Doug Bannister's blog

The Internet of Things & Food Services

Some of you might not remember this but when I was a kid and you walked into a fast food chain the menu boards were simple basic plastic signs that you either never changed or had to get up on a ladder to change. Similarly, grocery stores were full of printed posters and paper shelf labels. There were no digital signs, self-service kiosks or any of the technology we see today. Fast forward to 2016:  Now it is common to see digital menu boards and digital signs in most fast food restaurants and grocery retailers. This change has been driven both by advances in technology but also by business needs and customer demands. Technology Changes The last couple of decades have seen numerous advances in technology with screens, memory and computing power, and the Internet of Things (IoT). It is the sensors and devices that make up the Internet of Things that  hold the most promise in food service organizations. These IoT devices are enabling a whole new level of connectivity, personalization and customer experience, and the potential applications are unlimited. Sensors on appliances such as fridges or stoves can monitor status of appliance and send updates to digital screens or mobile phones. This not only extends the life of appliance by keeping it from overheating or breaking down, but more importantly ensures food safety and quality. Business Advantages Leverage existing systems – Forward thinking food service organizations are tying their digital menu boards into their backend systems such as inventory. This allows them to not only remove items when they are out of stock but promote items when inventory is high. Similarly, in grocery stores digital shelf tags are becoming popular and these can easily be updated in real-time as inventory changes. Meet regulatory requirements – The need to show nutritional and dietary information about menu items is quickly moving from being a nice to have to mandatory. Information from calories to nutritional content can easily be integrated into digital menus and tied into backend systems or websites so it updates in real-time. Improve customer experience – By using IoT devices such as sensors and digital screens the experience in food service organizations can be dramatically improved. Whether it is offering self-serve ordering kiosks, alternative payment methods such as the Apple Pay, or pushing coupons and other promotional notifications to an individual’s mobile the possibilities are endless. There is no question the Internet of Things (IoT) holds great promise for food service organizations and grocery retailers. A lot of organizations are already leveraging these technologies to some extent. What will separate the leaders from the rest of the pack is a cohesive strategy for customer interaction and experience from pre through to post purchase and a plan for where and how technologies such as IoT can be integrated.

The Internet of Things and Healthcare

The Internet of Things (IoT) and integration of devices into all facets of daily life holds lots of promise, but perhaps the area where it holds the most promise is healthcare. It is estimated that "646 million IoT devices will be used for healthcare by 2020" (Internet of Things 2015 Report, BI Intelligence). Combined with visual communications and devices like sensors IoT has the potential to elevate healthcare to an entirely new level. HEALTHCARE IN 2020 Advances in technology have given individuals the tools to be an active participate in their own health and wellness. The recent popularity of consumer health monitoring devices such as FitBit or the Health apps on Smart Phones is giving individuals a wealth of data that didn’t exist previously. Other devices such as insulin pumps and pacemakers are giving patients the freedom to be at home or out and about but sharing relevant information with their healthcare provider about their medical status. These new devices are both delivering valuable data and lessening the need for doctor and patient interaction which enables more patients to be treated. IMAGINE THE POSSIBILITIES What does the hospital of the future look like? Here are a couple of scenarios that if they aren’t happening already aren’t too far in the future. 1. Elevating operating and treatment room efficiency By using sensors that monitor whether a room is occupied and pushing that information to screens and devices like tablets or mobile phones schedules can be updated in real-time and staff easily notified. Optimizing the use of space benefits not only the hospital and its staff but also patients by reducing waits and increasing the number of people who can be treated. 2. Personalized experience What if everyone knew your name and what you needed? Devices and sensors like RFID are making this possible. Imagine walking into a hospital and the wayfinding is customized to what you have scheduled for the day and shows you how to get where you need to go. Perhaps screens in waiting areas keep you up to date on your specific wait. Or maybe your hospital room is personalized for you and information on tests and appointments is easily accessible on your TV screen. The options for IoT in healthcare are endless. With these options comes some potential concerns like information security, but that is a discussion for a different day!

