Doug Bannister's blog

Digital Signage Fuels SMART Organizations

Whether you are a large enterprise with employees scattered all over the globe or a smaller organization with multiple departments, the struggle to get specific information to the right people at the right time is still the same. The use of visual communications and technologies like digital signage, interactive kiosks, and video walls provides an opportunity to communicate important messages, emergency notifications, and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to their employees that can help reinforce branding, improve building navigation, as well as enable informed decision making. By integrating digital signage, you have the ability to transform into a ‘SMART’ organization - one that is "Specific-Measurable-Assignable-Realistic and Time-Related." A New Era of Communication With Microsoft’s recent acquisition of LinkedIn, it plans to bring together the “world’s leading professional cloud and network.”  With a common mission to empower people and organizations, Microsoft and LinkedIn intend to break down the silos of information that currently exist for professionals and “create more connected, intelligent and productive experiences.”  When you connect people with information where and when they need it you improve productivity, unlock ROI and break down silos. Employee Communications Digital signs maintained for employees can be immensely useful and help disseminate information quickly, accurately, and in a format that is attention-grabbing. Employees can be kept updated with real-time external information like the news, weather or traffic alerts, and internal information like KPIs or corporate goals. Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) provide actionable metrics that most organizations use to keep their business on track. Historically, KPIs have often been tracked in spreadsheets and scorecards that were distributed on a monthly, quarterly or yearly basis. With the growing popularity of digital screens and digital signage it is now possible to publish real-time updates to KPIs as they happen and keep everyone in the organization informed about how things are tracking.  Integrating with back-end applications like CRM (Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics, etc.) and ERP (SAP, Oracle, etc.), can show performance metric changes as they happen, enabling improved decision making and allowing staff to be more proactive which increases efficiency. Engaging with your employees and getting them more involved at work can help boost confidence by building an understanding of how the company is performing, increase their trust with company transparency, and create a culture of team spirit. Motivated employees who are committed to their job and their employer are more likely to be high performing, loyal and happy in their work, and it is these employees who will be the company's best ambassadors. Integrated Digital Workplace Creating an integrated digital workplace is easier than you think. First let's breakdown what we mean by "integrated". Integration can take many different shapes and forms. One of the most common approaches is integrating information from various sources such as news and weather feeds, scheduling systems, and technologies such as sensors and alarms or other Internet of Things (IoT) devices. By utilizing a digital signage platform, organizations can tie together all of these applications and devices to create a unified communications solution. Examples of common applications include: 1. Emergency notifications Virtually all organizations need to have a way to notify their employees, customers, or visitors of potential fire, health or safety hazards. While audio alarms have long been the standard, visual communications provides a new and unique way to get real-time alerts and information out to people where and when they need it while improving disaster preparedness and safety plans. 2. Interactive Kiosks People today are more self-directed than ever.  Interactive kiosks enable employees and visitors to self-serve. Providing them with relevant real-time information and a personalized experience. 3. Video walls Organizations have the ability to stand out and captivate their audience with multi-display signage. With a software platform, you can do more than just a looped video. Create that “wow” moment with scalable content that will impress any executive, employee, or guest.

Podcast - The ABCs of Emerging Digital Communication Technologies

Doug Bannister, Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Omnivex Corporation, started his company in 1991. There’s been a considerable transformation of technology in those near 30 years, and Bannister’s got a great handle on looking down the road, assessing the future of technology and determining which technologies work and which ones don’t. Host Tyler Kern sat down with Bannister to explore some emerging digital communication technologies that have people excited.   A few hot emerging technology topics Bannister dove into were blockchain, machine learning, Artificial intelligence, IoT and edge computing. With blockchain, companies are partnering together to put health records online using this secure method. Kern noted there is a lot of misunderstanding about the differences between blockchain and bitcoin. “The same way email is an application, and the internet is the underlying technology, so too is the relationship between bitcoin and blockchain,” Bannister said. “Bitcoin is the application, and blockchain is the underlying technology that makes it possible.”   What about artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning? Are these two interchangeable terms? Bannister believes they’re two distinct things. Artificial intelligence is the technology that makes machines look like they’re doing something and appearing smart, while machine learning, algorithms and systems improve machine performance over time with experience. Bannister said machine learning capabilities get pretty advanced.   With the internet of things, or IoT, Bannister said people might think of IoT as controlling a light switch or thermostat, but it is much more. “IoT can control your environment, but it can also collect information from your environment.” A great example is today’s sensor-filled automobiles that provide essential data to both the owner of the car and the manufacturer who can use this data to improve future vehicles and quickly run diagnostics when something isn’t working in the car.          

