Heads in the Clouds: Tech Tools for Pet Care Professionals, Business Owners

May 17, 2017

In the year 2017, most aspects of human life are computerized. Most communication, record keeping and data collection for personal and professional purposes are tied to technology. Even further, this technology is shrinking and becoming more mobile with the birth of smartphones. With the increasing prevalence of cloud storage, information can be deposited and accessed from almost anywhere in the developed world.

And humans are making good use of this new technology. Studies show that users spend an almost unbelievable—or maybe not, if you’re one of those users—amount of time on their phones. The 2016 Global Mobile Consumer Survey, conducted by Deloitte, showed that mobile phone users were found to check their phones approximately 47 times per day across all age groups, with 18-24 year olds checking their phones about 82 times each day. Collectively, Deloitte estimates that “U.S. smartphone users check their phones in the aggregate more than 9 billion times per day.”

Several of the newest cloud-based environments and apps allow pet owners the ability to learn more about their pets than ever before, and that same opportunity is afforded to the pet professionals who seek to service them. These new devices allow owners to gather a large amount of information about their pets, and the cloud-based apps allow pet owners to easily share that information with their local pet store owners, veterinarians and other pet care professionals.

On one hand, consumers can purchase goods and use services more conveniently and efficiently than ever before. On the other end, providers of those goods and services can produce consumables for potentially more people and in a more effective manner.

Technology has revolutionized trade across almost all industries, and the pet sector is no different. According to the 2016-2017 Pet Age Retailer Report, 92 percent of retailers have computerized their management tools in some capacity. Forty-two percent of retailers also reported using social media and the internet, which many consumers access via smart phone apps, to connect with customers to promote their businesses.

For veterinarians as well as pet care professionals and retailers, integrating pet-specific cloud-based environments to even more easily connect and share information might only be a small step further in pet business management, and software developers are ahead of the curve.

What’s up, Doc?
In the veterinary space, health monitoring devices and their companion apps are revolutionizing veterinary research and pet care. PetPace, created about five years ago by a team of technology and veterinary professionals under the leadership of President and CEO Avi Menkes, is a smart sensing collar that works in conjunction with a health monitoring service to provide dashboard alerts on users’ phones.

“The collar is actually almost like a regular collar, with the main difference being that it is made with many small sensors,” said Asaf Dagan, DVM, diplomate ABVP, and chief veterinarian for PetPace. “So when you put it on a dog or a cat’s neck, these sensors begin to pick up data and collect data from the pet continuously… All this data is transmitted from the collar immediately—so close to real time—to the internet and to the cloud where it is all stored.”

The device is designed to monitor seven key aspects of a pet’s health: temperature, pulse, respiration, activity levels, positions/posture, calories and heart rate variability (HRV). The data is analyzed and stored in the cloud, which allows for unlimited space and easy sharing with veterinarians from any connected device. The smartphone app provides health alerts, allows users to browse pets’ vital signs and activity levels, and alerts veterinarians when a problem arises.

Interestingly enough, the idea for PetPace was born out of Menkes’s experience with advanced sensory technology used to monitor the health and production of livestock, specifically milk from cows. Inspired by the wearable technology used to monitor gestational periods and other bodily processes in cows, Menkes set out to recruit partners who could help bring PetPace to life. Dr. Dagan recalls sitting with Menkes and “literally jotting some ideas down on a napkin in a coffee shop,” before another two to three years of development culminated in the PetPace health monitoring system.

The first step was to create sensory technology that could be effective when used by pets in their home environment. But the challenge, according to Dr. Dagan, was developing the analytical side of the project—specifically, the algorithms that would make sense of the data collected from the collar.

“When you think about it, when we bring dogs to the veterinarian, they have to use a stethoscope and all kinds of machines and all kinds of monitors to get this data—and the dog or the cat has to stand still, sometimes they have to shave, sometimes [the veterinarians] have to clip or attach things,” Pet Check App ImageDr. Dagan explained. “There’s no such [technology] that you can just put on a dog and let it run around and you could still get all of the data… We really had to advance the sensor technology from scratch, and so that’s the first stage.

