Banyan lends Pride for Parents a hand for the holidays

Every year, we take time to help organizations in our community. This year was extra special, because our plans for our “Giving Back” event were top secret. Only our CEO and the elves (a.k.a Steve’s helpers) knew what was going to happen this year. The big reveal came when a bus pulled up to the office to take us do some holiday shopping for a local charity called Pride for Parents.

We boarded the bus and headed to Target. We paired up with a buddy, and we were given a wish list filled with ideas for kids of all ages. After about an hour of roaming the aisles for LEGOs, dolls, scooters, books, games, soccer balls and more, nearly a dozen red shopping carts lined the checkout lane.

Many times, the hassles of shopping and the harried energy of the holiday season takes over—especially at a big box store like Target. But, this was the the most fun many of us have had this busy year. We even inspired a woman who was shopping on her own to join our cause!

It became even more festive when we walked outside, and it began to snow – a rare event in the South and especially in Atlanta, Ga. By time we arrived at the facility for FCS- Focused Community Strategies-- the local organization that runs Pride for Parents, it was a winter wonderland outside.

Pride for Parents started with one simple belief –families would prefer to provide for themselves at Christmas rather than receive a hand out.  Even if a family has limited means to do so, a mom, dad, aunt, uncle or grandparent wants to buy gifts for their families around the holidays.  Pride for Parents is a program designed to provide the families in our neighborhood the opportunity to shop for their families at greatly reduced cost.

We brought in lunch and joined the FCS staff for the second part of our holiday mission—to lend a helping hand. In less than 24 hours, a section of the local General Store needed to be decorated for Christmas, and hundreds of gifts needed to be sorted, priced, and set on shelves.

Everyone quickly got to work, some helped with labeling and pricing, others sorted toys by age and style. My team went over to the General Store to decorate the toy section. Working with my engineering colleagues and seeing their creative side was a lot of fun. And, having Nathan Rowe help to reach the high ceilings was a real bonus.

Thanks to our help, and through the support of generous schools, churches and individuals, FCS would be ready to set up a toy store in South Atlanta for two weeks leading up to Christmas. Families would get to shop and buy the toys their kids really want at a greatly reduced price.  And FCS provides quality jobs for residents in the area – one of the key ingredients to making the neighborhood healthy again.

According to Pride for Parents – the organization is a unique giving opportunity at Christmas because it provides three gifts in one:

  • The gift of a toy at Christmas for a child.
  • The gift of pride for the parents who are able to provide for their families.
  • The gift of job for South Atlanta residents.

Banyan was so proud to take part in Pride for Parents and lend a helping hand this holiday season. The Atlanta Journal Constitution covered the organization and all of the donations too.

Thank you to everyone who participated and was involved this year!

 


How to Inspire Millennials to pursue a career in IoT


Across three rows, with laptops and smartphones in hands sit nearly 40 young men and women from a generation whose only recollection of the last great technological shift was a time when they could order the newest Harry Potter book online and when Apple announce the iPhone. Students at Georgia State, most them about 20 years old, joined their regular Tuesday, Computer Science class at 1:00 pm eager to learn about what is undoubtedly the next great technology era of our time – the Internet of Things.

By the year 2020, it is predicted that there will be over 50 billion connected devices. This statistic has been tracked for the last three years and is the barometer for what’s known as the fast growing IoT industry. As Steve Latham, chief executive officer and founder of Banyan Hills Technologies explained to GSU students, “the Internet of Things, or IoT as it’s called, is nothing more than the ability to connect any device with an on and off switch to the internet or each other.”

Building a business and riding the rails of IoT
Students not only learned a great deal about the Internet of Things from Steve and during the conversation, but they also learned what it takes to start a company and become an entrepreneur. Steve shared his story and experience as chief technology officer of the Entertainment division at NCR Corporation. Through the knowledge he attained throughout his career, and in working with various customers, each having large fleets of kiosks and self-service devices, all of which are IoT endpoints themselves, he too realized what a tremendous opportunity there was by helping to connect and manage IoT devices. Steve talked to the students about how he built his business and a product around IoT; and how he continues to look for talent and experts that understand how to build and implement solutions in this area.

The future is more than bright—it's connected
The students walked away not only with a deeper understanding of the Internet of Things, but optimistic about the types of jobs and opportunities they will find as the Internet of Things begins to mature and change our personal lives.

