Getting the most out of people counting technology
Author: Andrew Howarth, Director, Flexicount
People counting technology is regarded as one of the most effective ways to understand how a building functions throughout the working week. This kind of intelligence is invaluable for many businesses but none more so than support service providers looking to gain a more accurate way to deploy resource and make increasingly thin margins more profitable.
For businesses, having a footfall measurement function is a no-brainer. Typically, the technology is a low-impact addition which can fundamentally change how, when and why certain resources are used. Management are able to make evidence-based decisions that ultimately improve service and the overall environment for building users. Better still, it can uncover patterns of use that are useful for longer-term strategic planning, helping to make a business more responsive to upcoming maintenance issues, both seen and unforeseen. In short, it saves time and money and helps to make the workplace better for everyone.
Yet the idea still arouses suspicion within the workplace and wider general public. Mention ‘people counting' and it doesn’t take long before something about George Orwell’s 1984, privacy rights or justified use of employee monitoring crops up. In an increasingly data-driven world, however, this kind of technology is only going to become more commonplace in the workplace, so the need for diligence and sensitivity is key if businesses want to get the most out of it.
As a report in Digital Journal shows, the global people counting system market accounted for $630.2 million in 2017 and is projected to grow by 11.1 per cent between 2018 to 2025. With this kind of market growth, the question is: how do businesses fully reap the rewards of this kind of capability? And, more importantly, how do they do so without risking a hard-earned reputation?
Colleagues value transparency from an employer. It’s therefore essential for a business to communicate why it’s counting footfall, exactly what data is being collected, what it’s being used for, and whether it’s personally identifiable in any way. If colleagues suddenly see sensors being fitted in the workplace without any prior communication, concerns are naturally going to surface and the effectiveness of a solution may suffer.
Once a business selects a product, it should notify colleagues about the changes prior to installation while answering questions around use and intent. Footfall counters will generally not be capable of collecting personally identifiable data as they are, after all, only interested in accruing figures about general usage and not personal habits, but it’s still vitally important to stress that data is anonymous.
Strive for clarity and usefulness
With privacy issues addressed, attention should then turn towards how to make best use of the footfall data that is being collected. This information should always be actionable, meaning that an intuitive software dashboard is a must. It makes little sense collecting this kind of workplace data if it’s unable to be deciphered for use in an everyday business context. This principle applies for any workplace technology but particularly footfall counting.
This is far from a trivial issue. Inaccurate measurement can have profound consequences for organisations. In August this year, the National Portrait Gallery reported a 50 per cent drop in visits when in fact it had actually only dropped by 10 per cent. These figures concerned the government, jeopardising the gallery’s main source of funding, until it was discovered that the dramatic fall was due to faulty equipment and misrepresentation of data. The lesson here is simple: businesses should ensure that their chosen footfall technology delivers accurate and easily digestible metrics.
Keep it simple
All too often workplace technology providers will promise to deliver a one-stop-shop of services yet fall short by some way, overengineering the product in service of trying to do too much at once. If the ultimate aim is to count footfall then the technology should be doing just that – incorporating a myriad of other functions may cloud management’s understanding of how assets function. While it’s useful for hardware to have additional monitoring capabilities, counting should always be the priority if the client organisation is serious about getting the most out of a chosen solution.
This need for simplicity also applies to installation. The best footfall counting providers are now offering ‘frictionless’ fitting, where sensors are installed using a simple adhesive strip and run off the 3G network. These products are especially useful for support service providers looking to gain insights but are unable to carry out any drilling or connect to a client’s IT network. With these ‘autonomous’ footfall counters, the technology can be installed in minutes, giving the customer access to insights and data immediately and with no disruption and no IT required.
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