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.

The new face of retail is digital

These days to get people out of their houses and shopping in the store retailers need to rethink how they attract and retain customers. From the exterior of the store through to the checkout retailers need to create an immersive and personalized shopping experience. The explosion of the Internet of Things and new devices such as sensors that can communicate with each other has enabled retailers to create a new personalized shopping experience. Today posters and shelf tags have been replaced with dynamic digital signs that offer real-time information on products and availability, as well as interactive information or visually enticing photos and video. Screens at checkouts leverage loyalty program information to offer personalized information on complimentary products or services relevant to the individual at the register. Do you remember pouring over a paper catalogue looking at toys when you were a kid? These days paper catalogues have now taken the form of self-serve kiosks that allow customers to view a retailers full offering and place orders without having to go up to the checkout. How many times have you asked a clerk to check the stockroom for a size you need? Now in many retail stores clerks are armed with tablets that provide real-time information on inventory levels and enable them to provide you with additional product information or reviews. Retailers that want to leap frog the competition have realized creating an immersive digital experience in their stores is key. Critical to this is having a software platform that can take information from a variety of sources and drive an immersive and interactive visual experience across all of these devices.  Read The Connected Store whitepaper for more information!

The Internet of Things and digital signage – friends or foes?

The days of sharing information through paper reports distributed on a quarterly basis are long gone. Today the way information is being shared across organizations and between individuals has dramatically changed. 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 2020 that more than 26B 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). What does the Internet of Things mean for digital signage? In the early years digital signage was often nothing more than a rotation of static images running on a large screen.  Digital signage and the Internet of Things are a perfect match in many ways and have helped fuel each other’s adoption and growth. Devices such as digital signs, tablets, and kiosks that are driven by a powerful visual communications software platform have the ability to leverage data coming from multiple sources to drive the content that is being shown. The explosion of devices fueled by the Internet of Things is leading to an even bigger explosion of data from these devices that successful organizations will need to find a way to use to impact positive change. Digital signage software that can leverage data from a variety of sources to personalize visual experience gives organizations a powerful tool to differentiate themselves from their competition. For example, a manufacturing company is using digital signage throughout their factory to notify employees of various information include real-time updates on line status and inventory. The same signs are also used as part of an emergency notification system that is tied to wind direction and the signs are able to use that information to reroute people away from potential poisonous gases during the evacuation. Alternatively, a fast food restaurant draws on not just inventory and time of day information to drive their digital menu boards, but integrates in information from sources such as weather, demographics, and loyalty data.

4 Best Practices for Effective Digital Signage Content

Every organization around the world had different visual content needs that are driven by their business practices, focus and audiences. These content needs often change and evolve over time, so it is important to follow the following best practices when creating effective digital signage content.  1. Ensure consistent branding Your digital signage should reflect your organization as much as your website, logo, markting collateral, events and office decor. Most companies have a style guide which dictates what fonts to use where, acceptable ways to use your logo, and other creative directives.  This is a good tool to ensure the look and feel of your screens are not only consistent with each other, but also with company guidelines. In organizations with multiple offices or geographic locations or in franchise situations, managing a consistent brand image is extremly important. Building digital signage using standardized brand/company guidelines makes the job of creating content for an organization various screens and devices dramatically easier. Example of good digital signage content 2. promote legibility On digital signs the viewer needs to be able to absorb the information with a quick glance or it will not be effective. This means the font sizes, background and foreground colours, icons, charts, and other content items should be visually clear in the environment in which the screens exist. If people are viewing the content from a distance it will need to be kept simple, large and with good contrast. It is generally advisable to avoid putting too much information on the screen - it makes more sense to break up the information onto multiple screens and have them rotate through in a sequence. 3. deliver key focus points "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication - Leonardo da Vinci. Although there can be a tempation to present lots of different types of information on a single screen, this can distract people from absorbing what is most important. When planning your screens identify the one or two most important pieces of information you need to get across and focus on those in your layout and design.  Certain elements like time, date, and logos won't be distracting as they are easily recognizable and will only be absorbed if the need is there. 4. select appropriate icons and images As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Wherever possible, represent information as images, icons, charts and guages rather than text alone. There are many different types and styles of charts. Choosing the right chart type can make a big difference in the legibility and comprehension of the underlying data. Generally speaking, Bar charts are better than pie charts Use a horizontal bar chart for ranking different scenarios Use a vertical bar chart for time comparisons Line charts are used for connecting continuous data on an interval scale Bullet charts are great for showing value vs. targets such as KPIs

