The Internet of Things (IoT) is transforming how businesses operate, and one Canadian telecommunications giant is using this connected technology to help improve the food industry.
Telus Communications has partnered with several global companies to offer more cost efficient, automated solutions geared towards food retailers, producers, distributors and transporters through its IoT Marketplace, which were showcased at the Restaurants Canada (RC) Show, a hospitality and food service event held in Toronto.
Sensors and smart probes for the cold chain system
Telus has joined forces with Digi International, a Minneapolis-based provider of IoT connectivity products and services. The company has developed a subscription-based cold chain solution called Honeycomb that allows customers to monitor food storage areas, such as refrigerators, freezers, and transportation vehicles. The solution uses sensors to measure temperature and humidity within the area they are placed, and also boasts a compass and latitude and longitude capabilities, which can be used to determine air flow and leaks, like if a freezer door has been left open.
“Safety is very important in the food industry and in today’s typical restaurant environment, it’s required to have a staff member walk around every couple hours to check and log fridge and freezer temperatures to make sure food isn’t going bad, which is very manual and labour-intensive,” Jamie Williams, vice president and general manager at Digi Cold Chain, tells IT World Canada at the RC Show. “Now, our technology automates that whole process, which saves money, time and effort.”
The sensors, which are roughly the size of a toonie, wake up at a given interval that is set by the restaurant to capture temperatures and other data, then displays it in a variety of ways. It sends out report summaries to as many people as needed through the Honeycomb mobile app, stores the data in a cloud-based system through Telus’ network for future inspections, and even alerts management if there’s a problem or potential issue that needs to be dealt with, such as a door left ajar.
“In a restaurant, the most important aspect to this is that there is no need for anyone to be walking around every couple hours checking temperatures. Staff can actually go do their job of serving customers and making money for the restaurant,” Williams explains.
The solution also comes with a handheld food probe that measures and stores food temperatures, as well as a task management feature that can be set up to remind staff when, where and what to probe. Both the sensors and probe come with a battery life of three to five years, but because they are connected to the cloud, Digi is alerted when a device’s battery is low, and sends free replacements before they can die.
Offered as a service with a monthly fee, the company also offers packages, such as one for small restaurants, which comes with six sensors, one gateway to connect the technology to the cloud, and one probe.
Connectivity for transportation
Another Telus IoT offering is Fleet Tracker, a monitoring tool for vehicles and employees on the road, in conjunction with Fleet Complete, a Toronto, Ont.-based global IoT solutions provider. Fleet Tracker tracks and collects real-time information about the vehicle, including its location, battery voltage, fuel usage, ignition status, and even whether its doors are opened or closed. It also monitors driver behaviour such as excessive idling, speeding, braking, and acceleration.
This data is tracked through a modem installed in a vehicle and sent through Telus’ connectivity network to the Fleet Complete cloud-based platform, which “synthesizes, manages and disseminates the data to various parties,” Sunil Patel, senior strategy manager at Telus, explains to IT World Canada. Notifications and detailed summary reports can be sent to multiple people via SMS and email, and are also available on the Fleet Complete desktop, mobile and web app.
“There’s tremendous opportunity for the food service industry to benefit from a solution like this,” Patel says. “It can help businesses monitor the efficiency of their vehicle and travel routes, prolong the life of their vehicles by understanding and predict when the vehicle needs maintenance, identify operating inefficiencies to lower costs, and even curb bad driver habits, which can lead to discounts on insurance rates.”
Fleet Complete brings the application, hardware, software and tech support to its strategic partnership with Telus, who then takes the solution to the market with its brand, sales channel, and wide network, Patel says.
“There is a lot of value to be added from knowing where vehicles are, how fast they’re travelling, where they’re going, etc., and as modems, connectivity and data collection become less expensive, implementing these types of IoT solutions into the transportation vertical makes more sense,” he continues.
Patel ensures that there are layers of security that encrypt the data as it is transferred through the Telus network, adding that in his three years at the company, there have been “no cases of data being compromised.”
Mobile apps are the way of the future
At the RC Show, Telus also highlighted its work with Smooth Commerce, the Toronto-based application development platform behind the SmoothPay mobile payment, loyalty and engagement app.
SmoothPay is “tailored to making in-store experiences quicker, more convenient and more rewarding for consumers, and gives businesses the ability to promote their business to a bigger network of users, as well as increase sales, customer frequency and loyalty,” according to Brian Deck, the CEO and founder of Smooth Commerce.
The app allows users to input their payment details and use it as they would a credit or debit card, he explains. Deck compares it to Apple Pay, but notes a few differences: when a consumer makes a purchase, the app automatically deducts any available discounts and coupons – and collects applicable loyalty rewards – in real time before billing a user’s credit card.
It’s free to download for both Android and Apple iOS, and is currently accepted at over 150 locations.
However, Smooth Commerce goes beyond its flagship app; the company is also the platform behind it and offers app development services for businesses that want their own branded product. For example, the company developed a branded app and payment system for Balzac’s Coffee Roasters, an Ontario-based artisanal coffee chain.
“We teamed up with Balzac’s to develop their mobile payment app, which works in a similar fashion to Starbucks’ very successful app, but with more opportunities for rewards and at a fraction of the cost if they were to do it in-house,” Deck says.
Smooth Commerce is working with a number of other businesses on developing branded apps, and while Deck could not specifically name any at this time, he notes that the list includes some big grocery chains and gas retailers.
He believes that mobile reward and payment platforms and branded apps like this will be the future of food retail.
“There are just so many benefits to [mobile-centric loyalty reward platforms],” he says. “Executives want their brand front and centre in the market, and also want to highlight how they are on the leading edge of technology. They also want to increase sales and profits, improve the experience of interacting with their brand in a more convenient and easy way, as well as make the most of data analytics. That’s what we do with our product.”