A Software-First Approach To Counting People

ongoing office presentation

Smart space management has elbowed its way to the top of priority lists at corporate office buildings and higher education campuses – any location where space is at a premium – in 2022. 

From space realignment following COVID-19 shutdowns to long-range visions for flexible, sustainable spaces, space planning teams are looking at ways to modernize and improve their current strategies.

A recent report on the top 8 CIO priorities named shaping the new workforce or Coping with Covid, as a continuing theme. And smart space planning – harnessing time and space data – is grabbing a lot of headlines as geospatial insights and analytics show their value across departments. 

The pressure is on, and as experienced FCP (Facilities and Capital Planning) professionals can tell you – that’s when mistakes are made. 

When competing stakeholders are frantic, and time is running out for annual commitments, or it feels like the budget set aside for smart space planning could disappear, that’s when poor decisions are made. 


“We encourage people to consider an AI software strategy they can get up and running quickly – without having to lean on H&H (hardware and hires) habits.”

MADELAINE MOEKE, DIRECTOR OF INSIGHT AND ANALYTICS AT ARMORED THINGS

“We hear again and again that a request came down for improved data – specifically around occupancy for space planning – and oftentimes we hear customers say they felt rushed,” says Madelaine Moeke, Director of Insight and Analytics at Armored Things.

“They rush to add to their list of hardware purchases, or to hire external analysts for space studies – before exploring a strategy that could be more scalable. We encourage people to consider an AI software strategy they can get up and running quickly – without having to lean on old H&H (hardware and hires) habits.”


SEEING SPACES IN NEW WAYS


Leveraging existing technologies such as badging systems, Wi-Fi, sensors, or cameras, the Armored Things space analytics platform can usually provide occupancy numbers in about one-third the time it takes with an approach limited to a strategy that includes only hardware. That’s about 6 weeks compared to 18 weeks.

That number surprises people. The advantage of smart space occupancy analytics is that you can start assessing people counts much more quickly than you could with a hardware-first approach.

A 2021 McKinsey survey showed that companies had responded remarkably fast to adopt digital transformation plans that would have sat undone for years if they hadn’t been forced to see them as critical to their survival during a global pandemic. The good news is many of those decision-makers told McKinsey they believed those purchases would stick—if they continued to show business value. 

CIO.com reported on the 7 hottest areas of digital investment for 2022 and cited machine learning, data science, and IoT Analytics as among the largest areas of interest. (New hardware landed and private clouds landed on the ‘cold’ list.) 


SPOTLIGHT ON OCCUPANCY ANALYTICS


There’s a push to understand occupancy analytics in new ways, although seasoned professionals are likely already familiar with the chief benefits, including operational expenses. Armored Things Chief Technology Officer Chris Lord hears customers asking questions about how existing data can be used to improve the overall experience in addition to utilization.

“They want to know how to reduce wasted space, save costs on new leases, and choose carefully when expanding physical footprints,” explains Lord.  “Space planning teams also want to see a strong visual representation of occupancy data over time. They are making big decisions, and they need actionable analytics to avoid presenting point-in-time data without historical perspectives or predictive capabilities.”


DATA GAPS LEAD TO TROUBLE


Experienced facility directors and strategic space planners will tell you that, while some of the demands on them are new–many of their problems have remained the same despite years of ‘hot ‘technology’ cycles:

  • Budgeting decisions are made without reliable data to influence them.

Easy-to-understand analytics can help quiet political battles over space and dollars.

  • Underutilization rates remain high.

Historical overlays and predictive analytics are critical to increasing utilization rates.

  • Siloed reports that pull from different departments.

Scalable software that pulls data and creates visual representations and reports from across a campus provides a single source of information.

Those problems don’t exist and persist because there’s a lack of data, but because organizational data isn’t put to work. It’s allowed to sit and increase exponentially, without increasing in value as it grows.


Those problems don’t exist and persist because there’s a lack of data, but because organizational data isn’t put to work. It’s allowed to sit and increase exponentially, without increasing in value as it grows.


