Technology has been a saving grace time and again during the Covid-19 lockdown and shutdown. If it wasn't remote working or Google Classrooms then it was a Microsoft Teams conference, a Netflix binge, or a family quiz over Zoom.
Now one Cork-based analytics company is aiming to use its technological savvy to better equip the country's gyms as they rush to adapt to new safety measures, work practises, and environments in time for their reopening on June 29.
Over-C is a facilities management software company that uses data and analytics to streamline everyday work practices for staff in high-footfall areas as diverse as sports stadia, transport hubs, shopping centres, and manufacturing plants.
“Frontline workers in the gym sector are facing an uphill battle when they return and they will likely be doing it without any technology,” says Over-C's CEO Mike Elliott whose company operates in Ireland, the UK, and the Netherlands.
“Digitising operations is one of the most straightforward ways to transform the way in which your leisure centre runs, improve workforce collaboration at a time when social distancing will be key, and prove to the public that your gym is putting their safety first.”
Hygiene and safety have always been cornerstones for the leisure industry, all the more so now that Covid-19 has muscled its way into everyday life, and Over-C's response is to use simple technology such as NFC sensors paired with apps that can flag and record cleaning tasks.
Here comes the science bit but, don't worry, it's not complicated.
NFC stands for Near Field Communication: the most obvious example would be your basic contactless payment with a credit or debit card. This allows users in a workplace to avail of detailed and simple checklists and guides on a device which could fit in their pockets.
How would this work in a gym setting? A staff member would swipe a code on, say, a treadmill which would prompt an action required. It may be a simple wipe-down or a notification that the machine needs a test run and everything is logged.
A LoRaWAN sensor is another aid. This can be used to count people in its field of view and alert staff if areas are too congested for social distancing purposes. Heatmapping hot sports and simple door sensors can perform a similar task.
Club Vitae Clayton in Cork has been using the technology for just under a year with manager Tony McGrath reporting huge time savings for staff in the absence of cumbersome paper trails, dramatic increases in employee satisfaction levels, and an 88% decrease in customer complaints.
There are other benefits besides.
“One of the big things that we are involved in is ensuring that we provide what we call Claim Defensibility Solutions which will be very key in gyms as well,” says Elliott. “'Oh, I fell off the treadmill'. Was that an accident or because the venue was negligent?
“What we provide is that level of comfort that standard procedures were carried out, we've got digital proof that can't be fraudulantly manipulated. We are a trusted party because we have no involvement other than providing the tools and the data for that.”
Over-C are releasing a free version of their technology to gyms as the sector looks to get back on its feet. Installation is a matter of hours and Elliott is adamant that there is no Big Brother aspect to all this. The obvious question then is where the profit lies for them.
“On the analytics,” he explains. “So for us, we have the basic operations, which is the commodity side of it. What Over-C is about is the data, the analytics. If I have a hundred gyms, where are my trends? What am I seeing? Why is it that every Wednesday we have these problems?
“Or when the weather changes I can start to see I have got more claims. So keeping guys and girls safe on the ground doing their general duties is wonderful, then for us, the question is what does that mean? How can I make my gym slicker? How can I do things differently?”
Among the company's other areas of business is their work with Munster Rugby who are looking to develop a smart stadium at Thomond Park. The province's operations manager Colm Moran has said that their link with Over-C has “revolutionised” how they look at data and analytics.
The company, founded nine years ago, is also involved in contact tracing with the rugby outfit, or at least it will be in the event that any players or staff report positive Covid-19 result having returned to their high-performance training centre for work this week.