Hospitality is competitive, and margins are tight. The pressure that hoteliers feel to maintain high standards, whilst keeping staff costs low… is extreme. This means that many of your staff are likely to be lowly paid, maybe even minimum wage. Almost certainly overworked. Meaning that their motivation to treat your customers like their own, may not always be what you would want it to be.
The number of customer “touch-points” in terms of their overall experience of your brand is huge. Every time that a customer interacts with you and your staff, be it in a physical or virtual sense, it offers the opportunity to build an amazingly positive perception of you, your brand, and the experience that you provide to all of your customers. Errrm… or not.
When you have residents, who are potentially residing with you for days or even weeks, the opportunity for the sum of all these experiences to be negative, rather than positive, is sizeable. You have a restaurant where despite the best efforts of the chef, a front-of-house person may serve wine in a glass that is smudged. Your maintenance guy may have forgotten to fix the air-con unit in the honeymoon suite, for a couple who want everything to be “just perfect”. Your receptionist may just be having an off-day, which is why she forgot to give that all important message to the extremely busy sales executive from New York. You know, the one who flew in jet-lagged this morning and needed that life-or-death phone message an hour ago, NOT 10 minutes ago.
Technology can be a help AND a hindrance here. On the down-side, it is now so easy for a customer, independent reviewer or regulator to communicate negative experiences to a wide audience quickly and easily. Especially in the UK, where let’s face it, we’re so much more likely to talk about a negative experience than a bad one. And we also have a seemingly innate desire to paste it all over the internet.
But technology can also be used to turn your organisation into one which reduces the likelihood of this ever happening, by preventing problems before they occur. It can be used to keep every piece of equipment working, 24/7. It can make sure that all thoroughfares are clear, every day of the year, even at 3am. But most importantly, it can help your staff not to be over-reliant on their tired, stressed-out brains to remember every task that they need to achieve in a day. Sometimes, a smile or a voucher is simply not enough to turn a bad experience into a positive one, especially if the issue could have been easily prevented. This is of course doubly so if the issue has impacted on someone’s health or safety.
The point with technology is that it enables you and your key management staff to be pro-active about customer service rather than reactive. It means that a heating unit will be turned on 30 minutes before a customer takes occupancy of a room when it is -5 outside, rather than finding out that it does not work 5 minutes after they arrive.
In terms of health and safety, it means that you will know that a fire exit is blocked before the vulnerable night hours when your guests are asleep. Rather than having to produce paper-log books that show that the exit was checked 2 days previously, when dealing with an investigation that has proven that it was blocked resulting in death or injury on the day that disaster struck.
For more information about how we can turn you into a pro-active rather than reactive business, call Richard Dickety on 01634 757 088 or 07779 563 678.
Combining, NFC, RFID & Cloud Technologies in Service Delivery: The Benefits for FM and Service Management
To follow on from our blog of last week about proving attendance, it struck us the extent to which this is only a small part of the overall benefit that combining these technologies offer, in the context of managing people and remote workforces.
As explained in that blog, the power of RFID really lies in the uniqueness of any one tag. Swiping a unique tag with an NFC enabled smartphone means that software companies can make it quick and easy for users to associate “stuff” and “things” with that tag.
By “stuff” we are just talking about activities, instructions, times and so on and so-forth that can then also be associated with “things”, both of which may for whatever reason be important to a company. Because of the nature of the technologies, the stuff and things that are important can be defined quickly and simply by a user of a software system, especially if it has been well-designed with a clean and simple user interface. Being cloud-based means that this can be done anytime and anywhere.
To clarify exactly what we mean here, it is probably best at this point to describe the things we are talking about, and the stuff that can be associated with them, in terms of real-world examples which might actually mean something!
Perhaps the most obvious benefit of the technology, is enabling an RFID tag to be assigned to physical pieces of equipment or assets. This could be something as vague as “the corridor on the second floor” (a “checkpoint”) to something as specific as an air-conditioning unit, a fire-exit or a hotel room.
The uniqueness of the tag combined with the ability to fix it in a specific location mounted either on or very near to the place or asset, means that it is very easy to prove that someone has visited it at a specific time. See our previous blog for more detail on this.
But more than that, the uniqueness of the tag then allows us to send user defined instructions or forms to the phone when the tag relating to an asset is swiped. We can also make these instructions or form completely specific to the asset, using information that we already know about it and is stored on our secure cloud servers.
This offers huge flexibility around planned maintenance or regular scheduled activities. For example, you could store information in your software platform so that you know when an air-conditioning unit is due a service. Either a job can be sent to a qualified person at the right time, or equally when the asset is swiped by a competent person, then a maintenance form can be sent down to the phone, or tablet.
In terms of more basic service delivery, we could remind staff that rooms in a hotel must have their mini-bars refilled every time that a tag placed in the room is swiped, or indeed that the air-conditioning or heating should be switched on, prior to a guest or service user taking occupancy of the room. The system can then be alerted when the room becomes available.
Associating RFID tags with whole buildings, offers great scope in terms of managing time-sheets or rostering people onto sites. The idea is that an RFID tag is swiped in order to register someone’s arrival at or departure from a site. This is quite different from a checkpoint.
The benefit of this is firstly that we can prove exactly what time someone has arrived at and left a site, which means that timesheets can be produced automatically and associated with sites, people and jobs, enabling payroll to be automated.
Secondly, when the allocation of people who have certain skill-sets or qualifications on sites is important, it is then straightforward to enforce that a specific person (who is unqualified, or may even have been banned for another reason) cannot “clock-in” to a particular site.
Assigning RFID tags to a planned series of activities means we can enforce that these activities should happen at specific times or with a certain frequency within a date range. For example, a system could ensure that a range of checkpoints must be swiped at certain times and in a certain order. If this does not happen, alerts can be sent either to the phone user (to inform them that they are doing something wrong and what they should in fact be doing) or a manager or administrator of the system can be informed that something has not happened or potentially even worse, that an end-user has suddenly become inactive.
This is invaluable for people who have a responsibility for the security of a site, people or a business, as it enables them to define exactly when patrols are done and in what order, and are instantly alerted if this does not happen. But it of course has many other applications, like enforcing regular health & safety or maintenance checks.
An RFID tag could also be assigned to a person, for log-in purposes. This would require an end-user to swipe a tag to log-in to a mobile device, for example.
This would only be appropriate when it is merely required to prove that “someone” has logged in to the phone, and their identity is not especially important. For example, if we need to know that someone from a certain organisation has logged-in and is carrying out activities.
Where identity is important, it is very easy to incorporate biometric technology or usernames and passwords into user identification for the purposes of logging in on a smartphone or tablet.
Hopefully this goes some way towards persuading you that your next choice of fieldworker management system needs to incorporate RFID and NFC. Alongside better known technologies (in this context) like GPS location and cloud hosting, it will underpin the lightweight, flexible and intelligent systems of tomorrow.
In the UK, please contact Richard Dickety on 07779 563 678 or 01634 757 088 for further information.