Early April 2022. In order to get a Covid afflicted economy back on track, Antwerp based Rombit put its core-roadmap aimed at worker safety on hold. Less than two months later the solution is up and running. A tour de force of agility, innovation and technological leadership.
Februari 2020. The Covid-19 pandemic has a stranglehold on the world with no signs of it letting up in the foreseeable future. The City of Antwerp launches an appeal for the technology sector, to join them in the search for solutions that may future proof the economy in these dire circumstances.
Antwerp based Rombit accepts the challenge and in a mere two months delivers what will later be called the ‘Covid-pivot’. A true feat of technological as well as business-agility. A success story in a time when these stories were very much needed.
Rombit was immediately ready to deliver. The Rombit Covid solution helps the Port of Antwerp to remain resilient and fully operational during this corona crisis.attested Jacques Vandermeiren, CEO, Port of Antwerp
We wanted a physical distancing solution that also offers added value after corona, such as fall detection and collision warning.Dirk Dielis, HSE Manager, Atlas Copco Rental Solutions
A completely different story
8 years young at the time, software pioneer and innovator Rombit had already made a name for itself in industrial wearables aimed at worker safety. Worldwide a growing number of companies have tested, approved and embedded/integrated Rombit’s proximity monitoring solutions. Still, a ready-made answer to the social distance question, was a completely different story.
“We already had the distance measuring” says Rombit’s CTO Nico Janssens. “But that focused primarily on collision avoidance and was optimized to work with on the one side a battery operated wearable and on the other a plugged in ‘fixed unit’, mounted on, for example a forklift”. The Covid-pivot forced Rombit to search for a more scalable solution. One that could measure distances between wearable and wearable. A complex challenge … and time was not on their side.
Always one eye on the future
“One advantage we had was that we didn’t need to start from scratch”, says Nico Janssens. “That’s thanks to the fact that we never just look a the use cases that are on the table at any specific moment. We always try to anticipate use cases that could be interesting six months or a year from now”. So Rombit had already developed a potentially suitable algorithm for this type of distance measuring. But because at the time there wasn’t an actual business case or commercial value attached, it wasn’t further optimized.
This meant that at the least a part of the job was already done. “It was up to us to tap into our strong technological agility and finish the puzzle”, Nico Janssens explains. Via Proof of Concept, with demo’s on the filmset of Thuis and in Port of Antwerp, Rombit went from a first prototype to an actual solution in only two months. This solution worked with smaller radio-bubbles and an energy efficient dedicated scheduling algorithm, enabling all wearables to autonomously communicate for 10 to 12 hours. A solution also that Rombit is now patenting.
As CTO Nico Janssens is justifiably proud of Rombit’s technological agility. He nonetheless stresses that the company as a whole needs to be willing and able to make such a pivot. “Sales and operations need to be ready and the go to market needs to be able to shift to significantly higher gear. However fast you may be able to create the most brilliant technological solutions, when the DNA of your company lacks business agility, those solutions never reach your market within a relevant timeframe”.
That market showed itself clearly interested. Even more so once national and later on international media like CNBC, New York Times and Washington Post, Rombit’s featured Rombit’s successful Covid-pivot. And again Nico Janssens emphasizes the need for the agility of the company as a whole. Since “once the commercial demand kicks off, your organization needs to be able to respond at every level, from supply chain and ordering to fulfilment.
Not a snapshot
Rombit’s Covid-Pivot originated during a deciding Go-NoGo meeting. “Would we take the risk of putting our worker safety-focused roadmap on hold for several months?” Nico Janssens recaps the key issue of that particular meeting. The fact that the technical fundamentals were already in place contributed to the decision to go for it. That, and Nico’s conviction that they would regret it afterwards if they hadn’t tried.
This may not be the attitude one expects coming out of the CTO-corner, but Nico Janssens explains that at moments like these, at Rombit there’s no thinking in terms as CEO, CIO, CTO, “each and every one of us is driven to grab the market, to win. And that also feeds into our business agility”.
There is no off switch for this agility, this desire for innovation and technological leadership. It’s intrinsic in each and every part of the company, from employee to business partner. This is what made the Covid-pivot a success story and this is what fuels current and future challenges.