Secrets and Lives

I have to admit to being more of a dog lover than a cat lover, but when a recent Horizon programme, The Secret Life of the Cat and Little Cat Diaries, came on the TV (accidentally, I swear) – I didn’t press the next channel button on the remote quite as quickly as I normally would.

The programme was about discovering what cats do when you let them out, and they used a large combination of technology to do their detective work. Miniature GPS devices, cat-cams, remote motion-triggered cameras and teams of programmers capturing and analysing the data suggest that they probably didn’t have too many concerns over the budget….

Much of the technology they used has been scaled down from their work observing animals in the wild, most recently studying wild cheetahs in Botswana.

I promise – it was the technology and the way they used it that kept me temporarily glued to the spot, not because I’m a closet cat worshipper.   And as it turns out, you cat owners have little to no idea as to what your furry feline companion gets up to out of sight – far less in fact than what we know about cats in the wild.

As complex as the system they used looked on the show (lots of coders furiously typing away on laptops), I wonder how much they could have achieved using something like a relatively straightforward CRM system or even just Google Maps.

If you take a look at the webpage that focuses on the 10 cats that were part of The Little Cat Diaries, you’ll see that it gives you some pretty standard information such as name, age, breed, colour and character along with information captured as a result of the tracking such as roaming, prey (or perhaps that should be labelled dietary preference) and expert view.

There’s also some of the clever stuff including their movements mapped over a 24 hour period and video snippets captured on the cat-cam – worth a look if you’ve ever wanted a cat’s eye-view of a cat vomiting. Lovely.

Among the discoveries was that a lot of cats centred their day around the hunt for food.  This doesn’t mean they entered into a long and protracted battle with an unfortunate smaller member of the animal family – no no, there was a far easier solution.  Simply go into a house (any one will do) and steal food meant for other cats.  Easy.

We’d probably all like to get this sort of in-depth picture of our customers’  habits – and for that matter our employees – although it’s unlikely that many of them would agree to wearing cameras round their necks.

There is plenty of technology around that does allow us to capture valuable information – even though not many cats usually carry any sort of mobile device – but the key is having the right system in place to collect the data and ensure that it’s possible to use it to drive decisions and, most importantly, actions within the business.

It may not always be possible to find an off-the-shelf solution – I’ve never tried searching for ‘cat tracking system’ – but technologies like Microsoft SharePoint deliver so much functionality out of the box that it can be possible to get up and running without too much customisation, and you can develop an increasingly sophisticated solution over time.

And expertise counts – the team involved with the production of these programmes has years of experience working on similar projects. They clearly knew what they were doing.

After all, I’m no cat person but I imagine getting one to wear a camera around their neck takes more than a wink and a smile.