When marketing and out-of-the-home advertising firm Smart Outdoor sought to increase operational efficiency, it used connections made at a North East England Chamber of Commerce roundtable event to strike a partnership with software company Uptivity Apps. Steven Hugill finds out more
When the Newcastle Eagles lifted the BBL Cup recently, it wasn’t the only impressive North East teamwork on show.
For while the country’s most successful basketball team was defeating the London Lions in Leicester’s Morningside Arena in late January, another example of regionally-nurtured collaboration was catching the eye too.
This, though, had nothing to do with pinpoint passing or three-point plays, and more to do with the court’s perimeter.
As the Eagles swooped to glory, they did so against a backdrop of colourful digital advertisement screens, which were fitted and operated on the day by Houghton-le-Spring’s Smart Outdoor.
Britain’s premier basketball league is one of many clients for the marketing and out-of-the-home advertising firm.
Known for screens that bookmark the Tyne Tunnel and provide vivid displays on the Tyne Bridge and at Teesside International Airport, the company’s influence stretches across the UK, with countless national shopping centre displays complemented by a presence outside Scotland’s Murrayfield Stadium.
However, for all its successes – which now include a joint venture in the North West – the Rainton Bridge South Business Park-based firm is not resting on its laurels.
It is, in fact, looking to push even further ahead, and is collaborating with Uptivity Apps to do just that.
Having struck up a relationship at a North East England Chamber of Commerce roundtable event, where Smart Outdoor’s Iain Catterall met Uptivity Apps’ founder and chief executive Muhammad Ali, the company is now exercising a raft of the Newcastle software firm’s digital services to increase operational efficiency.
Using a suite of complementary apps, Smart Outdoor now oversees asset management, apparatus maintenance and stock control in real-time, using QR coding that allows staff to monitor repair histories and upload information on completed jobs, and customers to flag issues.
All of which, says the business’ managing director and founder Mark Catterall, is helping deliver a robust customer experience.
“We have a lot of different assets in many places, and their constant maintenance is very important,” he says.
“If an engineer is going to fix something, he needs to be able to know what work has been performed in the past.
“With our new system, we see from start to end, and can instantly highlight exactly what has been done on a checklist.
“Our partnership is also providing vital stock control support; if an engineer takes apparatus out to a site, we see that immediately, as we do when items are logged back into the system.”
Mark says Uptivity Apps’ support has proved particularly vital during the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, wherein the company has pivoted to offer an alternative service – 20-inch smart hand sanitiser advertisement screens in shopping centres and garages, with the partnership ensuring dispensers remain full and in good working order.
“It is all about being less reactive and more in control,” says Mark.
“Muhammad has adapted apps for us that provide us with a total record on maintenance and control of assets, which includes our hand sanitisers.
“They are now being rolled out and our app means customers can digitally request sanitiser top-ups to specific sites or repairs by scanning a QR code, ensuring a consistent customer service.
“Our partnership, going forward, will also help with areas such as hyper-local advertising.
“If a client wants a specific advert in a certain geographical spot, the technology we are using will be able to help us monitor what is being displayed and ensure the correct displays are being sent to the right units.”
Muhammad agrees, and says he and his team are already looking at ways to boost its technological provision to Smart Outdoor.
“The next step is the innovation part,” he says.
“I’m always trying to find better ways of doing things for clients and we know that with smart screens, the content needs to be managed as well as the equipment maintenance.
“That means there is further collaboration and innovation to be made,” continues Muhammad, whose company lists work locally with care homes, hospitals, fire safety companies and large distribution facilities including Heathrow Airport, which monitored toiletry levels just prior to the COVID-19 outbreak with the business’ Stock Control App.
He continues: “For us, it’s now about presenting a solution for Smart Outdoor to better manage screens and their content; it is all about joining them together.”
A perfect example of Uptivity Apps’ continuous pursuit of improvement came during the COVID-19 pandemic, when it improved checklist apparatus to help operatives fulfil jobs while remaining safe.
Muhammad says: “We updated the app in a way that means people are presented with a standard operational checklist before they visit a site, which makes sure they follow clients’ procedures.
“The app also has a safety and quality check function built-in – it is easy when you have multiple things to do on site to forget one element – and a training element too, which allows companies such as Smart Outdoor to upload videos of standard practices.
“Furthermore, while allowing for the instant uploading of job images, the system also automatically generates a site visit report, which eliminates paperwork and therefore helps maintain social distancing during the pandemic.”
And, having helped operators around the world, which include a Middle Eastern oil and gas firm managing energy pipelines in the desert, Muhammad says he is looking forward to supporting a North East firm on the next phase of its growth journey.
He says: “We have a lot of experience in what Mark and his team are looking for, and we will continue working with them to get the most out of our platforms.
“Everything is mobile, and our strength very much lies in getting people to do things more smartly and efficiently.”
Mark adds: “Muhammad has taken on board what we are doing, and how we are doing things, but is now coming up with ideas that assess where we are going to be in the coming months to help with our progression.
“This isn’t a one-off; it is the start of a great partnership.”