Life during and after lockdown will see some cool new technology become commonplace.
By Chris Keall
By now you're used to holding your phone over a QR code before you enter a building – but our new check-in culture is about to get more high-tech.
A number of players are introducing low-cost thermal scanners to check someone's temperature within seconds before they attend an event. They should help ease the way for more and larger gatherings under Level 2, or even Level 1, life.
The US-sourced Fever Scanner has just been introduced into New Zealand by Kiwi Internet-of-Things (IoT) specialist Adroit, in partnership with Vodafone.
"It can scan your temperature in under five seconds and could be put on the door at schools, rest homes and factories," says Vodafone NZ business director Lindsay Zwart.
You walk up to the head-height Fever Scanner to receive a green light or red light, depending on whether your temperature is above or below 38 degrees.
Adroit has almost immediately had several big clients on the hook - all from the events business, says Ulrich Frerk, founder and technical director of Adroit. A wide range of organisations were also interested days after it landed, from schools to churches to libraries to cinemas.
Working with Vodafone, Adroit has become a leader in IoT in New Zealand, integrating all kinds of tech, from connected traffic crossings for the blind to controlling temperature for fish farms – the kind of real-life, practical applications that show IoT has moved way beyond the hype.
The Fever Scanner is a no-touch, battery-powered portable device with obvious advantages for relocating it quickly around a building or at different events. But it's the gadget's network connectivity that gives it next-level smarts as well as reporting and management capabilities.
Vodafone head of IoT Michelle Sharp says: "Although we have been fortunate to have low numbers of coronavirus in New Zealand compared to a lot of other countries, the threat is still there. The Adroit Fever Scanner is giving business owners peace of mind they are keeping their employees safe.
"A huge advantage of connecting through an IoT network is the immediate access to real-time data – so important as the sooner we identify potential Covid-positive people in the community, the sooner we can stem any spread."
None of these technologies are new, but pandemic life has accelerated adoption. Zwart, general manager of Microsoft's cloud and enterprise business in the US before returning home to her Vodafone role, was already seeing a change in the business dynamic. Now Covid-19 has cemented it, she says: "It used to be big eats small. Now it's fast eats slow."
Zwart is not short on examples of her company helping customers to move fast, from the big (a project to rapidly expand BNZ's use of Microsoft Teams) to the neighbourhood (helping the Sal's Pizza chain with messaging around its click-and-collect solution as we moved out of Level 4).
National examples include Les Mills International among those boosting its use of Vodafone's Ready Messenger automated text product to keep in touch with staff about changes to the way it was operating as the alert levels changed.
Some solutions have been pushing the technology envelope, while others are a revival of the simple text message. During lockdown, Vodafone saw a 235 per cent increase in texts sent via automated messaging tools (including multiTXTPro) by commercial clients, spanning retail customers to district health boards.
Sal's Pizza MD Nick Turner says the multiTXT service has been helpful in communicating safety protocols and customer order confirmations under Level 3 restrictions.
"Once we knew we were able to operate at Level 3, we set about ensuring we could do so safely, including setting up a contactless pick-up and delivery system. Within 24 hours Vodafone got us going with a text service that meant we could communicate efficiently with customers regarding their orders and ensure they adhered to government restrictions around distancing and contactless operations," Turner says.
Probably the biggest technology change over the past fortnight is the rise of the QR Code. The government's NZ Covid Tracer app is a digital diary to scan QR codes posted by participating businesses – but it hasn't made third-party solutions redundant, given it's (at this stage) limited feature set.
Vodafone NZ is among a number of large organisations who have created their own check-in and tracing apps, or adapted existing in-house organisational apps to include those features. They often have much more nuance and utility than NZ Covid Tracer – and the government has pitched its app as a complement rather than a replacement for commercial check-in solutions.
Like many companies, Vodafone currently has less than half its staff in the office on any given day to limit the impact of any outbreak (so far purely a precaution; the company has had no one test positive).
Staff use security cards to enter facilities but the company's VLife Digital Toolkit app also allows for checking-in at their desks, a meeting room, or even recording any chat with a colleague that lasts more than 15 minutes by holding up phones to scan each other's QR code. Zwart says Vodafone is now in talks with a number of customers keen to adopt Vlife's check-in smarts.
It's part of helping them get to grips with the new normal. Zwart says many New Zealand companies just weren't ready for the outbreak, the effect on their supply chains and traditional retail systems.
But technology has helped them rapidly respond and many are already building new systems that will be more resilient to future shocks.
For more information, visit www.vodafone.co.nz