With consumers and employees alike becoming more comfortable with Internet of Things (IoT) components in their alarm clocks, coffeemakers, doorbells, vehicles and more, Pest Management Professional (PMP) brought the following five suppliers into a “virtual roundtable,” to see how the pest control industry is harnessing this technology:
- Sensing Technologies (BST), Madison, Wis.
- CAS Dataloggers, Chesterland, Ohio
- Skyhawk, Derry, N.H.
- Woodstream, Lancaster, Pa.
- WorkWave, Holmdel, N.J.
See products from each of these suppliers in the print edition of the magazine.
PMP: First, we want to thank each of you for participating in this discussion. Just to get some context as to how long IoT has been around in the pest control industry, could each of you please comment as to how long your respective companies have been incorporating IoT into your products?
- LYNCH: In 2017, Bell Labs created a new technology division named Bell Sensing Technologies, or BST, to support the development of our iQ smart rodent monitoring product line. The vision behind BST was to create an affordable line of rodent sensing devices that every PMP could use at every account. We created it to be the world’s first truly scalable smart rodent monitoring platform.
- SHEVELOW: We also launched in 2017. Skyhawk originates from the PICA Group, a set of companies I founded that has been designing and manufacturing key components for leaders in consumer electronics and medical equipment for more than 20 years. I founded Skyhawk on the conviction that two core technology events — the quantum improvement in sensor technologies and the opening of the cellular networks for IoT device communications — would open up new applications for remote monitoring.
- BROWN: Woodstream launched its first connected platform more than a decade ago. That system, while not nearly as sophisticated as today’s connected systems, taught our engineering, product development and business development teams so much about what PMPs would need and expect from connected devices. That experience gave us the foundation on which to build our current VLINK platform.
- AGAJANIAN: WorkWave integrated the first IoT system into PestPac in 2021. We saw, and continue to see, great potential in IoT and sensor technology. IoT is currently the best way to reduce service order duration, especially on large complex commercial facilities. Prior to IoT, a technician would have to spend hours walking a facility and checking potentially hundreds of empty traps and bait stations. With IoT technology, technicians can focus on traps with activity, and save valuable time onsite.
- NAGY: CAS Dataloggers has been selling these types of systems for pest control applications for more than five years, although they probably were not always referred to as IoT products.
PMP: Have you seen the number of pest management companies interested in this technology growing? What is drawing them to these products?
- LYNCH: Yes, we have. One metric we use to best understand the growing adoption rate, at least with rodent monitoring devices, is tracking sign-ups across our BST portal and app. In the last 12 months alone, iQ sign-ups doubled globally and now number well into the thousands — thanks to PMPs embracing the iQ technology.
- SHEVELOW: Having exhibited at [the National Pest Management Association, or] NPMA PestWorld for five years now, I can definitively say the industry is at a tipping point. Interest in Trapmate, for example, has gone up five to 10 times within the past 12 months. As for your second question, Dr. Bobby Corrigan said at the Purdue Pest Management Conference last month that once you’ve adopted electronic rodent monitoring, you’ll never go back. The advantages this technology brings — primarily, a huge savings in trap checking time that converts into better integrated pest management success and thus, better profits — are hard to move away from once you’ve experienced them.
- NAGY: Agreed. I also think the ability to remotely monitor the process and easily provide documentation, both for record keeping and to present to clients, are beneficial.
- BROWN: We see more interest in IoT solutions every day and it’s incredibly exciting. With any new technology, there is always slow growth initially. But as PMPs see their peers have success with VLINK and other connected products, their confidence in the technology has grown.
- AGAJANIAN: We have, too, but I can add another reason why demand has been rising: The tight labor market during the COVID-19 era forced PMPs to seek ways of maximizing their existing staff. That catalyst helped drive adoption and prove some of the economics behind IoT-enabled pest control solutions.
PMP: What would each of you say to PMPs concerned about the up-front costs? Should they be a certain size before considering IoT technologies, or can small operators benefit, too?
- AGAJANIAN: The upfront costs of setting up a facility with IoT technology can be intimidating, especially for larger facilities that will see the most benefit from the technology. However, we have seen PMPs take advantage of IoT sensors to reduce the amount of truck rolls, for example, and thus lower their cost of service and win accounts. When calculating return on investment, PMPs should strategically think about how they would utilize IoT to factor in the many gained efficiencies.
- NAGY: Right, and if you include the labor costs associated with the more manual methods of collecting the data and then capturing it electronically and producing reports, these new systems can pay for themselves quickly. Don’t forget the benefits of having more accurate and reliable data, as well.