Although most space planning teams are under pressure to reimagine and reshape their spaces, many of their chief challenges aren’t new. This can lead to an organizational reliance on the old way of doing things, rather than exploring a new topic like machine learning or AI software.

By using software to visualize space and occupancy data across an entire organization, strategic space planners are able to address underutilization and make more informed decisions about where to increase or expand space.

“The patterns of life in our workplaces have been disrupted, and will continue to change,” says Lord. “Space planning the now space dynamics – and you will need analytics that is both smart and nimble–in real-time and predictively.”

David Smentek is the Director of Partnerships at Armored Things, where he has championed deployments at premier venues around the globe. For more information on Armored Things partnerships, you can reach David at david.smentek@armoredthings.com.


To learn more about Armored Things Space Analytics Solution, you can visit our website or Subscribe to our Monthly Newsletter.

Bringing Them Back: Campus Management Focused on Risk Mitigation

Despite the surge in COVID cases over the recent months, colleges are determined to learn to coexist with the virus. Universities are now focused on adapting to and accepting the new normal in order to keep students engaged and re-enrolling. In a public announcement, Northeastern University’s Chancellor Ken Henderson stated that “as we move into this endemic phase of the pandemic, our job is to continue to control COVID effectively, not let COVID control us.”


“As we move into this endemic phase of the pandemic, our job is to continue to control COVID effectively, not let COVID control us.”

KEN HENDERSON, NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY CHANCELLOR

HOW ARE COLLEGE CAMPUSES MANAGING THE SURGE? 


So how are smart campuses –or any campus for that matter–addressing Omni outbreaks as they prepare to bring students back for the Spring semester? 

Well, some colleges are strictly only offering online learning for the first few weeks including Harvard University which moved to remote operations until January 24. Others are completely delaying the start of the spring semester including Syracuse University which is resuming in-person classes also on January 24.

In order to allow in-person learning, schools are taking precautions to ensure the safety of their students and faculty. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that many schools are requiring vaccines for all students and employees at more than 1,000 colleges. Many are not only requiring students to receive both doses of the vaccines, but also the booster. 

The vast majority are also suggesting, some even requiring, that students get tested before venturing back to campus. Stanford University is advising that students get tested before traveling back to campus and urging them to stay home if they test positive. 

As students make their way to campus and in-person classes commence, universities are continuing to enforce mask mandates, routine testing, contact tracing, and quarantining in order to stabilize the rise in COVID cases. Northeastern University plans to remain open and continue to require all on-campus students to be tested on a weekly basis as well as mandate students to quarantine when testing positive or experiencing symptoms.


HOW IS FACILITIES MANAGEMENT ADJUSTING TO THE NEW NORM? 


When you consider the messages coming out of Northeastern and other universities, they’re preparing for surges, whether relating to COVID or even other contagious diseases in years to come. The idea that the pandemic will downgrade to an endemic suggests the continuation of today’s healthcare concerns in micro-communities like college campuses. The expectations around sanitization, occupancy communications, and space management have seeped into other areas of our experience and will continue long after the pandemic. Since in-person learning is crucial to any college’s success,  it’s essential to build occupancy analytics into the central data systems. 

The Armored Things platform utilizes existing Wi-Fi, sensors, and cameras to produce a complete picture of how and when people occupy the spaces managed. The software counts people in real-time, issues alerts, and even supplies predictive analytics. 

Space utilization software has never been more useful than during a pandemic where occupancy is limited in most spaces, especially on college campuses. Our higher education customers are integrating Armored Things into systems like class scheduling and registrar information to add context to occupancy analytics and bring their campus management into sharper focus. Enabled by AI, Armored Things can help you bring students back –and keep them back–safely, building a tech-enabled, flexible campus.

Alex Trotto contributes to the Blog and Social Media channels for Armored Things. She is currently a Northeastern University student in her sophomore year.

Occupancy vs. Capacity: What Should You Be Tracking?

Are you selling your venue short by reporting only sell-out flatline metrics? Understanding the core differences between occupancy and capacity tracking can impact not only your food and beverage revenue but the value of sponsorship advertisements. 

