The Importance of Crowd Intelligence in the Fight Against the Pandemic


As the global pandemic grew throughout 2020, it threw our lives into disarray. Everything we took for granted was suddenly out of reach. An everyday pleasure like going to a sporting event or concert became impossible, and the way we thought about crowds changed overnight. Instead of worrying about the beer and bathroom lines at the local stadium, we were concerned about whether the next person in the grocery store line was six feet behind us.

It’s become clear that while we can manage the pandemic, we are a long way from eliminating it entirely. Today, knowing how many people are waiting for a service and where they congregate indoors is no longer a matter of convenience; it’s become a matter of safety.

Turning a Goal into an Opportunity

All sports fans have had at least one moment where they miss a game-changing play. Mine was at a Detroit Red Wings game. It was overtime, and for some reason I left my seat to head to the concession area. It was then, as I stood in line, that my favorite player, Pavel Datsyuk, scored the winning goal. Everyone came rushing out, and all I could think was, “If only I knew how long the line was before I left my seat.”

That was my lightbulb moment. I'm an avid sports fan, and I never want to miss the action, even when I step away from the game to get food or use the bathroom. Surely, I wasn't alone. Wouldn't everyone in the world love to have real-time data about how long lines are, especially in a sports venue?

The right analytics tools collect, archive, and explore #data to improve the customer experience at events.

With that idea, WaitTime was born. WaitTime uses sensors, cameras, and artificial intelligence to interpret crowd conditions in real time, so you always know wait times and visitor density. It presents crowd data on digital displays in key location points throughout a venue and on visitors' mobile devices, so they know the best places to go at any time. 

The operator's dashboard updates venue staff and management on guest traffic and pain points, like reduced speed of service and closed points of sale, so they can make adjustments. Our analytics tools allow venue operators to collect, archive, and explore historical data to improve crowd conditions, safety, and the customer experience at future events. 

An Unexpected Partner

Arenas and stadiums were our first—and most obvious—use case since people congregate there frequently for games and concerts. Not only that, but sports and entertainment are glamorous industries that also reflect the interests of me and my business partner, Jeffrey Jordan. Jeffrey, the co-founder of Jordan Avakian Group, is no stranger to either industry, considering he grew up in the industry (his dad is Michael Jordan) and was a star collegiate basketball player himself. The Jordan Avakian Group, an early-stage investment and advertising firm that helps level-up startups like ours, came on-board after we’d signed deals with the Detroit Pistons, Miami Heat, and Indiana Pacers.

We knew that sports provided a high-profile opportunity, but we also recognized that it wasn't our biggest market. To grow, we had to take a closer look at industries like transit and retail, including places like subway and railway stations, airports, shopping malls, and big-box stores. Once we were satisfied with WaitTime's accuracy and scaling roadmap, we began to connect at a high level in those markets. 

As WaitTime's founder, one of my core responsibilities is marketing and spreading the word via many channels, including LinkedIn. One of our more popular LinkedIn articles got a response from Ken Martin of Cisco's Sports & Entertainment division, and he mentioned they might be able to help with digital signage. It was unexpected, but a dream come true. Cisco was the perfect partner to help us scale.

After talking with Cisco, we chose Cisco Vision as our real-time digital signage and way-finding platform, Cisco Meraki MV cameras to collect real-time and archival footage, Cisco HyperFlex Edge and Cisco UCS as our data center at sports venues and other remote locations, and our internal operations management platform that allows us to manage everything from a central location. We took a slow and steady approach to perfecting our technology, but Cisco infrastructure provided the foundation for exponential growth when we were ready to take off. 

The thing is, you can find scale anywhere, but culture is entirely different. Cisco's Sports & Entertainment team is progressive, with an entrepreneurial mindset and a drive to innovate that matches our own. They're good people, which means a lot to me. Some startups will partner with anybody who offers them a deal, but we are small and smart and took the time to pick the right partner, one who shares our values and approach.

Cisco's people are true to their word. They always follow through and over-deliver on their promises. They put their arms around us and we all work together to help scale WaitTime. Both sides were patient with each other as we found a way forward and grew in scope and sophistication.

By 2019, we implemented in 12 venues globally, including the Melbourne and Sydney Cricket Ground in Australia. 

Helping Organizations Comply with Pandemic Protocols

When the pandemic hit, however, we had to switch gears. When we launched in the market in 2016, our product was a nice-to-have luxury amenity embraced by visionary sports leaders who wanted to create a premium fan experience by improving the flow of spectators in and around venues. Suddenly, crowd intelligence became a technology that could protect people in shared spaces and save lives through crowd management. Governments around the world were now mandating initiatives and priorities that we'd been marketing and selling for the past three years. 

Crowd intelligence is a technology that can protect people in shared spaces and save lives through crowd management.

We had the technology, but we had to change its use and narrative. We added an algorithm that monitors how many people enter and exit a space and set an occupancy threshold that complies with local physical distancing regulations. If a venue can only operate at 50% occupancy, for example, operators can cap admission when they reach capacity. Instead of telling people the length of a line at a concession stand, we notify people where crowds are located. Once they know these details, venue managers can make the necessary changes to keep people distributed evenly throughout the space, thereby preventing disease transmission and keeping people safe.

Since the pandemic started, WaitTime has proven to be an effective tool in fighting the spread of the virus. The AI system is currently being used by a sporting events center in Australia to monitor crowds and is also being implemented here in the U.S. at a convention center. 

Many other public spaces are looking to reopen safely and offer WaitTime as a tool to secure government grant money. A number of sports leagues around the world have identified us as a resurgence technology and as such, we have a responsibility to help venues and companies worldwide reopen.

Playing in the Big Leagues with Cisco

WaitTime is a small company, but Cisco helped us get big results. Cisco put the weight of their extensive technology portfolio behind our product. They gave us robust processing power, cutting-edge display solutions, and streamlined infrastructure management tools that catapulted us into the major leagues. 

Finding the right partner can help you pivot and prosper in times of crisis.

With Cisco's support, we have been able to grow our scope and pivot quickly to counter the pandemic with our technology. Cisco gave us the tools to build the right solution in this time of crisis, and I see us playing an essential role in helping the world recover—and rediscover new possibilities for the future.