As one student said, “Having to hear Steve Latham’s presentation on IoT opened my eyes on how the future will mostly rely on enabled devices.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, employment for software developers is projected to grow 17 percent from 2015 to 2024, and at a much faster pace than the average for other jobs. Contributing to this growth is the increasing demand for software solutions. And with more and more IoT devices comes the need for software to monitor, manage and maintain these devices so businesses can operate more efficiently in a connected world.
Another student perfectly captured Steve’s validation of this trend when he said, “The greatest two sources of revenue growth in the IoT market will be from IoT applications investment and services.”

Making a connection…
While the Internet of Things is all about connecting devices and information, Steve has always been about connecting ideas and fostering an innovate and entrepreneurial spirit in others. His time at GSU accomplished that and then some! Just read what students had to say about Steve, Banyan, IoT and the industry. It is an exciting time and we all are excited for tomorrow’s innovators, inventors and creators.

“I really enjoyed the presentation by Mr. Steve Latham on Tuesday. I enjoyed his enthusiasm and passion for what he was doing…”

“I honestly felt inspired and motivated after hearing Mr. Latham speak. Recently I began to wonder what it would feel like to accomplish something so large and encompassing.”

“Near the end of the lecture, our professor joked on how Mr. Latham could be the “Steve Jobs” of IoT and that made sense to me.”

“At the beginning of the year, I had little understanding of IoT and brushed it off as another branch of computer science. However, because of Mr. Latham’s presentation, I am genuinely interested in pursuing a career in that field.”

“All in all, Steve’s presentation was wonderful. I enjoyed everything that he shared with us. I plan on reaching out to him about visiting the company and possibly job opportunities.”

“I enjoyed Latham’s presentation, because he is an entrepreneur and provided our class with his rise to the top. I believe that Banyan Hills Technologies will become very big in the future, and I may even hope to work for him.”

I’ve been working at Banyan Hills Technologies for just over a year now, but have seen the company grow over the past four years. It's truly a gift to work for this company, and it doesn’t surprise me in the least that after hearing Steve speak for an hour, so many want to come work at Banyan.

Banyan Hills is hiring the next generation of thinkers and inventors. Interested? Apply or contact us at info@banyanhills.com

Sources:
Employment stats
https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/software-developers.htm
Steve went on to talk with students about the greatest sources of revenue growth in the IoT market


How Self-Service Can Become More Human

We all long for the day when we will naturally interact with machines so seamlessly it feels human. Iconic films like "I, Robot" and "Avatar" depict a future where man and machine coexist. Remember Sonny? In "I, Robot," he continued to learn from his interactions with people and became more and more humanlike. And this isn't far off -- advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are shaping the self-service industry today and are foundational to our future of creating humanlike machines.

There are many faces to self-service.
Let's break down self-service by industry, but first let’s agree on a standard definition. In a recent study conducted by Kiosk Marketplace, readers defined a self-serve kiosk as "an interactive, self-serve device provided by a venue, not the user, that helps the user do something that is informational and/or transactional that streamlines, automates or eliminates wait or cost."

Each industry uses self-service in different ways. In retail, there are gift registry and inventory kiosks; in entertainment, ticketing and gaming kiosks. Hospitality uses kiosks for self-service check-in and check-out, and financial ATMs and bill-pay kiosks have been used by consumers for decades.

There are so many uses for self-serve kiosks across multiple industries, and the market continues to grow. The global kiosk market is expected to reach $30.8B by 2024. Self-service is mainstream, yet there’s a great opportunity to be disruptive and make machines more human.

Make it personal and win them over.
The first impression a customer has with a kiosk is a glowing screen. Clearly this is different than being greeted with a friendly smile when a real person is assisting us, but there are often inconsistencies in service because every human being is different.

The other day I was at my local home improvement store shopping for paint. The attendant was excellent; he helped me decide on the right paint for my project. He asked a few questions and made some great recommendations. Ready to take on another project, I returned a week later and was greeted by someone new. She was nice, but not very helpful. She didn't ask any questions. I struggled to remember which type of paint I had previously purchased. In the end, I had to pick a paint and hope for the best.

Now imagine how a self-service kiosk could improve this experience. Just as the first person asked me a few questions, so too could the kiosk. Because I’ve done this online, I’m comfortable having a conversation with a glowing screen. I might even prefer it because I can get an answer faster. The kiosk can make recommendations and offer to save my information and send it to my email. How convenient, right? Again, something I do online so I’ll gladly opt in.

While machines get a bad rap for being cold and impersonal, they do make it easier to deliver consistent experiences. By entering an email, the conversation starts again, and this time it knows more about me and can keep learning and make relevant recommendations. For me, it might suggest more paint rollers because I probably used them up on my last project.

