ReTool Ventures is an investment firm focused on bringing new technologies to the facilities management industry. Their strategic investment approach aims to empower field service professionals who are often dramatically underserved by the technology industry with digital tools and solutions that will bring new technology to the hard working people keeping things running across the nation and world. One primary example of field service professionals being underserved is in reporting and data acquisition.
Over the last 10-15 years, facilities managers have begun to migrate their operations management to cloud-based platforms. These systems depend on field service personnel reporting their work into the cloud-based systems. However, the contractors on the ground and in the facilities are largely stuck with an aging and fragmented technology landscape, with 100s of tools, mostly with no development or technical support. This leaves contractors to enter their data twice--once into their own system and again in the systems of the facilities managers they perform service for.
Most if not all of the tools currently in use in this sector have no way to output their data in a digital format, and few of them provide the API hooks a software developer would need to be able to build integrations. Furthermore, with the slim margins contractors work with, very few field service organizations have in-house IT support. The result is extra work for some of the hardest working professionals in the country.
Thinking Low-Tech to Enable High-Tech
In imagining how to solve this problem, ReTool studied the current workflow of contractors to identify a way to insert this tool into the current capabilities of the antiquated software most contractors still have to use. The idea they came up was beautiful in its simplicity: printing reports to a digital printer living somewhere on the contractor’s network.
The next step was to implement a proof of concept to take to investors. ReTool needed to find an unconventional partner who would take their early-stage concept and make it into a reality by thinking creatively to put together the hardware and software necessary.
“Many vendors we’ve worked with demand very detailed specifications before getting into a project.” Says Serge Lubensky, co-founder of ReTool. “We needed to be able to loosely describe our idea to a partner who would take that and run with it. Sustainabilist did just that.”
Bridging the Technology Gap
In tackling the proof of concept, Sustainabilist decided to use a tried and true piece of hardware that was affordable and easily available: Raspberry Pi. With this inexpensive microcomputer as the foundation, work began to create an application on the device that would easily connect to any network, present itself as a network printer, output the print as a .PDF file, and send that document out to the cloud.
Once in the cloud, myriad resources are available to parse data from the document and enter it into a database. While each different software platform outputs different looking reports, the reports from each is consistent, so once the data importers are trained, they can pull data from that type of report automatically and convert it into any format necessary for a modern cloud platform to accept.
Sustainabilist was able to creatively, efficiently, and effectively prototype a proof of concept for ReTool. “Sustainabilist’s creativity, flexibility and innovative thinking enabled to us to rapidly prototype a potential investment opportunity in a way that few other vendors could have,” says Serge. “We have and will continue to work with Sustainabilist for our proofs of concept.”