Creating an Integrated Digital Experience

Creating an integrated digital experience is easier than you think. First let's breakdown what we mean by "integrated". Integration can take many different shapes and forms. One of the most common approaches is integrating information from various sources such as news and weather feeds, scheduling systems, and technologies such as sensors and alarms or other Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Here we have an example of what an integrated digital experience might look like for someone in an airport terminal or train station. The Omnivex solution provides a powerful software platform to drive a variety of screens and applications ranging from advertising to interactive wayfinding to real-time scheduling. While the applications of digital signage vary in this transportation example what is constant is the Omnivex platform driving each screen. Another aspect of integration when thinking about digital experience is how it translates across different devices. It is important to create a cohesive digital experience across all of the digital devices and platforms your organization works with ranging from your website to mobile devices to digital screens. For the individual the digital experience should be seamless and personalized. While for the organization it provides an opportunity to leverage creative content and information across multiple digital platforms which has a number of business benefits.

AI Opens Unforeseen Opportunities for Digital Communications

It wasn’t so long ago that even the simplest of targeted digital communication seemed far-fetched to many marketing firms. In recent years, the ability of companies to analyze a customer’s interactions with online media and tailor their ad experience based on the results has seen incredible technological leaps. Perhaps most significant is the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI) into digital signage networks. For companies on the cutting edge of marketing, those looking to make customer engagement more personalized and unique, AI is a powerful and effective tool. However, there is some confusion between what is driving certain actions – traditional analytics or AI. Often software companies use analytics based on AI techniques rather than the real thing. Knowing the difference can be an important step to ensure that you are keeping up with the competition. To understand the difference, an anti-smoking ad by Swedish pharmacy Apotek Hjartat is a useful example. The digital billboard was designed to detect smoke whenever someone had a cigarette near the sign. If the sensors went off, a video would play on the screen of a man coughing and with a disgusted look on his face. The ad was creative, engaging and an excellent use of modern technology to provide an effective anti-smoking message. AI, however, could have made it so much more. In a process known as deep learning, AI equipped programs take large data sets, often collected in real time, in order to respond to their environment in a particular way. In this anti-smoking campaign, for instance, AI could have allowed the advertisement to detect where the smoker was, thereby directing the disgusted glare directly in their direction. Additionally, it could have used video software to detect when someone chose to put out the cigarette, triggering a secondary video with a thumbs up. Put simply, AI changes the programs capabilities from merely being an “if/then” scenario to one with open-ended possibilities. The possibilities that deep learning programs can offer a digital communication system are almost unbelievable. When customers enter a store, these programs have the ability to detect gender, analyze for an estimated age, and even remember whether or not the customer had visited before. These details allow it to then present an image or video geared directly towards that person’s predicted shopping habits. This not only benefits the store by driving up revenue, but increases the probability of customers leaving with a positive experience enticing them to return. No matter what industry you’re in, or what digital communication platform you rely on, AI has the ability to make a significant impact on your marketing strategy and your business in the coming years. In order to stay ahead of the curve, it is important to find a trusted partner in the industry who understands cutting edge technologies and can bring about the results you are looking for. Omivex has been leading the charge in implementing new digital communications technologies since their founding over 28 years ago.

