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EXCLUSIVE How the 'Baby Shard' turned cashless

Author : David Strydom

06 July 2015

The News Building at London Bridge, also known as the 'Baby Shard' because of its proximity to its much taller neighbour, has gone cashless. Here’s the story behind the end of cash in one facility.

Last year, News Corp signed a 30-year lease for The Place, now called The News Building, its new 17-storey headquarters at London Bridge. The building was nicknamed ‘Baby Shard’ because its neighbour, The Shard, is the tallest building in Western Europe. News UK, publisher of The Times, Sunday Times and The Sun, was later joined in the building by its NewsCorp corporate cousins Dow Jones and HarperCollins, and by the start of 2015, over 3,500 employees were calling it ‘home’.

The facilities teams for each company formed a centralised division overseen by senior group properties FM, Claudette Curtis, who reports to the group director. Curtis manages several suppliers for the new building and has been closely involved with ensuring a cashless payment system is in operation.

She’s in partnership with Systopia who provide ‘closed loop’ cashless payment solutions to organisations in the UK, Europe and North America across various sectors such as business and industry, further education, healthcare and leisure. At The News Building, Systopia ensures employees can use their security ID cards as a means of paying for food and drinks within the building.

The system works like this: each employee’s security access ID doubles as a payment card. The employee can top-up their account online, on their mobile or at a kiosk, and then he or she can buy food or beverages from the coffee bar, restaurant and vending machines. The result is that the issues surrounding physical money are redundant in the building – all payments are made quickly and easily with just a swipe of a card. For guests visiting the building, corporate accounts can be set up so they can easily use the facilities.

The Systopia solution is also useful for advertising promotions and offering vouchers. “There are loyalty schemes, buy-one-get-one-free, virtual coffee stamps and healthy eating offers,” says Chris Lyons, MD of Systopia, all of which can be easily deployed at News UK.  “If News UK has items it wants to push through that haven’t sold well, the price can be cut.

“There’s also a ‘happy hour’ option. If management prefers people to come through the restaurant at 12.30pm rather than 1pm, it can make offers. It’s easy to manage because it’s an online, cloud-based system; the operating system is deployed in our data centre, meaning it is hassle-free for News UK.”
Each company at The News Building can also create cost centre or hospitality accounts, says Lyons. “This is handy when there are meeting rooms or visitor centres where the charge is applied to the place rather than the person. That way, if Claudette is entertaining guests, she doesn’t have to run up charges against her cash amount, then wait to claim it back later on expenses.”
Lyons commented that the cashless solution will shortly introduce a means for employees to rate the food and service within the restaurant. This customer feedback insight will be invaluable to News UK to ensure they are offering the best service, product range and food offering for their customer base.

But how do employees monitor their credit use, and top up their cards when necessary? “There are several options,” says Lyons. “Employees can use a desktop webpage, a mobile phone app or even a traditional kiosk. Within those options there's also an auto top-up so you can ensure your account never falls below, say, £5. If it does go below that, it will automatically be topped up.”

These payment methods aren’t new – London's Oyster Card and the Dartford Tunnel payment system are similar, for instance. What is still relatively new is the fact that this is being used in an office building surrounded by restaurants and shops where News UK employees can nip out to buy lunch or a snack anytime they want.  The cashless payment system helps to keep footfall on-site by making purchasing easy and convenient for employees.

Crucially, as Lyons points out, the access/payment card holds no value. “Because it’s an online solution, funds are immediately deducted so the card has no actual value. If you lose your card, there's no need to panic: only the unique serial number, which relates to the chip inside the badge, is important. The card can be blocked, safely protecting the funds loaded onto it.  It’s an account-based system; if you leave your card at home, security issues a temporary pass. There's more functionality; you can actually pay through your mobile phone.”

Curtis is fulsome in her praise of the cashless system. “I’m getting people used to utilising it,” she says. “I’ve worked with Systopia before and decided to stick with them because I believe their cashless solution is top of the range. There's nothing out there that can compare to what I get from Systopia.”

But there have been challenges – no system is ever completely seamless. “Housekeeping has been my biggest challenge. It’s easy to create an access card for building entry, but if it’s not managed correctly, that card sits idle in the database.  You can then end up with a database which is growing in size, but a portion of this is made up of unused cards.  It’s a case of finding an effective way of managing this to ensure our database is up-to-date and houses current, live accounts.”

Previously, News UK was based at Thomas More Square in London, where Lyons and Curtis already knew each other well. “Having a good project manager from the client side is important,” says Lyons. “The priority for us was that staff relocating from one building to another shouldn’t be affected – the card should work, and that’s what we achieved. Claudette’s been fantastic and our project manager did a great job making it smooth for the employees.”

Once News UK had relocated to The News Building, it adopted cloud management in collaboration with Lenel, a security systems and software developer acquired by Connecticut-based UTC Fire & Security in 2005. “We got Lenel and Systopia together,” Curtis explains. “It’s the first time we can all start talking to one another.”

Lyons points out that going cashless offers News UK many benefits, primarily with respect to the amount of data gathered. “When people used to use cash at the restaurant, there was no record of what they bought. But because of the system in place, Claudette now knows the average sales and footfall per week, what people are buying, what they're not buying, when they come in, when they don’t come in. There’s a lot of invaluable information on offer which can help Claudette make decisions around purchasing and staffing decisions, which in turn can have a positive impact on the bottom line.

“For example, by harnessing this data the catering team can identify which are the most popular meals and peak trade times, promoting greater diligence with menu planning, stock orders and employee rota management.  Tighter control over potentially massive volumes of food can help vastly reduce stock wastage – not only can this prove crucial when dealing with budgets, it is more ethically sound.”

Curtis is privy to that data via a URL on her desktop PC – helpful when she’s asked to recall what was happening at specific times of the week. “If anyone challenges what's going on, Claudette can take a snapshot and narrow down whatever was happening between, say, 12-1pm on a certain day,” Lyons says. “In that way, the restaurant can work out why some till points may have been busier than others. Extra till operators can be despatched to avoid that happening again.”

During a tender process, Lyons says he points out to potential clients that they’d never get that sort of information using cash. “Simply by using that ID badge, you’re getting all that information free.”
Another benefit to abolishing cash is the amount of time saved by not scrambling for coins at the till. “Let’s imagine you’re buying something that costs £2.50,” says Lyons. “Generally you're not going to have it on you. You’re going to get your wallet or purse out, and discover you’re short 10p. That has to be paid the next day, so the till operator writes your name and debt on a piece of paper as a reminder. Our system is quicker; on average our system can reduce queue time by 58 seconds per person – a significant reduction when you’re serving thousands every lunch time.

“In addition, if you’re making a coin deposit at the bank, they have to go to a bullion centre. You can’t walk into a high street branch because they can’t handle large numbers of coins. The coins cost money.”

It all sounds efficient and sophisticated – except for those in the ‘Baby Shard’ who still prefer to use cash. Sadly for them, resistance is futile.

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