There’s nothing more appealing than a sold-out event. It’s the epitome of success for sports and entertainment venues as it indicates high volumes of on-premise foot traffic. For venue managers, it’s also a flag that indicates the level of staff required to be on-site, inventory management, and the value of your advertisement placements.

 For a long time, we’ve understood capacity – how many we can fit – and occupancy – how many showed up for the game as clear indicators of success. It seems simple enough, but the advent of machine learning brings deeper insights through visualizations and predictive analytics that have the power to accelerate enhancements of the fan experience.

 So, exactly what happens when you look at occupancy data throughout the entire event to surface deeper insights? The next era of stadium technology is ushering in data like:

●      Peak periods of occupancy on the concourse throughout the duration of the event

●      Total concourse foot traffic patterns and the impact of opening two hours before a major event

●      Empty craft beer patios coinciding with long lines at higher-priced stations.

These are the types of data points the Milwaukee Bucks examined at Fiserv Forum during the 2021 NBA Championship series. With the benefits of AI and machine learning, we are able to surface deep insights that drive decision-making around fan experience and sponsor engagement.

Here’s an example: a sold-out, game three, NBA Championship event at x stadium has a maximum capacity of 18,000 seats. That’s 18,000 people with buying power. Each of those people will enter and exit the stadium through the main concourse.


CONCOURSE OCCUPANCY CAN BE AS HIGH AS 5X YOUR CAPACITY


During a championship basketball game, space analytics software captured a total of 90,000 visits to the concourse in six hours  five times the number of seats available for attendance. How could that be? Well, as a visitor enjoys the entire experience, they move through the concourse on their way to the shops, bathrooms and concession stands several times. When analyzed in comparison to other types of events, the total occupancy through your concourse figures can reveal and predict concession ROI.

Surfacing this number is more valuable to sponsors in understanding the true exposure to their brand. Sponsors understand the value of volume when it comes to ad placement and are willing to maximize their spend. Surfacing capacity instead of occupancy figures provides just a fragment of the total impressions available. Understanding the difference between these metrics is paramount; if there is any hesitancy towards these terms, or there’s relating to space occupancy, check out our definitions blog. Ultimately, this can validate ad spend to sponsors and partners by offering reports with accurate brand exposure and providing them with validation benchmarks for owners.


VISUALIZING FOOT-TRAFFIC PATTERNS ADDS CONTEXT FOR REVENUE OPTIMIZATIONS


Venue operators and managers have historically run successful live events using occupancy as a percentage of capacity (how many arrived vs how many seats were available) as a main data point. That value is still a great way to kick-off event management but as the fan experience evolves, meeting the needs of venue attendees will too. In today’s world, point-of-sale is your smartphone, grab-and-go food and beverage kiosks are a norm, and the speed of gratification is ever-accelerating. A birds-eye view of space utilization can tell you how to map out your venue to optimize traffic flows, validated by historical data and predictive analytics.

When architects and design teams visualize space, they assume traffic patterns based on blueprints and design for efficacy around those assumptions. When we verify those hypothetical movements and fan behaviors through data, we are able to better optimize bottlenecks, address point-of-sale performance, or redirect movement for better flow – i.e., getting more people through lines faster – and ultimately improving the fan experience.

With dashboards that visualize your entire arena, spatial planning and optimization is more easily understood by everyone at your facility. Back-of-the-house crews can use alerting features to identify bottlenecks and re-route traffic, cleaning facilities can become more efficient, and apps can surface queuing needs to attendees. Executives, operations managers, marketing teams, and financial analysts can strategize optimal ad placements and sponsorship tiers, validate costly redesigns, and project F&B revenue more accurately.

About the Author

Madelaine Moeke is Director of Insights & Analytics at Armored Things, a company specializing in space analytics and crowd intelligence. She has been working in the sports industry for over a decade with a focus on turning raw data into actionable insights that drive everything from food and beverage sales to improving the fan experience. Her immersion in the sports venue management industry is helping premium entertainment venues redefine the next generation of live events.