The Next Generation of Emergency Notifications Has Arrived

Why do we continue to rely on the old siren-based system of sending emergency notifications? Advances in technology and the Internet of Things (IoT) provide numerous ways to enhance the traditional siren. When an emergency happens, people need to be informed as soon as possible, but also understand clearly what the emergency is. Sirens simply do not provide anything other than an alert that there is a possibility of danger. Real-time data can make all the difference between panic and rational action whenever an emergency occurs. Why Digital Communications are So Important A digital communications platform can ensure people get the information they need whenever there is an emergency. Sirens, in many instances, have become more of an annoyance than a true sign of a life-threatening situation. A frightening aspect of siren-based systems is that they can easily be hacked, raising the possibility of mass chaos. In April 2017, all 156 tornado warning sirens in Dallas, Texas, activated simultaneously during the middle of severe weather season. Thousands of residents panicked as the sirens continued to go off on a night when skies were clear. According to The Dallas Morning News, officials with the city’s Office of Emergency Management blamed the activations on a computer hack. Not only are sirens antiquated and vulnerable to attack, they provide no information about the nature of an emergency. Digital communications on devices like digital signage and mobile phones, on the other hand, deliver real-time data that adds context to an alert, allowing people to quickly take whatever actions are needed to stay safe. Calm Instead of Chaos There are several different scenarios where an advanced, data-driven emergency notification system can be a major benefit. When severe weather is approaching, facility operators can send informative messages directly to staff members as well as building occupants. These messages, delivered directly to mobile devices, can tell people exactly how to take cover so they can be secure. If an area needs to be quickly evacuated, such as a large office building or a retail store, real-time information will detail exactly where exits are located, and which exits are safe to use so people can leave in an orderly manner. If an office or campus lockdown occurs due to a threat of violence, a digital communications system will let them know when it is safe to leave the area. There are many factors that go into determining how someone will react to traditional alarms. According to the Society of Fire Protection Engineers, someone hearing a fire alarm at home will react a great deal faster than someone in a public building. If they are in a shopping mall, and don’t have additional information providing context to the alarm, they will very likely continue with their activities. Perhaps even more important is that according to Security Magazine, a crucial component of security notification systems is bidirectional abilities; it’s critical that messages aren’t just sent, but actually received as well. By using real-time digital communications, facility operators will greatly improve the chances that emergency messages will truly resonate with their intended recipients. It’s Time to Implement a Digital Communications System for Your Facility The safety of everyone inside your facility must be your top priority – it is not only a moral responsibility, it could also be a matter of liability. By going beyond the traditional alarm or siren system, you will be in a much more favorable position to minimize any potential harm and create a safer environment.

Finding Your Digital IQ

Less than 12% of Fortune 500 businesses from 1955 still exist today. For those still alive it isn't a coincidence. Their creative destruction, constant innovation and technology-focused mindset is why those companies still thrive today. By studying a company’s Digital IQ, we can understand how digital transformations propel both organizations and whole industries forward. A survey from PriceWaterhouseCoopers, which polled 2,216 executives at companies with annual revenue of more than $500 million, found that leaders are embracing digital transformation – mobile strategies, internet of things, consumer technology, social platforms and more. They recognize what is at the forefront of every executive’s mind - how a digital strategy can influence key business objectives. Digital transformation involves three areas: technological ability, digital communications and customer experience. We have a short list of questions that organizations can use to measure their Digital IQ and progression in their digital transformation journey: How is digital transformation defined at your organization? Who is leading your digital transformation? Is digital transformation being looked at across the entire enterprise or just in individual departments How can digital transformation help the business, both financially and with overall employee and customer experience? How can you leverage existing assets and technologies in new ways? How can data and information have a greater benefit and/or competitive advantage? One of the best ways to raise a company’s Digital IQ is by understanding and improving upon the human experience. Executives must think critically about how their digital initiatives will affect the experience of customers and employees, as even the most well-intentioned initiatives can have negative impacts on people. By prioritizing the user experience, digital initiatives can increase revenue growth and profit margins. In 2007, roughly 40% of Chief Information Officers (CIO) had a seat at the executive table. Now, CIOs are heavily involved in strategic planning as digital strategies are influencing business goals. Digital no longer simply means the internet. It now touches every business function, from human resources to sales and marketing. IT investments are connected to an organization’s goals. The organizations that make IT part of their overall strategy will be ready to handle the challenges that come with the ever-changing business model. No company wants to be one of the nine out of every ten Fortune 500 companies around in 1955 that are no longer around today. Now is the time to bring everyone around the table to honestly evaluate your business. Start thinking outside of the box about the future of your business, and its digital transformation.