What role does user interface (UI) and user experience(UX) play?
Everything I just described would not be possible without a well-designed UI and a thoughtful approach to UX. When creating a self-service experience, you should always start with discovery, then move to design and development. There are two important things UI/UX architects should do in the beginning: define a few personas and create journey maps.

Create user personas and journey maps.
We use personas to get to know the user and understand their behaviors, preferences, strengths, weaknesses, frustrations and desires. I like to use a template to help guide the conversation, but I discourage sending it in advance to the users you are interviewing. You want to have a conversation and keep it casual. You'll learn more this way. The better you know a user, the closer your design will get to the human-like experience they crave.

If you're looking for user persona templates, you can download them here.

When you take a step back and look at the big picture, you can see the path a customer will take on their self-service journey. It starts with awareness and ends with advocacy. Composing a matrix helps organize the experience and illustrating behaviors helps define the necessary steps. It follows the user's thinking and reasoning and shows what they are doing in a diagram. User journey maps help with user flow and allow the design and development process to work seamlessly to create more human-like experiences.

Take care of your machines, and they'll take care of your customers.
Last but certainly not least is monitoring and managing your self-serve kiosks. I can't stress enough how important this is for a good customer experience. If a machine is out of order or if it fails in the middle of a transaction, it's pretty much game over. If this repeatedly happens, it will chip away at customer loyalty and likely drive customers to your competition.

Self-service kiosks are incredibly complex machines with hardware and software that need constant monitoring. Fortunately, most kiosks are what we call IoT-enabled devices. When a network of kiosks is hooked up to an IoT platform, operators can monitor them in real time and perform remote management. It gives an operator real-time visibility into what’s currently happening on the kiosks and can predict what will occur in the future to help mitigate issues before they strike.

Technology has come a long way, but we probably won't find Sonny walking around in our homes anytime soon.

As seen on Forbes »


Inside the Box: Shut the Front Door


Locker kiosks also called smart lockers are enabling click-and-collect retailers to make inventory more accessible and easier to track. It’s a bigger market than you think and growing. It doesn’t seem that long ago when I first read about the Amazon Locker, it turns out it was six years ago. Amazon started in New York City, Seattle and London, and now there are over 1,800 locations in more than 50 cities. Online retailers aren’t the only ones realizing the advantages of automation, traditional brick and mortar stores are using these self-service retail lockers to deliver omni-channel experiences and streamline click-and-collect for busy shoppers.

Self-Service Moves into the Workplace.
I find the non-retail applications for kiosk lockers fascinating. The workplace has become the new hotspot for self-service innovations like these. According to this recent article in Kioskmarketplace.com, tech giants like Facebook are finding uses for locker kiosks to dispense keyboards, flash drives, headphones, cables, mice, batteries and more to their employees. It’s self-service IT, and it’s convenient and faster than waiting in line at the help desk. Industries like healthcare have also found new uses for locker kiosks. Here we see cross-over with vending. Vending kiosks innovations are dispensing things like medication as well as scrubs and linens. For the latter, these machines are about the size of a refrigerator, and function like the Amazon locker, except they hold multiple shelves of inventory, like surgical scrubs or linens. Operators and staff need to know when the door is open and more importantly if it was closed.

The Door Is Ajar.
Leaving the door open can lead to theft, the possibility of someone tampering with the machine, and result in costly hardware repairs or replacement parts when things break. So, when we say, “shut the front door” we mean it because it’s too expensive not to. Inside these vending/kiosk lockers, operators will need to monitor the basics like heartbeats, but also mechanics like the door. For one Canopy customer, knowing the door is open isn’t always a sign that something is wrong, nor is it a sign everything is running smoothly. IoT endpoints like these kiosks and vending machines can be monitored for common device attributes as well as ones unique to a business or device configuration. In my last Inside the Box blog, I talked about heartbeats. Canopy's Edge agent, Leaf automatically begins sending standard attributes like memory, CPU temperature, and available physical disc space to the Canopy Enterprise and Leaf can easily be extended to obtain additional attributes.

