The Hands-Off Approach To Visitor Management: How A Pandemic Pivot Sparked Trans-Tasman Success

 |   Microsoft New Zealand News Centre

‘Pivot’, ‘adapt’ and ‘contactless’ are almost the buzzwords of 2020, and New Zealand digital services company Theta exemplifies them all. Rising to the challenge of COVID-19, Theta’s team pivoted to adapt its EVA reception management platform to a contactless check-in system that’s now helping customers from Australian sports teams to aged care operators and health facilities. Using smart Azure technology and geolocation, EVA is fast evolving into the ultimate one-stop visitor management tool.

Before 2020, few of us worried much about touching a screen. Where you were sitting in a lecture theatre only mattered if you didn’t want people to notice your haircut. Stadium operators were certainly interested in health and safety, but not in the expectation of tracking down 40,000 people days after a match.

Then, of course, COVID-19 struck.

For New-Zealand based IT services company, Theta, it pointed to a year of no growth or even slight retraction, as customers struggled just to adapt to remote working and re-prioritised non-essential activities. And the Theta team themselves were keen to find a way to help organisations and everyday people get back on their feet.

In the weeks just before lockdown, The Theta Product Group, which was then part of Andrew Taylor’s Theta Digital Practice, had been working on improvements to a reception management program, EVA, that Theta had acquired a couple of years back. It was a touch-screen sign-in platform for guests arriving at reception, based around tablets.

Was there a way to make sign-in contactless, so organisations could easily keep track of their visitors and staff without adding further risk?

The perfect contactless host

It seems like a normal part of life now, scanning QR codes to record your visits. Back then, it was so novel that Air New Zealand had run a major TV advertising campaign when it launched contactless check-in.

For two weeks, Taylor and his team worked round the clock to develop a seamless solution any organisation could use, so people could simply scan QR codes on their mobile phones as they entered a building. With COVID-19 regulations requiring all workplaces, shops, restaurants and public spaces to record visitors and their contact details, a contactless version would massively speed up and simplify the process.

“New Zealanders know the COVID Tracer app, but this does so much more than contact trace. Theta’s genius was combining a tracer app with a visitor management tool, notifying hosts that visitors have arrived and even taking contractors through an induction process as required. The speed at which they recognised the need and pivoted to meet it is incredible,” says Kaye Harding, SaaS Partner Lead at Microsoft.

Excitement was huge, with Theta running five demonstrations a day for a fortnight and refining the product to reflect customer demand. However, the scale of these demands differed wildly. The University of Canterbury, for example, needed a solution that covered multiple sites, with hundreds of QR codes across every lecture theatre across all buildings on campus. Not only that, but protecting people’s privacy as well as their health was paramount.

To ensure EVA was as flexible as possible, Theta built the new platform in the cloud, adding Azure Active Directory integration to provide the ultimate security for people’s personal information at any scale.

“If we weren’t running on Azure, we wouldn’t have been able to get it off the ground so quickly,” Taylor says. “And several customers were asking whether EVA was compatible with their own Microsoft systems, so it was the logical choice.”

The Azure platform encrypts people’s data as they sign in, with access to that data tightly controlled and audited to triple-lock data protection. The Azure Active Directory enterprise identity service also provides multi-factor authentication and single sign-on to protect users from 99.9 per cent of cybersecurity attacks.

“We’re very strong on privacy by design, and customers appreciate we’re helping them protect their own customers’ data,” Taylor says.

Theta also leveraged its status as a Microsoft SaaS Partner to list in Microsoft’s AppSource, a marketplace where business users can find apps built by Microsoft and its partners. That meant when New Zealand got COVID-19 under control, Theta could reach a huge new market in the Northern Hemisphere as demand there soared.

A viral success

It would be understating it to say EVA has been a runaway success. Since launch, more than six million check-ins have already been performed on the platform, with thousands more daily from New Zealand to Australia and Canada. The mobile app has been downloaded more than 100,000 times, and there are also tablet-based kiosks for those without mobile phones.

EVA has become the go-to solution for the state of Queensland, with Queensland Rugby League, Queensland Rugby and Netball Queensland just some of the organisations using it to protect their hordes of fans as they attend games. Brisbane City Council Libraries and even public health facilities and hospitals have chosen EVA as their visitor management solution. Not only does quick scanning avoid long queues and provide easy contact tracing, the app can tell facility managers if they have reached the allowable visitor limit.

With a Microsoft datacentre in Australia, customers also value having the data stored right there within the country’s borders, meeting all local compliance requirements. Its strong security protocols and a privacy-first design mean EVA Check-in has been approved for use in a government context.

Reviews on software site Capterra are glowing. As one further education customer put it: “When COVID hit we needed a check-in solution in a hurry, before allowing staff and students back on campus. We needed to be able to trace and monitor the maximum numbers of people in certain areas. EVA check-in did all this and more and the deployment was easy and needed only one brief meeting with support staff, and we were up and running in two days.”

In Theta’s own backyard, New Zealand’s largest aged care operator has also signed up, using EVA to check visitors in. The EVA app’s new geolocation technology makes check-in automatic as soon as the guest arrives on site, taking contactless to the next level. It also means that in a busy facility, there’s no chance of forgetting to scan.

“Compliance tends to drift downwards over time, but the geofencing solves that,” Taylor explains.

With the instant success of EVA, Theta then immediately pulled the trigger on its planned strategic move to build a dedicated Product Group, which it had paused when COVID struck. The outcome is that Taylor has moved into a brand-new role, as Head of Product at Theta. It’s testament to EVA’s success that Theta is now investing even more in developing further apps and software products to grow that aspect of the business alongside digital consultancy, IT support and project management.

“It’s really helped our team’s morale too,” Taylor says. “At a time of uncertainty when many of our other projects had come to a halt, being able to work on something like this, that’s helped so many people, has been a huge boost for all of us.”

The next EVA-lution

“This is the ultimate story of COVID driving innovation, but the applications go far beyond COVID and I can’t wait to see what Theta does next, with a dedicated product team,” Harding says.

The Theta team is already busy creating the next raft of improvements to the EVA platform. Taylor hopes it will become the market-leading choice for visitor and contractor management, ensuring health and safety requirements are being adhered to. Next step is managing office parking, with a new feature set to enable visitors and staff to book carpark spaces.

Theta is also working on the EVA Pass, which integrates with other platforms like Apple Wallet and Google Pay to recognise your identity. Currently you have to scan a kiosk on your phone the first time you enter a new place, but with this integration, you won’t need to enter your details at all – it will be automatic.

“We also have full custom capabilities now, so if you needed for instance to track if someone was vaccinated before they came on site, EVA remembers their answer and it won’t need to keep asking for confirmation over and over. And in future we want to help people with facilities management, looking at how people use a space and how the owner or operator could maximise their investment. It’s always evolving and from now on, new products are going to be core to our business.”