Why Unused Data is a Virtual Goldmine

Every single customer interaction, sales transaction, operations report, and similar electronic record represents a wealth of potentially valuable information that can be used to shape business strategy, enhance customer experience and improve product design. Yet, a vast portion of this data sits unused. The critical last mile between this information and its application represents a massive area of business opportunity. According to McKinsey and Company, typical business servers and enterprise data centers only deliver between five to fifteen percent of their maximum computing output on average over the course of a year. Other research finds that nearly 97% of data sits unused in organizations. The time and effort to acquire, secure, and store this information is significant, but the underlying cost of failing to utilize this information is massive. The Uptime Institute found that nearly 30% of servers worldwide sit unused. The cost of these 10 million comatose servers is somewhere in the neighborhood of nearly $30 billion dollars in idle capital. At the same time 90% of Dark Data, or unstructured data, is never analyzed. This means that valuable insights about products, internal development processes, and even website analytics that are collected during the course of normal business sit unused. The untapped value stored in customer information, log files, account information, and even legacy documents is astronomical. The chances that your organization is sitting on a pile of valuable and untapped data is extremely high. Dark data represents a chance for companies to leverage unique and important insights that can drive their business and allow them to compete with, or remain, market leaders. For example, mobile geo-location information can be used to coordinate logistics and user behavior in completely novel ways. The growth of organizations like Amazon are great case studies into just how much new data is being created in today’s technological society and businesses can leverage that information. People are leaving millions of footprints in metadata that can be mined for profitable strategies and the most successful organizations will be the ones who figure out how to do this the fastest. Omnivex allows businesses to easily collect, process, and deliver targeted real-time information across the organization on any screen – connecting people and data.  

How IOT is impacting manufacturing

Today the way information is shared across organizations and between individuals is dramatically different than a decade ago. People expect to have real-time information available where and when they need it on a variety of devices. This evolution has been fueled by the internet and the devices that are connecting to it. Various market research studies estimate by 2025 more than 75B devices (machines, sensors, etc.) will be connected to the cloud. This explosion of networked devices is commonly referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT). It should come as no suprise that IoT is transforming the manufacturing industry. According to PwC, 35% of manufacturers already use smart sensors, 10% plan to implement them within a year, and 8% plan to implement them within three years.  Smart manufacturing is about creating an environment where all available information—from within the plant floor and from along the supply chain—is captured in real-time and turned into actionable insights by making this information visible to all who need to see it. It comprises all aspects of business, blurring the boundaries among plant operations, supply chain, product design and demand management. Enabling virtual tracking of processes, resources and products, smart manufacturing gives enterprises full visibility which in turn supports streamlining business processes and optimizing supply and demand. Perhaps one of the best examples of this efficient real-time environment is Lean Manufacturing.  Smart manufacturing requires a healthy dose of technology to ensure machines work together and  information flows in real-time. The Internet of Things provides the environment that makes this possible, and having a digital signage platform allows you to collect, process, and deliver targeted real-time information such as KPI dashboards and inventory levels on a variety of devices including digital signs, interactive kiosks, and tablets. With the Internet of Things and the right digital signage platform, manufacturers can give each of their physical assets a digital identity that enables them to know the exact location and condition of those assets in real-time throughout the entire supply chain. By implementing IOT  and the right visual communications software platform a manufacturing organization will see a lower total cost of ownership, increased worker efficiency, and decreased safety hazards.   

The world’s most popular mobile app doesn’t run on a smartphone

Quick – what mobile app do people worldwide use more frequently than any other?  Facebook?  YouTube?  Google?  Not even close.  Most people use this app or system a couple dozen times every day without even thinking about it.  It’s real-time, interactive, sensor and big data driven with an extremely friendly user interface so simple even children use it.  In an age of rapidly increasing complexity it’s a great example of a pervasive system that delivers value very simply with no extraneous bells and whistles. I bet you’re wondering what it is – the system I’m referring to is the traditional 3 color traffic light signal.  You may argue that “app” is a bit of a misnomer when discussing traffic lights and a mobile app historically has been defined as a piece of software designed to run on mobile devices such as phones and tablets.  However, if you think outside the box for a moment, a traffic light is powered by software and is utilized by individuals when they are mobile.  So let’s pursue this unconventional angle and see where it takes us. One of the first points that hits home is the fact that the term “mobility” as I’m using it refers to the mobility of the person, not the device.  I am not the first to come up with this concept, but I find it very compelling.  It caused me to rethink many assumptions when I first considered it.  After all, isn’t the point of technology to help people in their lives and do it in the most effective way possible?  Limiting the scope of a solution to a particular device type eliminates other, possibly better, options.  One of the traps that engineers, myself included, often find ourselves in is creating technology for technology’s sake and we often need to catch ourselves and redirect our creativity at solving the real problem in the best way.  By focusing on the mobility of the individual and designing technology that delivers benefits to people where and how it makes the most sense to them it really opens up some interesting possibilities. Imagine for a moment implementing the traffic light network as a smartphone app.  You are in your car approaching an intersection and in wondering whether it is safe to proceed you pull out your phone, turn it on, enter your passcode, and launch the traffic signal app to determine what to do.  Completely impractical, never mind the fact that it’s illegal to use a phone while you drive in many jurisdictions.  When you view this scenario considering the mobility of the individual the best way to deliver the information to them isn’t on a mobile device; rather it is on a simple traffic light that they can see clearly from their car.  And we don’t need full color 4K hi-def screens to get the job done.  Three pixels will do just fine. We constantly hear the mantra to “think outside the box” but actually doing it can be difficult at times.  Constantly looking for new perspectives such as this view on mobility can allow us to alter our assumptions and change a lot of what we think and do every day.

