Monday, April 30, 2007

Neat Technology

I've spent a few hours recently with Maged Mohamed, CEO of TechNeat. They created an interesting twist on the barcode / mag stripe / RFID badge readers that are common in trade shows and larger events. TechNeat builds their products on top of the Blackberry wireless platform, so data captured on-site at an event is available online immediately. Compare that to the normal method of capturing data on a local network or hand-held device (or on paper, heaven forbid!) and you discover many advantages and some potential new applications.

A Brief Background on Badge Readers

If you've attended a trade show in the past 20 years, then you are familiar with badge readers. Attendees get a name badge printed with their name and a bar code, magnetic stripe, or (more recently) RFID chip. They walk around the show, look at exhibits, and if they find a product of interest then a sales rep scans their name badge with a hand-held or table-top device. Each scan tells the exhibiting company who you are, and after the show the exhibitors either print out your information or take a memory card to the services counter in order to download the data in an electronic format.

Due to technology limitations, a name badge that is 3-4 inches wide can store about 20 characters with "1D" (one dimension) bar codes, about 225 characters (3 tracks with 76 characters each) with a magnetic stripe, 12 characters in an RFID chip, and practically any amount of data in a "2D" (two dimension) bar code (although the bar code will increase in size with the amount of data printed). Thus, except for with 2D bar codes, name badges usually only store a unique identifier for each person, and the full contact information is stored in a registration database with a link to that unique ID.

1D Bar Code encoded in Code 128
DataMatrix 2D barcode Name badge with embedded RFID chip

TechNeat Products

TechNeat supports all of these badge formats, but their products are scanners built upon the same wireless Blackberry devices that currently addict so many techies. When an exhibitor scans your badge at a show, your unique Id or contact information is immediately and securely transmitted via the Blackberry's wireless carrier to TechNeat's Internet servers. There, they record the details of the interaction (date-time, scanner id, etc.) and link the registrant's unique ID to their full contact information. Thus employees who are not at the show can sit at their browser anywhere (with an Internet connection) and watch the leads come in from their colleagues who are exhibiting. When the show ends, the exhibitors simply drop off their scanners and head home, which sure beats standing in line for an hour waiting to pick up a 3.5-inch floppy disk.

Integration Opportunities

While I'm a fan of Techneat, I don't get paid to sell their products, and so the chance to interact with their systems (and customers!) is most exciting to me. For example, registration workers at the front desk in a location without ethernet or Wifi Internet access could welcome attendees, scan their badge, and instantly transmit a signal to our registration database that the attendee has checked in for the show.

Or, if you need to know who is going to each of your sessions at a large event, then you can put TechNeat's RFID scanners or floor-mounted bar code readers at the doors to your meeting rooms. As attendees walk through the door, the scanner reads their registration ID and transmits it and the scanner's ID to their online database. By connecting a scanner ID to a specific room and the registration ID to a person, we can record who went to each session and when they entered and left the session.

Future Potential

I love working with companies, like TechNeat, who find better ways to collect information at an event while we work on producing better ways to organize and manage that information before, during, and after the event.

1 comment:

Stephen Nold said...

When you decide to learn about a technology, you become an expert! Great presentation of RFID and Lead Retrieval in a way that out meetings community can understand. Keep up the informational postings.

Stephen Nold