The world of technology, propelled in recent years by the Internet of Things (IoT), is changing the way PMPs do business. As a result, manufacturers are changing the way they bring products and services to market. Case in point, the new Bayer Digital Pest Management services platform that unites decades of the company’s traditional pest management expertise with the power of the Microsoft Azure cloud platform (see related story, below).

Bayer says their new services platform will empower PMPs with solutions that leverage IoT and connected technologies to automate workflows, translate data into actionable insights, provide greater transparency and create space for new growth opportunities. That’s an ambitious claim, but one Bayer believes is within its reach.

“Recognizing the accelerated pace of change, increasing regulatory challenges and evolving needs of our customers, we are collaborating with Microsoft to help power our services platform, which we’re confident will help elevate and expand the strategic role of pest management professionals,” said Chris Pienaar, global head of transformational innovation, Bayer, Environmental Science unit. “Through this platform, we’re able to offer our customers an unparalleled combination of pest management industry experience and technological infrastructure that delivers both a smarter way of doing business and a new competitive advantage.”

The Microsoft Azure cloud platform is designed to be flexible and scalable to solve business challenges across numerous markets, including the structural pest control industry. “We’re excited to work with Bayer to bring the power of the cloud and artificial intelligence to their pest services platform to change how their customers address health and safety concerns across the world,” said Caglayan Arkan, general manager of manufacturing, Microsoft.

The initial service offering from the Bayer Digital Pest Management group is an electronic Rodent Monitoring System.
The Bayer RMS sensor attached to a multiple-catch trap (left) and the accompanying gateway unit (right) that passes data to the cloud.

It’s a collaboration that could forever change the way PMPs view Bayer, a global brand with deep roots in the pest management industry. “This is a new road for Bayer as we go beyond products in bottles and move into integrated offerings that include products and services,” said Peter Jardine, strategic marketing lead, transformational innovation, Bayer, Environmental Science unit. “That’s a big change.”

In fact, so big, it required Bayer executives to think differently about its pest control business, creating a separate Digital Pest Management team to identify product and service opportunities outside the confines of its traditional specialty chemicals business, which features such well-known brands as Maxforce, Temprid and Suspend. “The United States is the pilot country for our new services platform,” Pienaar said, “but our goal is a global offering wherever it makes sense.”

EARLY DEVELOPMENT. The company’s digital pest management services platform evolved out of discussions at the Vision 2020 event co-hosted by Bayer and the National Pest Management Association in 2013. The goal of the program, which included a workshop attended by 40 executives and senior managers of pest management companies from throughout the United States, was to help guide and shape the future of the pest control industry in four major areas:

  • Society and Demographics
  • Technology and Science
  • Regulation and Environment
  • Economy and Markets

In kicking off the program, Pienaar said, “We need to find a way not only to survive, but to thrive, in a changing marketplace and the only way we can accomplish this is by working together as an industry.”

Five years later the goal is the same. But now Bayer has something tangible to show for its efforts. “We went into that meeting with industry leaders wanting to find out what challenges they thought they would be facing in 5 to 10 years,” Pienaar said. And industry leaders weren’t shy about sharing their “pain points” with those in attendance. “We asked them to exclude chemistry from the discussion and tell us the challenges you anticipate you’ll be facing in the next decade,” he said.

It took some time; but guided by what those in attendance told them at the meeting, Bayer created a special business venture dedicated to addressing many of their concerns. “What we needed to do was create a business transformation of our own within Bayer because we realized if we were going to solve our customers’ problems, we were going to have to behave differently as a company,” Jardine said. “And it would (likely) lead us to an area we hadn’t gone before.”

The result was the formation of a five-person “Venture Team” which began with a core group of longtime Bayer employees: Chris Pienaar (management), Peter Jardine (marketing), Dr. Byron Reid (development), Gaelle Fages (project management) and Michael Zimmermann (IT). Since that time, the company has added other members to the team, including Scott Broaddus as sales and business lead (see related story, below).