Death to the Refresh Button!

Why do we tolerate the refresh button? We live in an era of instant gratification.  Apps summon everything from rides, to food, to dates at the click of a button.  Our inboxes push notifications at us in real time and there is a constant stream of data in the palms of our hands.  Consequently, we’re accustomed to having exactly what we need exactly when we need it. But do we really get what we need when we need it?  Is what we get current?  Is the information accurate right now?  We all suspect it’s not.  So when monitoring data that could change at any time, we press the refresh button to get an update.  And a few seconds later we press the refresh button again.  Has that plane landed yet?  <Refresh>  Did my team tie the game?  <Refresh>  Are those results in yet?  <Refresh>  Has that traffic accident been cleared?  <Refresh> It shouldn’t really surprise us that technology exists to eliminate this.  After all, there are self-driving cars and trucks on the roads.  Then what’s the deal with the websites out there?  Why is it that the refresh button still persists and occupies a prominent place on our web browsers and in our lives?  The answer lies, unsurprisingly, in the history of the development of the Internet and the way systems, until recently, had to be designed in order to function.  The good news is that technology moves forward and we now have different ways to design systems to eliminate the need for the refresh button.  Get ready to raise your expectations. Stateless Systems are Old School Early servers on the Internet had to work in what is called a request/response manner.  If a client needed some information, it would reach out to the server and request it.  The server would then respond with whatever information the client asked for.  If, later on, the client wanted some more information it would come back again with another request and the server would issue another response.  The refresh button arose rather naturally from this process to re-request the information to get an updated version.  Similar in concept to the redial button on your phone. It was necessary for a server working in this manner to forget what it sent you the last time you made a request.  After each response the connection was dropped.  This vastly simplified the programming and reduced the hardware requirements for operating a server.  We call this design “stateless” because the state of the connection is discarded after each response.  Think of phoning an airline, asking if a flight has arrived, getting the answer, and hanging up.  Five minutes later you call again, request the same information, get a response (likely the same one), and hang up.  Repeat.  Redial.  Refresh.  When you finally hear the flight has arrived, it’s stale news and already out of date. This is how the vast majority of websites on the Internet work today. Stateful Systems are Here With the advances in web-based programming and the increased performance of computer hardware and storage, it has now become possible to design web servers to be “stateful” and maintain connections.   An airline agent operating in a stateful manner would stay on the line until the moment the plane touched down and then say “the flight you asked about just arrived”.  Instant data updates, nothing is stale, vastly reduced bandwidth, no need for a refresh. Stateful systems can push real-time information to users rather than waiting for them to pull updates.  Since these systems remember who you are and what you need, they only feed you information that is relevant to you at the moment it changes. To be fair, creating a stateful system is more difficult than creating a stateless one.  This means more expense up front.  As time goes on however, new software tools and libraries are coming on the scene and removing the excuse. Does this Really Matter? At Omnivex, we’ve dedicated the last 25 years to presenting information to users in the most effective manner possible.  We know that showing out of date information is often worse than showing nothing at all.  If a bank is displaying the wrong exchange rates they can lose millions.  If users rely on a website that isn’t accurate, they’ll leave.  If a town learns about an inbound tornado or tsunami five minutes late, that’s unacceptable. Truthful, real-time data is becoming increasingly vital as we advance in technology and expectations.  If there is a better way to deliver updates, our position is that the benefits of this far outweigh the effort to add it to the software. A leading cloud services provider of a cutting-edge platform has actually placed a refresh button onto the toolbar of their brand new web based monitoring dashboard.  As if the one built into the browser wasn’t enough. The constant need to refresh undermines the great technological strides we’ve made as a society.  Why are new, innovative systems still tied to outdated communication designs?  The result is an unnecessary and potentially harmful lull in information delivery. It’s time to eliminate this anachronism from our lives.

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