Tell Me What I Need to Know. Not Everything You Heard.
Let’s dive a little deeper and go over how Leaf knows when the machine door is open and closed. When the kiosk sends messages or logs interactions during a transaction, that sequence of events results in the door having been opened and inventory removed. During that transaction, Canopy is capturing an ID number either by manual entry or by swiping a card. That triggers the door to unlock and the item can be removed. Leaf is logging all those events, and is also able to monitor load to know when inventory is removed. All this listening generates high volumes of data being logged. Here’s the cool part, through machine learning, Leaf assembles these messages into a single interaction and sends it to the Canopy Enterprise which can be configured with alerts. When one of those interactions has an irregular pattern whereby the door was open for an extended period, or the load changed below a set threshold, that can trigger an alert and the operator receives an email or SMS message. By looking at the Canopy Management Console and patterns over time, operators can create a ticket or schedule a follow up to check on the device at a later point. If Leaf reports the door being open for an excessive amount of time, it can send alerts to let the operator know the machine needs to be serviced. The events that trigger these alerts may be signs that the machine has been tampered with or showing signs of shrinkage. These can be costly if gone undiagnosed for long periods of time.

What’s Inside Your Box?
If automation is core to your strategy, then finding the right software to manage your kiosks and vending machines can significantly improve your ROI,operations and let you focus on delivering a frictionless customer experience. When choosing an IoT platform, make sure it is configurable, secure, extensible and can run on any base operating system/device hardware platform.


Inside the Box: Monitoring heartbeats


When a machine sends a heartbeat, it’s sending a message saying, “Hey I’m online, I’m alive.” Measuring heartbeats can not only tell an operator whether a machine is online or offline, but it can also share if it’s in distress. With software at the endpoint, at regular intervals, usually measured in seconds, a heartbeat signal is sent. It’s like having a heart monitor inside the machine recording and sending heartbeats to signal to the operator how it is doing. Not unlike the human heart, monitoring heartbeats is vital to understanding the overall health of a fleet of kiosks, vending machines or other self-service devices. When a machine is down or slow, it can result in lost sales and negatively impact customer loyalty.

How do you measure heartbeat?

I recently had a chat with Mark Wutka, lead engineer for Canopy our advanced IoT platform for monitoring and managing large networks of devices. Mark is the brains behind Leaf, the software agent that runs "inside the box," or on the kiosks and vending machines for many of Banyan’s customers. Mark designed Leaf with such sophistication that Leaf acts as a traffic cop or single-point-of-contact for these machines. Since a heartbeat simply indicates that the machine is alive, Leaf can omit the heartbeat if it has recently sent other messages to the server, since those messages also indicate that the machine is functioning. Leaf is listening and learning the machine’s behavior, which allows it to reduce redundancy and operate more efficiently. This becomes incredibly important, especially when operators are managing large networks of devices.

Beyond simply measuring whether the machine is alive, Leaf gathers additional health metrics – CPU, memory, and disk usage, and can also monitor various operating system processes. This refined view is helpful in knowing whether the machine will perform as expected. It may be alive enough to send heartbeats, but sluggish because it has run out of memory. These additional metrics help anticipate problems before they become visible to the customer.

Why does measuring machine heartbeats matter?

Many industries are making the shift from physical to digital, and deploying self-service kiosks to help automate functions and improve customer experience. According to recent reports, the global kiosk market is expanding rapidly and is expected to be $30.8 billion in the next five years. Making a move to automation means having customers interface with technology, and in doing so, it’s important to keep a pulse on all devices -- whether it’s a fleet of vending machine serving freshly brewed coffee or a ticketing kiosk allowing customers to get passes to a game or event. If a kiosk is a little sluggish, or worse yet down, it's a big problem. Imagine if a Barista or ticketing agent came to work ill, or took the day off, employers would want to know. Right? That’s why measuring machine heartbeats matters.

Check back for another Inside the Box update to learn more about Leaf. Next up we’ll go inside the box and learn how Leaf manages talking to remote devices and the basics of Leaf Services.

Download: Learn more about kiosks and IoT by reading The Ultimate Guide to Health Kiosks


The Secret to Small Business Content Marketing


Last week I was looking at our web analytics and saw some unfavorable trends in our site visits. There were some dips and declines. My slow but steady upward trend was starting to level. The horror, I know. Look, we all know content is king, but when you are running marketing for a small business it isn’t easy to publish content weekly. Publishing content daily is sometimes challenging.

Banyan is a technology company with an IoT platform. The Internet of Things is gaining a lot of attention, and it's impossible to generate a lot of content and keep up with tech giants like Cisco, Intel, GE, and Microsoft. Each of which has a site dedicated to the topic of IoT. As a small business marketer, we must think smarter, and that doesn’t mean work harder or blow the budget.

When I looked over the weeks where our site visits had dipped, and then looked at our content calendar, I immediately saw the problem. It had been eight weeks since we had published a blog. How could we have let this happen? Although we had recently published a white paper, which was a meaty piece of work, it didn't give us the lift in site visits we had seen when we were publishing blogs twice a month.