INITIAL OFFERING. The inaugural service offering developed by the Bayer Digital Pest Management team is a Rodent Monitoring System (RMS). Designed for PMPs responsible for protecting people from the health and safety risks posed by rodents, the system addresses the needs of sensitive businesses such as food-processing facilities, where rodent control is mission critical and there is a significant need to mitigate risk and reduce the complexity of compliance with new regulations, including the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI).

The RMS uses sensors that allow each trap in a facility — often in numerous and otherwise hard-to-reach locations — to be monitored 24/7 (see related story, below). Rodent captures trigger an immediate notification to the pest management company and/or facility management via e-mail or text message. Real-time graphic floorplans show the status of all monitor locations. And up-to-the-minute reporting and trending from the system helps pest management companies review the effectiveness of trap placement schemes and optimize them to improve effectiveness of the rodent control program.

“Currently, a rodent could remain undiscovered in a trap for as long as a week or a month until the trap is manually inspected,” Jardine observed. “The service provider has no way of knowing when the rodent was captured and cannot quickly respond to get to the root cause and head off further infestation. The Bayer Rodent Monitoring System changes all of that.”

The system features 24/7 monitoring, real-time capture alerts, regular system status reports and up-to-the-minute rodent program verification, resulting in “rapid response, faster root-cause analysis, improved efficiency, infestation avoidance, less business disruption, transparency across facilities, value-added services and improved audit readiness,” according to Jardine.

“Once installed, all responsible personnel can remotely log on to the Bayer Digital Pest Management web portal to access the full activity history of all devices,” Jardine added. “The activities include trap movements, rodent captures, system status and battery levels. In addition, each sensor sends a daily ‘heartbeat’ message, so the user knows the system is functioning properly. “We like to say that, ‘It’s not only wireless, but also tireless,” he said. “Plus, when you know real-time that there are no captures that has a value (as important as getting a capture message), because it offers proof the rodent control program the service provider has implemented is working. This is important to auditors and QA managers.”

The Bayer Rodent Monitoring System also can be adapted to existing multi-catch and snap traps and does not utilize wifi or facility IT infrastructure. Microsoft’s Azure cloud services (see related story, below) securely manage the Bayer Digital Pest Management portal and provide artificial intelligence and machine learning, which will enable predictive analytics, according to Bayer.

The rodent monitoring system is a subscription-based service that includes the monitoring equipment, sensors, client and customer set-up, software updates, apps, portal access, reporting, training, and installation assistance. “While we call it a system, it is important to note that we’re selling a service,” Pienaar said. “Our goal was, and is, to help our customers build a better business by automating some of the common manual, time-consuming activities. We really weren’t targeting the rodent control market per se; but rodent trap checking was an obvious area where we knew we could add value.”

The turnkey solution is customized based on unique facility variables including business type, pest history, facility complexity and footprint. “We envisioned and developed Bayer Digital Pest Management with our customers,” Pienaar said. “And we’ve made significant investments to support and further grow this new services platform. We envision that it will become a home for other connected devices from Bayer as well as other companies, creating an ecosystem that professionals can leverage to create better performance and a better business. We’re in this for the long haul.”

PMP COOPERATORS. As part of its product development efforts, Bayer approached several pest control companies, including McCloud Services, in 2016 to test a prototype of its Rodent Monitoring System. As a company at the forefront of innovation and with a long history serving the food-processing industry, McCloud Services was well suited for this task.

“As an organization, we are committed to continually improving our offerings and finding the best tools in the marketplace for providing our pest management service,” said President & CEO Chris McCloud, “so we were happy to field-test the service.” Thus far, he says client reaction to the system has been very positive. “They trust our company and we hand-picked our more forward-thinking clients to beta test it.”

Bryan Cooksey III, president & CEO of McCall Service, says electronic rodent monitoring “is going to change the way we do business” and those PMPs who adopt the technology will have a “competitive advantage” in the not-too-distant future. He anticipates widespread adoption of the technology in the next 6 months to 3 years.

Surprisingly, Cooksey says he doesn’t view the RMS as a rodent product, but as a digital product offering benefits to both commercial and residential customers. “Five years ago, at the 2020 Vision Summit, people were describing smart houses and smart accounts,” he said. “This type of technology will help that evolution to continue.” Cooksey expects the commercial market to be the first to embrace it “because they have the financial resources to adopt it initially,” he said, “but it will eventually migrate to the residential market.”

