How Rentokil innovates using APIs

For a pest control firm, Rentokil is pretty innovative. Internet of Things-style mice traps; field workers' mobile apps and a £50 'build an internal app' incentive amongst non IT employees are all markers of a truly tech-savvy firm. Enterprise delivery manager Anthony Meadows explains how it is creating new services and apps while maintaining its legacy infrastructure.

It is using APIs to deconstruct its legacy IT infrastructure while simultaneously allowing employees to build useful apps, products and services.

"We have two worlds going on. Enterprise IT is creating a new digital core, and the business is innovating. We've gone bi-modal without meaning too", says Meadows. Reliant on an on-premise, in-house ERP based on Progress software in the majority of the 60 countries Rentokil operates in, Meadows needed to react to the businesses' need to "be more agile."

It has deployed API management vendor Mulesoft's Anypoint platform to help "wrap a layer" around its backend systems to allow sales and marketing and operational teams create the apps they needed without touching the complex backend.

Creating an 'API culture'

APIs are hot at the moment, even though they have been around for some time. What is innovative about Rentokil's use of the interfacing tool is the culture it has created, Meadows says.

"By creating an API culture, we can actually extract and present our data internally and externally so the business can go away and innovate. While before they would come and ask for a Google Maps API [for field workers' mobile app] now they might need a customer service or sales API, for example."

Using an API to integrate the backend to field workers (which make up 70 percent of Rentokil's 22,000 workforce) has been "a real game changer for efficiency" now that the usual paper trail has been eliminated.

"Thinking about the IoT culture and how you can scale it and integrate all your assets and endpoints that you have, pulling them together in an agile fashion is what is really innovative.

"We're a simple business, but complex use of technology could transform that. The mind set of marketing is about driving products for us, and I have to be in a place where I can support that."

Opening APIs internally, let alone to external developers can be tricky in terms of availability for operational services (like the mobile app for field workers, for example). "We're trying to create service levels around APIS to make sure that a certian amount is free and then there needs to be a payment level. We are considering having two open APIs, one without a service level that allows developers or marketing to take what they need but one for the operational side of the firm that we can control", Meadows said.

A fairly new innovation that comes with APIs is the usage analysis packages that come with most as-as-service tools. Meadows says this is crucial for Agile mobile development. "We want to track employees for all the apps we build so we can analyse usage and make it better."

IoT rat traps and the dirty truth about hand sanitisers

Rentokil have acquired many local pest control firms the world over Flickr/Wildlife Wanderer

Rentokil have created connected traps to be more effective. After Europe ruled poison could not be left out until an infestation occurs, Rentokil turned to technology to overcome the obstacle. Now its devices are connected to sensors that will only release poison when a pest is in close proximity. Traps can detect the size of the animals, so squirrels will no longer be trapped, Meadows added.

In its hygiene services arm, it has created sensor technology to detect hand washing. It detects when someone enters the bathroom and whether they used the taps.

"We surveyed across hundreds of thousands of workers across Europe and found that about 60 percent of women wash their hands and 38 percent of men did. Now we can apply that to a food processing plant where you want to drive compliance."

Aggregated, anonymous handwashing data is reported back to workers in real-time via LCD hygiene compliance monitors. Seeing the data changes behaviour, the firm believes. This informal 'nudge' and increased peer pressure helps drive up hand washing rates dramatically. Handwashing rose 90 percent within two days of the data being displayed, before stabilising between 80 and 85 percent.


Margi Murphy

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