Say No To These Digital Signage Myths

Digital signage is not technology of the future, but is very much the technology of today. Businesses of all sizes put this electronic medium to use and enjoy a positive return on investment. Digital signs can increase sales, boost foot traffic, and offer a dynamic advertising medium with the flexibility and impact today's businesses need to differentiate themselves. From small cafes to boutiques to large showrooms, digital signage is a valuable marketing tool that delivers results. Digital signs beautifully display marketing messages, including specials, impromptu sales, and other information about a business that customers can immediately take in and use. Don't buy into the following 4 myths about digital signage. 1. You Should Wait for Technology to Mature More While there will undoubtedly be further advancements in digital signage technology, existing technology is already mature, with most digital signs using LED backlighting which cuts way down on power consumption. And yes, 4K displays are here, but HD is still phenomenally popular and is more than sufficient for most digital signage applications. If you're waiting around for faster refresh rates than the typical 60 Hz, you could be cheating yourself of a great marketing opportunity. Not only are current refresh rates sufficient for almost all digital signage, they may even lengthen product lifespan by reducing the risk of image retention on screens.  2. You Can Save By Using a Consumer-Grade Display In some cases this is true, but usually a commercial-grade display is worth the investment. Consumer-grade panels are rarely rated for longer than 10 hours of daily use, while digital signage is typically expected to perform longer than this. Furthermore, warranties on top commercial displays last up to six years, compared to the typical one-year consumer-grade warranty (which may be voided anyway if it's used in a commercial environment). Commercial-grade displays let users lock out video inputs so no one can turn them off or change them, plus many have schedulers and on-off timers for source flexibility and automation. 3. Digital Signs Cost Too Much On the contrary, the ROI for digital signage can be easy to justify. Screen sizes range from modest to very large, and a high-performance full HD display with media player and software in a turnkey solution can be had for a reasonable sum. No longer does using digital signage require expensive equipment, coordination among multiple vendors, and specialized software. Benefits become apparent very quickly as your business generates additional sales revenue due to relevant information being presented to customers in your store. You can even display customer endorsements that come in from Facebook and Twitter on your digital signs. And when a campaign ends, you're spared the hassle of discarding old physical materials and starting over. 4. Installation and Content Building Will Be Too Complicated Today's digital signage systems allow content to be uploaded in a variety of ways. Creating signage content today is no more complicated than creating an audio playlist or putting together a PowerPoint presentation. Many of today's digital signage applications include pre-made templates that make it easy to build content, without the necessity of hiring a designer. Updating your digital signs as needed is easy.  There is simply no reason to be intimidated by the idea of using digital signage today. With powerful systems available at a range of price points, even small businesses can make great use of this technology to drive higher revenues and generate relevant, up-to-the-minute advertising without expensive third-party software or the necessity of hiring a designer. Advances in technology have made displays more cost-effective, brilliant, and energy-efficient than ever, and the ROI for digital signage can be both quick and positive.

