“Gratified” is how TraknProtect CEO and co-founder Parminder Batra says she felt when her asset-tracking technology took the prize for industry innovation at the Entrepreneur 20X competition at the Hospitality Industry Technology Exhibition and Conference (HITEC). She shared with LODGING her feelings about the need for hotel safety and described how her “mom” device designed to keep track of her family’s misplaced items mushroomed into an advanced suite of location-based services, which includes a comprehensive safety button alert platform in addition to advanced inventory-tracking technology.
How did TraknProtect come to be?
What became TracknProtect came out of my personal pain as a mom whose kids were always losing things, like phones, cameras, and tablets. When I couldn’t find an existing solution, I built one, mainly to help moms like me quickly find the things were looking for around the house. That was in 2013. However, a year later, when we happened to mention our tracking product to someone at Hyatt Hotels, they asked “Can we be the mom? We need something like that to find the things like passports and laptops that our guests leave behind, and also to quickly locate our own missing inventory, like rollaway beds, which can take up to two hours to find.”
That opened things up, not just to hotels, but other industries that had trouble keeping track of their assets. However, it became clear that the time was also right to develop something specifically for employee safety when the Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association (IHLA) came to us in early 2017 seeking an employee safety button, something that was already required in New York and Seattle. They knew it was only a matter of time before that would also be the case in Chicago.
So, I began researching safety buttons at hotels in different cities to see what we could do. We knew from talking to the users—mainly housekeepers—that it needed to be user-friendly, flexible, and frictionless, so it didn’t add to their workload; but, from a management perspective, it also needed to be cost effective.
As a businesswoman, I saw that this could be big—well worth the investment and also something important to the larger community. This was the beginning of the #MeToo movement—which many thought would just “blow over”—but it was becoming ever clearer that employee safety was a huge problem. I was reading about nurses being attacked—sometimes unintentionally by patients’ responses to their illness or medications; but the privacy afforded by hotel guestrooms has always posed a potential danger for those entering alone and unseen.
How does the product work in practice?
The TraknProtect platform consists of a series of strategically placed hubs designed to interface directly with employee alert buttons and inventory-tracking equipment. Using cloud-based technology and the property’s existing WiFi and device, TraknProtect is able to triangulate the location of employees when a safety alert is activated and of individual items of hotel inventory in real time. From there, the company’s intuitive software can send immediate signals from active staff alert buttons based on their location or through user activation, which are then received via desktop, SMS, email, or phone calls.
How do you feel about the response to the product, including this recognition at Entrepreneur 20X competition?
It’s most of all gratifying to see the industry acknowledge its responsibility to provide immediate security to the most vulnerable elements of its operations—its employees. In creating a safety button based on user input and feedback, we feel we have become an important part of the movement to require these changes. I’m thrilled to see our efforts validated, but most of all to see safety buttons becoming the norm in operations.
How are you facing up to the competition that is sure to come on the heels of your device?
I welcome the competition because it shows that the shift is happening, that there’s a robust movement. Yet I believe in the product we created and continue to improve. We spent a lot of time talking to users, like housekeepers, about how they are using it, what they do and do not like, and what else they would want. Also, ours is specifically a technology platform build for hospitality, with an asset-tracking solution as well as a safety button.
How do you see the TraknProtect technology evolving?
I see technology evolving to be able to solve more or different problems. The safety button is a start, but it’s not right for every situation—for example, an active shooter or a guest who goes on a destructive rampage. We need to provide solutions for situations that go beyond its current design, which is for rushing in to provide assistance when the button is engaged. In some scenarios, you need to assess the situation before going into action; you might need backup or different personnel. You want the right people there—perhaps security, not the general manager or head of housekeeping.
How has being a female-led company impacted your company’s direction—if it has?
It definitely impacts how I view the need to protect everyone, but especially female employees in vulnerable situations. I actually found myself explaining to a male colleague why I prefer a room near the elevator. He asked, “Why do you want to be near a noisy elevator?” I told him something many women can relate to: “I don’t want to walk down a long hall alone—especially late at night. For many women, the steps they need to stay safe are deeply ingrained—for example, looking over their shoulder to see who is behind them, and being aware of the location of their keys, handbag, and phone when in a parking garage or any dark or deserted area.
So, I really do understand when housekeepers say, “We just don’t ever know what’s on the other side of the door,” which is a situation they face up to 20 times a day. They’re the ones most likely to see guests at their worst when they cross the threshold into someone’s private space. Housekeepers tell us that having the button makes them feel they aren’t walking into the room alone; no matter what they see—including possible human trafficking—they don’t need to speak or call or otherwise compromise their safety. They just need to press the button.