Winning the Race with RFID – Canadian firm shows how

Visualize this: you take your regular run in the park and almost immediately after can access key metrics about those laps with nothing more than a loonie-sized device attached to your shoe.

That’s all possible thanks to technology and services offered by Race Headquarters, a Coquitlam, B.C.-based firm specializing in event timing and results processing.

The company markets a chip designed to help sprinters and sporting events organizers access key metrics about a race and participants’ performance.

Dubbed ChampionChip, the device is based on radio-frequency-identification system (RFID) technology from Texas Instruments, which is also used for security-locks in cars and admission control in buildings.

Read related story:

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Race Headquarters enables accurate statistics about a race to be aggregated via the ChampionChip almost the moment a runner crosses the finish line.

Here’s how it all works:

Tartan mats equipped with “send” and “receive” antennas, are laid across the track at the finish line and other timing locations. The antennas are connected to a yellow data storage box at the side of the road.

When an athlete wearing the ChampionChip, crosses the mats, the chip gets energized and sends out an ID number. This number, with the corresponding time, is stored in yellow box and then eventually transferred to Race Headquarters’ timing system for further processing.

The entire process takes approximately 60 milliseconds.

Organizers greatly appreciate this automated race data collection process, according to Lorraine Davidson, principal, Race Headquarters.

She contrasted the current process with the labour-intensive method Race Headquarters had to resort to prior to its use of ChampionChip.

Then Davidson would need up to 50 people to gather race data during a major event, such as last year’s Vancouver Sun Run, which had more than 50,000 participants.

Around 20 to 30 people would collect bar coded tags from athletes, Another 20 would scan those tags, and five more would process and upload the data so it could be distributed to news media outlets the next day.

These days, an RFID reader posted at the finish line reports the time each runner with a ChampionChip finishes the race.

Davidson says “speed of data delivery is a boon for media outlets covering an event.” It only requires around five persons to download the racers’ data into the system and feed it to the media.

And that task is usually accomplished within 40 minutes of the winner crossing the finish line, says Davidson, who has been providing timing services for events for more than 22 years.

Race Headquarters is one of the 10 Canadian finalists in the Fifth Annual Dell Canadian Small Business Excellence Awards.

The Canadian awards event is part of Dell Inc.’s global contest honouring entrepreneurs who make innovative use of technology.

The national award winner gets $25,000 in Dell products, while the global contest winner receives $50,000 in Dell products.

Both winners get consulting time with Michael Dell.

Emergency planning made easy

A dramatically faster and more accurate way to measure runners’ performance earned Race Headquarters a slot among the top 10 finalists for Dell’s Canadian Small Business Excellence Awards.

Innovation in a very different field – emergency planning – has earned another Canadian firm the same honour.

Hour-Zero Crisis Consulting Ltd. in Edmonton has developed a Web-based emergency training system that incorporates data management, pandemic planning, interactive mapping capability and first responder access features, specifically designed for schools.

Emergency training equips school officials, and enforcement or rescue personnel to act more decisively when disaster strikes, according to Donna Gingera, CEO and partner at Hour-Zero Crisis Consulting Ltd. in Edmonton Alberta.

She said these days, when school lockdowns or evacuations – sparked by real or anticipated calamities – are increasingly common, there’s a dire need for such training.

Hour-Zero’s emergency preparation services include:

  • Creating a customized training program after consultation with school personnel
  • Training personnel on emergency best practices and the system
  • Testing of the system and user interface

  • Preparing the system and users for emergencies

School employees receive training tailored to their roles, with modules accessible online, at their convenience.

Critical information – such as operational data and emergency procedures, personnel contact numbers and skills inventory – is stored on Hour-Zero’s secure remote data centres, equipped with disaster preparedness and fail over capabilities.

Data is encrypted and access is controlled.

“In many emergency situations, students and school personnel are at a loss as to what to do,” noted Aaron Masson, a partner at Hour-Zero. “Critical data about people or the building that could be helpful to responders are often left inside the building.” Users are able to access the data with any Internet-capable device.

Masson said school personnel can use the system to identify and alert the school’s emergency response team, get instant access to parent contact information or student health alert data.

School officials can even make building maps available online to emergency first responders such as fire workers or the police.

In a wider emergency situation, a group of schools linked to Hour-Zero can serve as an emergency network for the community, according to Gingera.

Through the schools, first responders gain access to the network, which contains vital mapping information of each building and the availability of people with skills sets that could be useful.

“There’ll be less guesswork involved in determining which building has been evacuated, how to navigate through a facility or which person has CPR training.”

Ace up your RightSleeve

Innovative use of a customer relationship management (CRM) system, built with open source tools, catapulted yet another Canadian firm to Dell’s Top 10 list.

RightSleeve, a Toronto-based promotional design agency, designs and distributes corporate promo products such as baseball caps, coffee mugs and golf shirts.

The firm recently discovered the power of open source software for CRM.

While software products, such as QuickBooks, are adequate for accounting, they can’t handle the firm’s CRM needs.

“And although business is thriving, we’re not big enough for expensive tools such as Oracle and SAP,” noted Mark Graham, president of the 14-person firm.

The company started out with an HTML-based Web site in 2000, but soon outgrew the “static” system and began shopping for an online CRM tool to help it manage inventory, delivery, accounting and customer transaction operations.

“Our original Web site was just a collection of images,” Graham recalled. He said the site was good for displaying RightSleeve’s product line but didn’t enable employees to accurately check inventory, track deliveries, or handle transactions.

If a product was discontinued, someone had to access the system’s backend and delete it. “We just didn’t have enough time or personnel trained to do that,” Graham said.

With budget constraints and flexibility demands, Graham found out the answer to RightSleeves CRM dilemma in open source software. “Open source was a perfect fit. We built our CRM system in-house on MySQL.”

As the system is non-proprietary, RightSleeve was able to configure it according to its business’ needs. Non-technical staff also found it easy to learn.

New hires need to develop working knowledge of at least a hundred of the company’s 500 to 1,000 product groups. “That takes about six to nine months to master, if they don’t quit on the third month,” Graham said.

But with the Wed-based CRM tool, a “new hire could be up and running within a week.” That’s because workers can now view details such as inventory, shipping dates, delivery schedules, prices and others right on their computer screens.

The MySQL-based tool interoperates with RightSleeve’s suppliers’ systems.

This further streamlines business processes and eliminates manual errors, Graham noted.

He said some suppliers have given RightSleeve special discounts. “The 10 per cent cut in cost enables us to increase gross margins by 25 to 42 per cent.”

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