Luke Irving, Innovate HB

The social distancing parameters of Covid-19 and concerns about human contact and hygiene have created a rapidly escalating trend for contactless technology that will transform how we interact with the fast food and restaurant industry.

That’s played right into the hands of Havelock North-based Fingermark, which has major international contracts with McDonalds, KFC, Taco Bell and others for its real-time business analytics, AI-based customer kiosks and digital menu boards.

“Customer service as a one-on-one interaction and traditional point of sale will die, but human interaction in retail will get better and more helpful with a front-of-house blend of technology,” says Fingermark chief executive Luke Irving.

He says the growing demand for contactless transactions and deriving more data out of drive-throughs and kiosk ordering is the future. “It has put us in the sweet spot … we’re seeing quite aggressive inquiry around our technology sets and QR-code ordering.”

Irving sees self-service becoming the norm through phone applications or kiosks. This he believes is the beginning of the end for across-counter transactions, with staff moving into different, more sociable roles as technology is used to take orders.

“Instead of being behind counters they will be in more productive roles, opening doors, as a concierge and interacting with people.”

Less human contact

Kiosks are a more controlled environment where customers see the surface cleaned regularly. “A lot of our clients where the market has reopened around the world see this trend toward kiosks.”

When Irving was developing touchscreen technology for retailers about 12 years ago, he says customers weren’t as interested in using stand-alone screens on the shop floor, but gravitated to solutions where staff took people through the purchasing process.

“I always believed there was a better way of serving. A lot of my philosophies are now coming to fruition, but it’s been a slow evolution.”

With people forced to be self-sufficient for two months, searching web sites and increasing mobile use, he says businesses now realise that’s where a lot of traffic was driven and people are quite comfortable with this.

The Covid-19 period has been “a shove in the right direction,” says Irving, and it will be interesting to see where things land over the next 6-12 months.

“I think it’s been like a meteor just tapping the side of the earth and pivoting it a little. We’re not going to see a new norm straight away, but we’re on a fast evolution.”

Downsize to upscale

As for the bad news during lockdown, Fingermark was forced to “rationalise a few positions around the world”. The good news is that it gained market share in the US fast food sector, which was the best performing industry.

Slowdown also gave Fingermark a chance to “re-set and finish” a lot of its products and get through what it calls ‘technical debt’ or the backlog of work on features for existing products like Eyeque, its AI-based analytics and detection software, and Supersonic web-based platform.

It’s also come up with future features and getting products ready to scale up, and to deliver on some “pretty sizeable contracts” in the quick service restaurant (QSR) sector tech, where QR codes are used in restaurants that have minimal table service.

Off the back of the Covid slowdown the firm also identified a fast food industry “game changer” which Irving believes will streamline ordering and timing for the middle kitchen.

“The piece that pulls it all together for a fast moving restaurant is how to manage those orders using smart AI-learning to help orchestrate which should be priority. It’s never really been done well, so we’re quite bullish about this.”

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