You need to recognize that there are topics and conversations all around you that will help you sustain a content marketing strategy.

Here’s the secret to content marketing for a small business and two things you can do right now to help fill a content pipeline.

Rule#1: Create it once but use it many times.

Everything we create whether it is a blog, video or a white paper can be tweaked and used in other ways. You can break down a white paper into a series of blogs. You can turn a blog into an infographic. A customer story can start as case study sheet and can be designed as a journey map. The key is to think about reusing content in different forms that your audience can read, see, watch and hear.

This isn't a revolutionary idea. I'm sure others have said this, but it works for us. Take your content further with blogs, white papers, infographics, videos, and podcasts.

Rule #2: Look for content in conversations.

Many times, email conversations about customer needs or industry trends have hidden topics perfect for new content. Further, those discussions may have your first 150-200 words already written, you just need to add some stats and facts, and your blog post will be complete. Or work with a designer to visualize that conversation into an infographic. Another great source for content can be found on collaboration platforms like Slack. Is your team using messaging and are there conversations happening right now that could be the basis for your next piece of content? One of the greatest challenges with drafting new content is getting time with the content contributor. But you don’t have to if you leverage the time they’ve already spent in email or in messaging to capture a conversation. That can be the basis for your next piece of content. One of the first blogs Banyan created was from an email exchange, we titled the blog "The Beautiful and Beastly side of the Internet of Things.

I can confidently say this works because I just solved my content problem and wrote two blogs following these rules. Stay tuned and happy creating.


Stefan-UI/UX Designer

Meet Stefan UX/UI Designer

Stefan-UI/UX Designer

(Photo: Stefan lends a hand at the Lanier Community Garden Project)

When you meet Stefan, you immediately get a jolt of energy. He always has a smile and brings a positive attitude to work every day. Stefan is a designer at Banyan Hills Technologies. He’s creativity is endless, and he’s always willing to learn new things and never backs down from a challenge. He designs and maintains our website, sketches interface designs to support development projects for customers, and UI for our IoT platform Canopy. He’s always willing and able to jump in when a design is needed. When asked what he likes best about working at Banyan, he said “I admire the passion and dedication to succeed most at Banyan. They motivate me to give my best at all times”.

I knew Stefan was the perfect fit for Banyan’s design team early on. I find all designers are very much alike, and we all see the world a differently than others. Over lunch one day, Stefan told me about how he first started studying architecture and quickly realized how he didn't enjoy the math as much as he did the drawing. He took a visual design course and was hooked. I could relate, in college, my computer science class was my least favorite, and my book design course was my most.

Stefan’s passions go beyond design. He loves to cook. Some of his favorite dishes to make are paella and roast beef. Stefan comes from a Haitian family and given his colonial past, Haitians have adopted a few French traditions. One of these traditions is making “beignets” or donuts, filled with mashed bananas and topped with sprinkles of granulated sugar, during Carnival. He’s also very health conscious and likes to be active as much as possible. He enjoys working out and playing soccer. He follows many sports teams, but his number one is FC Barcelona, he’s been a fan since he was little. And if you’re not already impressed by Stefan, he’s also fluent in French.

I asked Stefan a few questions, ones completely unrelated to design and working at Banyan. These were just for fun because after all, having fun is one of our core values. Here’s what he had to say.

What’s your favorite movie?
I'm a psychological thriller junky, and one of my favorites is, most definitely, Christopher Nolan’s brilliant “Memento.”

What’s your favorite song, band or album?
My favorite album is probably “Late Registration” by Kanye West. I also think it’s his best album. He did a great job at covering sensitive social and political topics in a purely artistic manner.

Do you have favorite technology or gadget?
I’d have to say, my iPhone. I use it from the minute I wake up to the minute I go to sleep.

When you were a kid, what did you dream of becoming when you grew up?
Well, it's every little boy's dream to become a soccer player where I'm from; however, my parents weren't too fond of that idea. Over time, I wanted to become an architect since I enjoyed drawing a lot and especially the fact that my uncle was one. But, when I got to college, I quickly realized that it wasn't quite what I expected.

What do you want to do when you retire?
When I retire, I want to travel the world, spend time with my family and friends, and volunteer whenever possible.
If you were stranded, would you rather it be on an island all by yourself, or in an unknown city filled with other people?
I love to learn about other cultures and languages, so, in that case, I'd much rather be in an unknown city, hands down.

That's our Stefan, and he's what makes Banyan so unique and special. We're lucky to have him on our team.