From Fleet Management to Smart Cities: How Minifinder has Adapted and Evolved

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In order to succeed in business today you need to stay one step ahead of the competition. When Minifinder was founded, it was just one person – CEO and founder Dean Maros – doing everything from coding to marketing, and his first goal was to make fleet management more effective. Nine years later and while the company is still in the fleet management business, it has also moved into other verticals, including healthcare, personal safety alarms, and even horses. Diversification and listening to the market is how this small startup became a player in less than a decade. And Minifinder isn’t going to rest on its laurels going forward – they’re already looking at their next market to conquer.

How it all began

Nearly a decade ago, Minifinder’s focus was on big transportation companies, and while there were already any number of fleet management solutions on the market at that time, most weren’t very modern in their offering. Many faced challenges moving from analogue to digital systems, so a company like Minifinder, which was digital and connected from the word go, was able to carve out space in a fast-growing market. Minifinder’s vision was to connect all vehicles to one system, making fleet management more effective not just by tracking vehicle position, but also measuring the distance from point A to point B in order to optimize routes, along with a host of other features.

“We were able to get in on the ground floor with our connected solution for fleet management,” says Dean Maros, CEO and Founder, Minifinder. “But we quickly realized that the hardware we were importing didn’t have great quality, especially when used in big scale sales. So, we took what was an unusual step – we started doing both hardware and software, which was a big challenge – but it’s the tough and difficult things that motivate me, so we went for it.”

Dean Maros says that ten years ago, most companies developed either hardware or software, but rarely did they do both. Most software companies integrate a manufacturers hardware into the system they build. Minifinder, though, wanted to build its own hardware that would not just integrate into their own software system, but also into other systems.

“It was a pretty complicated task,” explains Maros. “In the beginning it was just me trying to solder wires, cut PCBs, test, and so on, which made me realize pretty quickly that if we were going to do this on a large scale, we needed to find consultants who were good at hardware and we needed to find them fast. So that’s what we did.”

Minifinder first produced hardware for vehicles and their fleet management solution, but it soon became apparent that they could ‘borrow’ quite a lot of knowledge from what they had already done and apply that to other types of devices.

“Part of the reasoning behind this is that quite a lot of companies were contacting us to ask if we had other products we could offer, such as tracking goods or valuables,” explains Maros. “They had ordered tracking devices for vehicles, evaluated both the system and the hardware, but they missed some stand-alone units, with only the battery.”

We weren’t looking for another industry to conquer – instead, we had people coming to us and asking for solutions for their particular industry. This told us we had other markets ready for our solution.

Dean Maros CEO & Founder Minifinder

“It all happened very organically – the large companies we were in contact with had requirements, such as several of Sweden’s largest broadcasting companies, who were using our units to track their vehicles. This developed into us developing a personal safety alarm for security, that their journalists used when on assignment in some of the more dangerous corners of the world.”

Evolving the solution

When it comes to healthcare there are a lot of solutions out there, such as remote patient monitoring, which is a fast-growing area, particularly due to the global Covid pandemic. And it was that personal safety alarm that opened up healthcare for Minifinder – in fact, public sector healthcare represents 35% of Minifinder’s business today.

“Most of our healthcare clients use our personal safety alarm for people who have dementia,” says Maros. “So, the personal safety alarms aren’t just about position or location, but also about simplifying the workflow of the people working with dementia patients. These days, we’re trying to have a handful of people taking care of hundreds of patients to be more effective and efficient, but this is really difficult, because not only do they have the patients to take care of they have other tasks to attend to as well.”

The Minifinder Nano is not only a personal tracking device – it can also detect if someone is inside or outside their room. So, if a patient wanders off the device sends an alert to the careworker.

“Just say a patient goes off to the kitchen or somewhere else in the building,” explains Maros. “We have produced beacons that are placed in every room, so if the patient leaves one room and enters another, the beacons pick up on this. They can see if the patient is no longer sleeping, if they’ve gone to another room or even another floor, or worse-case scenario, they have left the building. The caregiver can monitor the patient and if they’re safe, let them walk around, but if they leave the building an alarm is triggered.

“What makes our personal safety alarms really interesting is that they can be set individually for different patients, depending on their needs. For some, it might be Ok to wander freely in the building with no safety issues, while for others this might become dangerous, so depending on the challenges with the patient, the ability to individualize the alerts is important for overall care and safety.”