“The second stage is to develop all of the algorithms that would make sense out of these signals,” he continued. “It’s one thing to collect the signals, but then you have to use very sophisticated algorithms to turn it into accurate data points that you can run on a mobile app or a web app and use that to predict when an animal is getting sick… It becomes interesting, it becomes useful, when we can turn these numbers into insights in your dog’s health.”

For veterinarians, PetPace has the ability to “raise [the] standard of care in the clinic and at home,” according to the company’s website. It’s an advanced tool through which vets can keep in touch with their patients and the humans who love them. Other pet care professionals can use the health monitoring system to add another layer of reassurance for pet owners while their beloved companions are in professionals’ care. That health and activity information can also be shared with owners upon their return.

While the benefits of technological advancements like the PetPace health monitoring system to the business interests of veterinarians and other pet care professionals is clear, Dr. Dagan seems most excited about the possibilities related to veterinary research.

“Everything we know so far in veterinary medicine comes from research that is done on a relatively small number of dogs, or—if you read the veterinary literature—they write papers about a study involving 20 dogs, and they’re in a university or a research facility,” Dr. Dagan said. “We’re talking about thousands of dogs [and cats] in their natural environment being monitored 24/7 with objective and quantifiable data. This data is huge and we’re learning
a lot of things that were never known before in veterinary medicine.

“And we can now use this data to develop alerts that will tell you when your pregnant dog is due to give birth, or your epileptic dog is about to have a seizure, or your dog with heart disease is about to have heart failure—we’re beginning to see these things,” he explained. “We’re collaborating with a lot of universities across the world for all kinds of clinical studies—medical and behavioral—to learn how we can detect diseases early, and how we can see if certain treatments, certain medications, how they’re working or not [working]. And that technique is the real revolution of wearable technology in the pet space, specifically, because it’s the first time we can monitor the health of animals remotely, and this data is just gold.”

Creating a Network
It’s no secret that competition in the pet space is fierce; whether an independent veterinarian with a private practice or a retailer with a brick-and-mortar store, there are few things higher on the list of priorities than connecting with patients and customers, respectively. That’s where BabelVet, BizBark and BabelBark come in.

Though the latter was the first app to come along, and is also the namesake of the umbrella company under which the trio operates, the founders of BabelBark dreamed in threes from the beginning.

“When we first came up with this idea, we looked at the market and we really thought about this mobile app with fitness monitoring,” said Bill Rebozo, co-founder and marketing rep for BabelBark. “Integrating all of these services—that made a lot of sense. Independent veterinarians are competing with Banfields and VCAs—they’re looking for technology for an advantage. Then we looked at the pet businesses—independent pet stores, groomers, boarders and walkers—and we knew that they were trying to compete with these great big pet super stores, and technology can play a huge role in helping them compete…

“So as we tried to sit back and figure out which one we build, I said, ‘Well, look. If we build all three, instead of building any specific pr
oduct and creating this ecosystem, then that has a lot more value than any one application or all three put together,” Rebozo said. “So we wanted to use software to create this ecosystem of independent people to go out there and connect with this new age of pet parents who live on their mobile phones, who use fitness monitors. They shop online, they want all those conveniences, but they also want to interact with the people in their community who could help them ensure the happiness and healthiness of their pets.”

BabelBark is a platform created with pet owners in mind. According to the company’s website, its main function is “connecting your dog’s information with your favorite veterinarian and pet businesses and making scheduling a breeze.” Medical records can be stored and shared securely, along with lost and found information and other pet care details. Users can also store and share with veterinarians health and lifestyle information, such as details on diet and activity. Once pet owners indicate their preferred pet retailers, sitters or otherwise, they’ll receive reminders and alerts for coupons and dis

For pet businesses, there’s BizBark. It’s free and simply-designed software “to help you optimize and grow your pet business,” accordi
ng to the company’s website. Available features include scheduling and contact management, and the app integrates with BabelBark through which customers can schedule appointments, share medical information or receive promotions, which can be targeted based on location, breed, age, brand preference and activity level.

