An Orwellian nightmare for mice: Pest control in the digital age

Case study: Rentokil’s smart mouse traps use real-time surveillance, transforming the company’s service offer.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 19 Feb 2020

According to Google Trends, interest in the search term ‘internet of things’ peaked in 2016 and has since fallen by around two-thirds.

It shouldn’t be surprising, given that the idea that connections between devices could have as transformative an impact as connections between people has long since become subsumed in marketing guff. 

Specifically, when the media got hold of the IoT idea, its transformative impact was grandly imagined in the consumer field - a fatal mistake. When smart chairs, smart fridges and smart toasters didn’t immediately transform our homes into the world of tomorrow from the 1939 World’s Fair, most people lost interest. 

That’s a shame, because the internet of things has been transforming what businesses can do in important ways and is likely to continue to do so, as this example from FTSE 100 pest control company Rentokil reveals.

Company: Rentokil Initial

Employees: 43,000 worldwide

Innovation: PestConnect (IoT connected mousetraps)

The challenge

The traditional service offer from Rentokil looked something like this. 

You have a warehouse or factory that is at risk from pest infestation, so you hire a pest control company to help contain it, or ideally prevent it from happening in the first place. They send someone with a van full of mousetraps (depending on the infestation risk - it could be rats, bugs or a whole host of assorted creepy crawlies), which they place at strategic points. 

Every week, the same technician comes round, checks the traps, replaces those that have been activated and gives you an update on the state of your infestation.

That works fine for most businesses, but it presents several problems for high-dependency customers - those under very strict audit regulations, such as supermarkets and food processing sites.

You could have an infestation rampant under your noses for a month or more, when you need to know about it straight away, both to contain it and to report it to the authorities as regulations require. Indeed, EU legislation means that in some buildings, it is not permitted to use poison until an infestation has been proved, by which point it may be too late.

As traps are single use, their ability to contain the infestation is limited if no one resets them early on, and they can’t tell you when the pest was caught or how many pests you’re actually dealing with. 

The end result is that you need the guy with the van to come round more often, at a much higher cost. 

The solution

Rentokil launched PestConnect in 2014. Each trap is connected to the internet, which means that Rentokil and their customer are alerted as soon as the trap is triggered. One of the PestConnect devices, called RADAR (Rodent Activated Detection and Riddance), isolates and humanely kills the pest using carbon dioxide, allowing for chemical-free and immediate intervention whilst providing a better estimate for the timing of the infestation - and over time a view of the extent of the infestation.

Aside from the obvious benefits of being able to target an infestation early - in the life cycle of most pests, for example, a month between checks is a very long time - this allows Rentokil to add new types of value to the customer.

“Traditionally, you’d be checking every trap. Now you mainly just check the traps which you know have been triggered, which means you can spend the time that you’re not checking the other traps actually surveying the building,” says Dandja Huitink, Rentokil’s digital pest control product marketing manager. 

As most pests tend only to come out when people aren’t around, this can lead to some interesting discoveries.

“We had a customer at a large bakery site, and every single night around 2.30am a device would go off. We thought that maybe they were taking deliveries of supplies into the factory around that time, and that’s why the door was open for the mice to come in.

“Because we had that information, we were able to call the customer, who figured out that one of his staff members would go out every night at around 2.30am for a cigarette break, and would leave the door open, which was how the mice were getting in.”

Access to granular data like that has, Huitink says, enabled Rentokil to transform its service offer, so that we can focus more on tailored prevention rather than all-purpose cure. It also means that for customers required by law to submit to audits, it is possible to get details rapidly to the regulator in the appropriate forms, with attending Rentokil staff dictating notes directly onto the myRentokil portal, which customers can access anywhere.

The hard part, says Huitink, has been to adapt Rentokil’s on-site technicians to a new way of working with digital tools, interacting with the customer in different ways and using data insights to offer advice as part of the service.

“Anyone can open a trap, but this is really where our expertise comes in, where they can figure out what’s causing the issue using their knowledge of pests combined with data insights.”

Connected traps have not displaced Rentokil’s core offer. It currently deploys about 28 million traps worldwide in 81 countries, of which 80,000 are fully connected, in 25 countries, now processing nine million records a day. 

So far, PestConnect is largely the reserve of larger, audited customers such as supermarkets, but Rentokil expects connected devices to be used increasingly by companies in less regulated sectors. Even the company’s conventional traps now have scannable barcodes that are used to create data insights for customers in the form of heat maps of where pests are active, for example. 

“It’s not just the IoT technology itself, but the blend of tech, data and expertise that enables our technicians to deliver a tailored pest management programme with increased visibility and control - that’s what’s transformational,” says Huitink.

Image credit: Arterra/Universal Pictures Group via Getty Images

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