By: Alex Blahnik

Remote monitoring, artificial intelligence and more computing power than all the Apollo space missions combined are what we work with today. We are experiencing a renaissance in the world of pest management.

But it is all pointless.

I need you to hear me loud and clear. None of the data you collect means a thing. Your clients do not care how fast you can perform a service, how quickly you are aware that a pest entered a device or how much your multi-catch trap looks like a conversion van. It just doesn’t matter to them.

Right now, you are pausing to flip to the cover of this magazine or checking the web address to see if you have the right publication. Then, after you confirmed that you are reading Pest Control Technology magazine, you are wondering how this guy was ever allowed to publish an article in the 21st century. But hopefully you give me one chance to explain myself. Here it is…

No amount of pest management technology matters if you cannot manage pests.

The only reason you have a job is because you serve the people in your community by managing their pests. The reason that accounting has anything to take account of, the reason IT has any information to manage, the reason HR has any interviews to perform is because you serve people who have real pests that need to be managed. If we do not serve people by managing pests, then the folks in the pest control industry will need to find something else to do in order to earn a living.

By now, you really do think I’m a bit backwards, and you would be partially correct, but not because I am opposed to technology. In fact, I cut my pest management teeth in the early 2000s, during the pioneer days of data collection systems. Additionally, my team is entering its third year since piloting remote-monitoring programs. So, I’ll say it. I love technology — geo-spatial trend maps, state-of-the-art information and even multi-catch traps with a wi-fi antenna.

However, there is only one thing, or rather one person, that makes all this technology work — you!

Technicians Make Technology Work

A human being who cares about managing pests is the essential ingredient that makes technology useful. Without you and your expertise guiding the data, pests will not be managed.

Here are three human skills that prove you are essential to make the data useful:

1. Inspection.

The data does not understand when a sanitation emergency, lack of structural integrity, employee habits or any combination of problems are causing pest pressure. That is why an old-fashioned inspection with a flashlight, inspection mirror and spatula are still necessary to dig deep and discover pest-conducive conditions. This work is performed by you with some low-tech equipment.

2. Interpretation.

The numbers don’t lie, but those who interpret them (your client) may be badly mistaken. This can easily happen since your client is probably buried beneath vast amounts of data. It is your job to interpret that data, otherwise, your client will think that the data is worthless or, worse yet, misinterpret it.

Your human experience and pest control expertise will help you to do just that. For instance, you can discover when intangible concerns are impacting the recorded results. In the Midwest, we know to expect elevated Asian lady beetle counts when crops are harvested. Perhaps in a facility that you serve you observe higher counts whenever maintenance performs repairs because they tend to prop doors open. Here, too, we find the low-tech solution — your interpretation. You are the one who discerns what specific findings imply as well as what they do not imply. The data cannot make those distinctions.

3. Influence.

You may respond to catcalls of “Bug Gal,” “Rat Man” or “The Exterminator.” Whether those are titles you enjoy or not, you are still the most significant pest control influencer at that facility. Now, to leverage that influence, your service needs to conclude with a candid conversation between you and your client. Sit down, look your client in the eyes and recap the findings you recorded on the service report so that your client fully understands what is happening at the facility. Tell your client what you recommend in order to resolve standing issues. Remember, you are the expert. You can have fun with the “pet” names, but at least one time each service you need to have a moment to put that all aside and do your best to leverage your influence. Here’s a little quip that has helped technicians through the years: “If you don’t take yourself seriously, no one else will.”

Technology is Continually Advancing

We know that artificial intelligence will continue to grow, and we will continue to be amazed at what we can learn from the data. In fact, in 20 years, the data may be able to provide us with insights that currently only we can provide. But that isn’t today. Today, we continue to work hard to show our clients not just piles of numbers, charts and full-color maps. Today, we use our influence to communicate to our clients why following our lead is important and how to put best pest management practices in place. The technology serves us by helping us paint that picture much more vividly.

So, go ahead, look at the night sky the way they did on July 20, 1969. But instead of wondering if you can see Neal or Buzz, ask yourself, “Is that a star or our satellite telling the server another mouse just entered bait station number four?” Either way, be proud of our technological achievements while knowing that you are still the most important advancement in pest management history.

Alex Blahnik is an associate certified entomologist and is the Field Training Manager for Wil-Kil Pest Control.  

This Tech Talk article was originally published in the January 2021 edition of PCT magazine.