Retailers can also sell a fitnesBabelbark fitness tracker - lifestyles tracker, which was developed by BabelBark and has the ability to integrate with the flagship app.

“In addition to giving [retailers] something to sell, like a fitness monitor, it allows them to connect with not only customers but that pet in a way they’ve never connected before,” Rebozo said.

BabelVet was designed—
perhaps unsurprisingly—to help streamline and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of veterinary practi
ces. According to the BabelBark website, the app is able to integrate with veterinarians’ existing practice management software and marketing tools. Vets will be able to view detailed information about their clients’ pets’ health and habits, even between visits. Likewise, pet owners will be able to easily access medical records without having to gain access from a healthcare provider. Similarly to BizBark, BabelVet opens up a whole new world of information with an ease previously not afforded to most veterinarians.

“So the idea is, there’s all kinds of information that we’d all like to know about dogs, whether I’m trying to sell you dog food or I’m a boarder and I need your vaccination schedule, or I’m a veterinarian and I want to get a sense of [the] activity this dog is getting,” Rebozo said. “We collect all that information and we provide it to the pet parents, with the power to share information with whoever they want to. So it gives [pet professionals] unprecedented insight into the life of these pets.”

For those pet professionals who are inexperienced with smartphones and their applications, not to fear. BabelBark has plenty of how-to videos available on Youtube, and in Rebozo’s words, the company’s current website is getting a “huge facelift.”

Ultimately, the makers of BabelBark, BizBark and BabelVet are optimistic about the future of cloud-based enviro
nments in pet business management, citing other industries in which a similar revolution has already taken place.

Accountability for Ancillaries
PetCheck was originally designed to help dog walkers—one in particular, Doug Simon—manage their business. When Simon noticed a need, he did what most innovators and entrepreneurs do: he created in order to fill that need.

“I owned a dog walking business starting in 2003, and over the years, like many other dog walking and pet sitting companies, I had come across my own set of unique challenges in the dog walking industry,” Simon said. “That’s going to include things like scheduling, billing, and really showing accountability both internally and externally to your customers.”

For many pet professionals, acc

ountability is a formidable staff management issue—32 percent of respondents to the 2016-2017 Pet Age Retailer Report cited finding, training and retaining good employees as their biggest challenge. In addition, 22 percent of retailers planned to add ancillary services to their offerings, including pet sitting and dog walking. According to Simon, customers want to know three main things: (1) what time the service began, (2) where the service, such as dog walking, took place and (3) how long the service lasted.

As listed on the PetCheck website, the application’s main features include email alerts for business owners and pet owners, verified check-ins, GPS visit tracking (which is viewable for pet owners), photo sharing tools for pet sitters, billing and account management tools, staff payroll reports and optional credit card processing tools.

And while Simon concedes that PetCheck and other cloud-enabled software might take a bit of time and effort to get set up, he insists that the investment is well worth the long-term benefits.

“Once you’re in, you have all your information there,” Simon explained. “It’s going to make you more efficient—it’s going to allow you to spend time growing the business, instead of working in the business. It’s going to allow you to keep track of the internal workings of your business, such as the walkers and the sitters and making sure everyone’s on the same page and doing their job. It’s going to take away some of the heavy lifting in terms of invoicing and credit card processing, so it’s going to really make managing this service business much easier.”

Having been in the pet industry for 14 years and counting, Simon ought to know a thing or two about the changing landscape of the market. And it’d be hard even for someone only half paying attention to miss the innovation taking place in the pet sector when it comes to products as well as how retailers and other professionals are running their businesses. As Simon posits, though, it might have taken a beat to catch on.

“I think the pet industry historically has been a late adopter to technology,” he said. “But in recent years, we’ve seen so much invention and adoption that it’s a really exciting time to be in the pet industry.”

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