Diversification

The software built by Minifinder for fleet management is easily adapted to different areas and industries. And while the first tracker they built was the most challenging and complicated, Minifinder soon realized that it was quite easy to copy the logic into other trackers and adapt them to different needs. Positioning is the core functionality in Minifinder products, and all the knowledge the company has gained over the years has allowed them to adjust the hardware to different needs, while also integrating more and more sensors.

Most tracking solutions focus on one area or vertical, but we’ve been able to diversify by modifying and adapting our core solution to meet the demands of different industries.

“For example, Minifinder Nano for healthcare does track patients but it also has a heart rate monitor, fall alarm, two-way communication, and a number of other vital features,” says Maros. “We offer IoT-based solutions and as IoT matures, companies need to think about diversifying their offering – there is a lot of competition out there and you need to have a wide perspective when it comes to the markets.”

That wider perspective means that Minifinder is working with fleet management, healthcare, and even animals.

“We have many clients for different kinds of animals, but our main business in this area is hunting, because this is the product, we have invested a lot of knowledge into. This is a fast-growing area, though, and the devices are high quality and therefore costly, so we are adapting the system to horses and are in a partnership with a company that produces different types of equipment for horses, so we’re working on a device that can measure things like if the horse is sleeping, how much it is eating, how many calories consumed – all the vital signs that will tell you the health and well-being of the horse.

“This quite complicated to do but producing all of these functions is what the market requires – and we know that these devices will be valuable not just for horses, but also for other agriculture and livestock applications. We have produced a 3-D model and now know we can put a bigger battery in it with more sensors and we expect the new product to be available by the end of this year.”

IoT & Connectivity

Tele2 IoT provides Minifinder’s connectivity, as well as the Tele2 SIM management system 2CONTROL. The Minifinder software is called the Minifinder Management System, which

in every employee, no matter what their job, so this system is integrated towards different APIs, such as 2CONTROL (Cisco IoT Control Center). All of Minifinder’s servers are based locally in Växsjö, and the system is cloud-based.

“It’s a lot of data coming in on the servers, but our system is really robust, and what is beautiful about our system is that you can completely customize it with just a few clicks,” says Maros. “2CONTROL is fantastic – you can do whatever you want, going deep into issues or functions and easily see everything that is going on. It’s robust, easy to navigate – but when you dig deep you realize how big the system is and how much you can get out of it.

“We’ve had a really good relationship with Tele2 IoT since day one. We haven’t even looked at another provider because we’re so satisfied. The support is superb – we have a direct number to call, and it takes 30 seconds before an expert is on the phone, which means we’ve been able to solve a lot of issues easily and we’re never disappointed.”

With 2G and 3G being sunsetted, Minifinder is, like many other companies, looking at emerging technologies as replacement. LTE-M, the IoT-specific technology now available is the one they have their eye on.

“We love LTE-M and it’s a solution that will last for many years to come,” says Maros. “It’s a much better technology for us and we will use it first in healthcare.  We have already tested it in our Minifinder Nano and have been in touch with Tele2 IoT to open up some functions. It has the long battery power and remote capabilities we need.”

The future

Minifinder is still quite a young company, and this means they are still considering their options when it comes to further diversification of their portfolio, but they already have big plans for one area in particular. While the company might be working with connecting horses to the cloud right now, Dean Maros and his team already have their eye on smart cities.

“We want to switch on and off the lights in an entire city with our hardware, measure how much electricity is being used, monitor weather stations, etc. We want to gather all that smart city information into one big system and move smart city solutions away from the silos to ecosystems. All the data will allow city managers to plan so many things, including infrastructure, disaster response, where to place traffic lights… it has so many applications to help cities operate in a better way and to better serve residents and visitors.”

Maros says that with IoT you aren’t just able to plan and optimize smart cities long term, you can also respond faster to immediate challenges, such as when there is a car accident during rush hour traffic – first responders will get fast alerts via sensors on the roadways, and thus be able to carry out operations that much more quickly.

“Right now, we are just scratching the surface when it comes to IoT, but it is maturing and everyone is already living in a connected and digitized world, so the possibilities are now, not tomorrow,” say Maros. “It’s hard to predict where we’re be in ten years because things are moving fast, but ultimately I think data will be the big thing. We will have large amounts of valuable data and a lot of companies will want to partner with us just to get the data, which will bring value on things like solving traffic, measuring livestock vitals as well as tracking high-end race and show horses, giving you evidence of heritage, health. There is so much information be gathered that can be used to improve so many things. But you need the data – and you need to know what to do with it. We’re the kind of company that is executing our plans for today while also formulating new plans for the future.

If you would like to learn more about how IoT can enable your business, please get in touch.