While the sample size is small, John Cooksey, chief operating officer, McCall Service, said the Bayer Rodent Monitoring System has proven effective in several pilot accounts. “We used them in accounts where we had an active rodent population and they were able to prevent us from going out there,” he said, although false-positives and false-negatives were initially a concern. “That’s what we were worried about, but from what we’ve seen, they’re pretty far along with this technology, so we didn’t have many problems.”

Copesan Services President Deni Naumann, like her peers, first became involved following the Vision 2020 event. Copesan’s company-owned firms — Wil-Kil Pest Control and Holder’s Pest Solutions — performed the pilot work, providing feedback to Copesan’s technical and field operations departments and the manufacturer.

Overall, she’s optimistic about the potential of electronic monitoring systems since they offer yet another tool for protecting public health. “I’m really excited about the technology and how it will supplement and complement IPM programs,” she said. “For me, I firmly believe that electronic monitoring will never replace skilled PMPs, but it’s another tool in a PMP’s toolbox that will enable us to achieve early detection of rodents.”

Naumann added that electronic monitoring is a natural by-product of the ongoing evolution of the marketplace, particularly when it comes to the Internet of Things. “We shifted over 10 years ago as an industry from paper tickets to electronic tickets,” she observed. That change enhanced the professionalism of the industry, while improving accuracy and making the technician’s job easier. “I see electronic monitoring as a similar type technology,” she said. “It allows PMPs to put those devices in essential interior areas, which will allow us to gather data that will help enhance our understanding of the site itself (i.e., level of rodent activity, peak activity periods, etc.). That will make us even more professional.”

Stephen Gates, vice president of technical services, Cook’s Pest Control, views electronic monitoring as a natural evolution of the bar coding systems of the past. “It’s still in its infancy, but I can see the benefits of such a system,” he said. The time-saving benefits of electronic rodent monitoring will allow Cook’s to redirect their technicians to other tasks, making them more productive and enhancing the company’s bottom-line. But, he warns, the transition will require some customer hand-holding, allaying the concerns of high-end clients who are accustomed to seeing Cook’s technicians on site daily or weekly. “Just like bar coding, it will require some customer education,” he said.

“We have three large, food-related accounts we’re working with right now and it’s going really well,” he said. “They just want to take the technology through some audits” to provide a comfort level that it works as advertised. “They want to identify what are the ‘gotcha’ things we didn’t foresee?”

The Bayer RMS is branded within the company’s Digital Pest Management business venture.

Like Gates, John Cooksey is intrigued by the potential costs savings provided by the system, particularly as it relates to employee down-time due to on-the-job injuries. “There’s a lot of stooping involved in checking (rodent) traps and the vast majority of those traps have nothing in them,” he observed. “It provides lots of opportunities for people to get injured, so having a system like this in place would likely reduce those on-the-job injuries.”

Ultimately, the widespread adoption of electronic monitoring systems will likely come down to a dollars-and-cents decision. “The pricing model has to be right,” John Cooksey predicted. “There’s a cost associated with adopting this technology,” he said. “Will our customer be willing to pay for it and will we save enough money to justify the cost of investing in the system?”

Only time will tell, but it’s clear that forward-thinking PMPs and leading manufacturers view the Internet of Things as a business trend that is here to stay.

CONCLUSION. It’s clearly a new day in the professional pest management industry. With IoT technology featured prominently at the recent NPMA PestWorld convention and trade show in Baltimore, Md., manufacturers are investing a significant amount of brain power and financial resources into this product segment, drawing praise from PMPs charged with keeping food-processing plants and other high-end commercial accounts free of pests.

“There’s a saying: ‘The prairies are littered by the bones of pioneers,’” observed Copesan’s Deni Naumann. “I applaud the manufacturers that are addressing this market segment because I know there are high R&D costs involved in developing, beta testing and tweaking the technology,” she said. “It’s a big commitment for any manufacturer to say, ‘I want to revolutionize the marketplace.’”