- BROWN: IoT technology can be useful for any size operation. In fact, some smaller organizations that we’ve worked with have changed their entire business models to be centered on IoT solutions. We offer multiple pricing options to mitigate large up-front costs, if that is a concern. But in many cases, it only takes one trial for our customers to really get a sense for how useful our system can be to their day-to-day operations.
- SHEVELOW: We think the returns — in increased profits, happier customers, and more customer wins — more than offset the upfront cost of investing in electronic monitoring systems. We’re starting to see that some companies are getting their customers to pay for the hardware, and in some cases the software subscription as well. The pitch to the customer is an easy one. Do you want our technician spending up to 75 percent of their time per site visit on checking traps? Or would you rather they use the bulk of that time, instead, on inspecting, excluding, cleaning and keeping you informed? Most customers quickly see the benefit.
- LYNCH: Simply put, technology saves time and eliminates risk. Those two benefits alone make the minor up-front costs of IoT products not only palatable, but necessary. Pest control companies of any size have benefited from the time savings and critical account knowledge these smart devices can communicate.
PMP: In our survey, some PMPs expressed security concerns about sharing data. How does your company address those concerns?
- NAGY: Most of the newer IoT systems can incorporate the latest [Transport Layer Security, or] TLS-based protocols to protect data as it is uploaded to the cloud. Once there, access to the data is accomplished via a standard web browser, which provides the same level of secure login as you would use for carrying out online transactions every day.
- AGAJANIAN: Yes. IoT data is treated the same as any other data. It is securely stored and transmitted to individual customer databases. There are unique identifiers for every IoT device and corresponding service location to ensure the data is isolated and accessible only to the PMP operating the IoT devices.
- SHEVELOW: The data our sensors collect belong to our customers. Whether the devices are owned by the pest management firm or the pest management firm’s customers is between them, and we’re happy to accommodate either scenario in our agreements. We never commingle data between accounts. In terms of security, all our communications to the cloud go through a high-security virtual private network. We’re very serious about security.
- BROWN: VLINK uses LoRaWAN to send encrypted messages from the trap to the gateway and, from there, cellular data to send the secure data to the cloud. When those messages are received by the VLINK backend, that information is viewable for the user only — and that data belongs to the user.
PMP: Wrapping things up, how do you foresee the future of IoT technologies in pest management services and products?
- LYNCH: PMPs are actively embracing the use of technology. Once a technology is introduced that increases productivity while making the job of the user safer and more rewarding, like other industries, there is no turning back. Pest control leaders are no longer asking whether they can use rodent monitoring technology, they are asking where they can use it next.
- SHEVELOW: This genie is out of the bottle. As we’ve seen in recent months, some of the largest industry players have bought up some of the early technology providers. What our pest control company customers tell us is that they realize not only is IoT monitoring critical for them to improve their businesses, but it’s also becoming a critical need to win new customers.
- BROWN: The public is looking to service companies to bring innovative solutions, whether it’s their pest control company, corporate travel agency, or accounting firm. Welcoming IoT solutions into your operation will make you that more valuable of a partner, and you will stand out above the pack. And for those who are still wary of it, remember that technology is here to enhance your already-excellent service offerings, not replace your foundational practices of integrated pest management.
- AGAJANIAN: Do not sleep on the positive impacts to quality of life for your technicians. Reduced physical exertion and walking time, combined with a focus on traps with activity, can positively improve a technician’s sense of purpose. We have seen similar improvements to technicians’ employee satisfaction when their driving routes are optimized. We believe IoT technology can be a similar catalyst for the onsite portion of a technician’s day.
- NAGY: I still think we are early in the process of integrating IoT into everyday activities, but it is easy to see how it is fundamentally changing the way we collect and manage data to reduce the time, effort and cost of many of the processes we have been doing manually —and, at the same time, provide better information and pest control service for our clients.
NIST and IoT
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) was founded in 1901 and is now part of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Its stated mission is to “promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards, and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life.” This includes setting standards for the Internet of Things (IoT).
“The IoT could revolutionize the American economy by enabling a fully connected world with on-demand access to data, systems and each other,” reads a statement from NIST. “Since an IoT product might be defined as including an IoT device and any other product components that are necessary to using the IoT device beyond basic operational features, there are risks that come along with this level of connectivity — especially among so many devices across the globe. We must be able to trust the privacy, security, authenticity and reliability of these devices, as well as the advanced networks that support them.”
To learn more, including NIST’s guidance on software, IoT security and labeling as a result of former President Trump’s Executive Order issued on May 12, 2021 (“Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity,” No. 14028), visit NIST.gov/internet-things-iot.