Digital Signage 101: A Formula for Success

Digital signage has become a strategic vehicle within most organizations for communicating key messages and content.  What exactly is digital signage? There is a common misconception amongst the general public that digital signage is restricted to static billboards and graphical displays of videos, and although a form it's not the only part. Digital signage is a subset of a much broader spectrum known as Visual Communications. It is about communicating the right information to the right people at the right time.  Everyone has a fundamental need to communicate, and digital signage is a medium through which this can be done. In the simplest form, digital signage is the digital delivery of visual content on a network of displays that is centrally managed and controlled. The screens can be dynamic, interactive, and are generally networked. How does this all tie in together? One word: DATA. Digital signage derives its relevance from real- time information, and that information can be anything - news, weather, announcements, sales targets, information from sensors,  etc. Why digital signage? Organizations implement digital signage to serve three main purposes: 1. Sell a product or service  2. Create an experience  3. Educate or inform The applications for digital signage are numerous and include advertising, emergency notifications, employee communications, entertainment, kiosks, menu boards, reception & welcome, and wayfinding. Do you have a visual communications strategy? Are you leveraging digital signage?      

Engaging and interacting with a new generation of students

Engaging and interacting with a generation of students raised surrounded by media is driving significant change amongst schools, colleges and universities. Students today expect and prefer digital communications, and as a result digital signage has become a cost-effective tool for schools to utilize. Dynamic digital signage is enabling schools to improve communications ranging from emergency notifications to wayfinding to events and employee communications. Digital communications in education can: Help schools to cost effectively communicate in real-time with students, staff and visitors Improve school safety by connecting with emergency notification and alarm systems Enhance student, faculty, employee, and visitor experience by creating an engaging and interactive environment Help schools create an environment that is easy to navigate through the use of interactive wayfinding and digital signs Tie into existing systems such as maintenance, inventory and other  administrative systems to provide accurate real-time information to staff and students Be used for a number of applications including digital menu boards, donor walls, emergency notifications, staff/student/visitor communications, and interactive wayfinding An excellent example of a university who is using visual communications and devices like digital signage to communicate with their staff, students, and visitors is the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. The Rotman School of Management is the #1 business school in Canada according to the Financial Times, ranked #1 in the world for intellectual capital by Bloomberg Businessweek, and consistently places in the global top 10 for faculty and research. It has over 1100 Canadian and international students participating in its MBA programs annually and over 2,000 people (staff, professors, students, and guests) in and out of the schools two primary buildings on any given day. The school hosts over 100 events a year in its event spaces including book launches, panels, and speaker series on a wide range of topics. The Rotman School of Management recently doubled in size, expanding into a second building in 2012 with a $93 million dollar expansion. Prior to the construction their digital signage was comprised of 6 screens. With the expansion Rotman wanted to provide effective navigation in the campus buildings and also keep visitors informed of what was happening that day. They also wanted to update the technology in their original building as part of the project. Special consideration also needed to be given to the location of the signage, housing of the players and running of cables due to limited server room space and other infrastructure such as utilities and elevators. The Rotman School of Management has received overwhelming support for their signage solution. It has helped the school improve building navigation and the communication of relevant information and events to building visitors. "The new digital signage around the school gives us a voice in the physical space and allows us to deliver relevant messaging at the time it’s needed the most,” said Eugene Grichko, Brand Experience and Engagement Specialist with the Marketing Team at Rotman. Read the full case study!  

Interact and Engage With Your Audience

Whether you are trying to reduce perceived wait times or convey key sponsor messages and promotions or enabling your audience with a self-service kiosk, visual communications provide a powerful solution for engagement. In sporting arenas visual communications using devices such as digital signs make up a huge part of the fan experience. From the time a fan enters the arena to the concession stands, to their seats digital signs play a huge role in creating an interactive and engaging visit. At one arena in the United States a fan can scan their ticket to find out where their seat is, a map on how to get there and a view of what the action will look like from their seats. In another arena a large video wall, lit pillars and other screens run sponsor messages, eye catching video and other key images to create and immersive fan experience. In airports the ability to empower individuals help themselves with self-service kiosks is a key focus. From interactive wayfinding screens within the airport to help people efficiently get from one location to another, to screens providing real-time updates on flight schedules, to the GPS tracking of shuttle buses so passengers can see how long they have to wait for a bus to the terminal, data-driven digital signage is having a huge impact.


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