It’s a quest, however, Bayer and other like-minded companies are willing to take on in hopes of not only transforming their own business but enhancing the field performance — and the bottom line — of thousands of pest control companies around the globe.

“Bayer is about Science for a Better Life,” said Jardine. “Our Digital Pest Management initiative takes that a bit beyond, offering what we think is the Science of Smarter Business.”

For additional information about the Bayer Digital Pest Management business venture or Bayer Rodent Monitoring System, visit beyondsmarterbusiness.com.

Q&A with the Bayer Digital Pest Management Team

Following the announcement that Bayer was entering the digital pest management space, PCT sat down with the principals of the organization to learn more about their plans for the future. Among those interviewed were Chris Pienaar, global head of transformational innovation, Environmental Science unit; Peter Jardine, strategic marketing lead, transformational innovation; and Ray Daniels, head of marketing, professional pest management and vector control.

PCT: What factors prompted Bayer to enter the rodent control market?

Chris Pienaar: Our goal was, and is, to help our customers build a better business by automating some of the common manual, time consuming activities. We really weren’t targeting the rodent control market per se; but rodent trap checking was an obvious area where we knew we could add value.

PCT: Is Bayer a player in the rodent control market globally? If so, how and where?

Ray Daniels: Bayer does not participate in the rodenticide market in the United States. However, we do participate in the rodent control market with our Racumin brand in most of the other countries where we operate.

PCT: Why did Bayer decide to enter the rodent control market in North America independently rather than choosing to partner with another company that already had a foothold in the U.S./Canada/Mexico pest control market?

Jardine: So far, we haven’t seen the need to partner with other companies because our vision centers on new technology around connected devices and the Internet of Things. Plus, we are well connected in the industry through our core business and are fortunate to have strong access to key customers.

PCT: What are the key features of the Bayer Rodent Monitoring System?

Pienaar: While we call it a system, it is important to note that we are selling a service. This service is an enabler, helping make our pest control partners even better than they are today. It is powered by what we, and many of our customers believe, is best-in-class technology. Our business model is a service paid by monthly subscription. There is no hardware or software to buy, no worries about technology updates, etc. It is a turnkey service solution.

PCT: What are some of the key benefits of the system?

Jardine: The system features 24/7 monitoring, real-time capture alerts, regular system status reports, up-to-the-minute rodent program verification, automated trend lines, graphic floor plan; and it enables rapid response, faster root-cause analysis, labor efficiency opportunities, infestation avoidance, less business disruption, transparency across facilities, value-added services, and improved audit readiness.

PCT: How long has the Bayer Rodent Monitoring System been in development?

Pienaar: A little over two years. Those two years include the technology as well as (developing) the business model.

PCT: How is the Bayer system different from some of the other monitoring systems that already have been introduced or field tested in the professional pest control market?

Jardine: The technology we are using is relatively new. It has only been available for two years. Thus, many systems that were developed over the last several years use communication/connectivity methods that were available at the time. Our system is reliable due to the rock-solid connectivity of the network. Also, our system is designed to use minimal power, so the batteries last for four years. We made a conscious decision to avoid energy-hungry sensors, thermal or infrared technology. Our sensor is elegant in the simplicity of its design.

PCT: What are your first-year expectations for the product?

Pienaar: As we make this service available to the broader market, we are more confident than ever there is a strong need in the industry. Based on positive initial reaction we anticipate that we will gain rapid adoption and subscriptions with a number of progressive and innovative PMPs in 2018.

PCT: Will the product be sold through traditional distribution networks in North America?

Daniels: We are launching the system directly. We are open to evaluating other options.

PCT: Does Bayer plan to offer a companion rodenticide product with its Rodent Monitoring System in the future?

Jardine: While we do have rodenticides in other markets, at this point we do not plan to introduce a rodenticide in the United States. We are in the rodent monitoring services business not (the) rodenticide (business). That said, we can see instances where a strategic alliance with another manufacturer might be of value to both parties. We are open to that too.

PCT: Is there anything we haven’t addressed during this interview that you would like to share with our readers?

Jardine: Bayer is about Science for a Better Life, our Digital Pest Management initiative takes that a bit beyond, offering what we think is the Science of Smarter Business.