June 2018

Developing software solutions for the apiculture industries

Hamilton-based smart tech company MyApiary recently launched their ‘Manager’ software for commercial beekeepers and now they’re rolling that out across New Zealand, while continuing to develop more smart technologies for the beekeeping industry, including some innovative tracking technology called ‘Hivetracker’.

Darren Bainbridge came from a product engineering background (writing code for a device as opposed to a computer) and had worked for a few start-ups in the tech sphere and knew the primary industries were ripe for smarter technology developments.

With co-founder Carl Vinks he identified beekeeping as an industry with challenges in need of solutions. They intuited that targeting development for the specific needs of one industry was important to free the tech from the compromises of generic solution made to work across different aspects and industries.

They set about learning all they could from a variety of beekeepers. Darren quickly warmed to the industry and the people in it and even installed some hives in his own (suburban) backyard.

In 2017 MyApiary took their suite of technology around software management, and hive monitoring and tracking to the National Fieldays. They won 4 awards - the Vodafone ICT Award, Callaghan Innovation Partnership & Collaboration Award, Tomkins Wake IP and Commercialisation Award and the Fieldays Grassroots Prototype Innovation Award.

Following the success at Mystery Creek, they gained a $100,000 grant from AGMARDT (Agricultural Marketing Research and Development Trust). Then, on the cusp of preparing their software for a commercial roll-out, Gallagher and software company NetValue Ltd invested in the start-up.

MyApiary presently operates from NetValue, with the team there providing project management, mentorship and infrastructure for the growing business.

A savvy ‘reskinning’ (reuse of back end code) of a NetValue product also enabled the software to meet the market in an astonishingly quick time. Within a year, over 20 medium to large commercial apiary operations began using MyApiary Manager.

External research showed that the beekeeping industry was lagging behind in the adoption of technology. MyApiary also went to their potential market to listen to what was wanted and needed. This included an audit of three different sized beekeeping businesses in three different regions. It was quickly apparent that MyApiary had to start by tackling the big problem – business management. “It became increasingly clear that an operations and performance management tool was urgently needed.”

Few of the beekeepers they met were enamoured with the paper work demands of their operations, they were people who liked to work on the land with their hands, but they accepted that data management around productivity, traceability and compliance were important in order to grow their business.

MyApiary has eyes on developing hardware, but knew they had to start by providing technology on an existing platform and as Darren is quick to point out, “You don’t reinvent the wheel when you don’t have to”.

MyApiary Manager is a cloud based software developed to use on an Andriod tablet in the field, while the admin portal can run on any PC. The software enables the collation of data around logistics, compliance, productivity, human resources and traceability. There are also a number of tools to then crunch that data for example providing analysis and reports on how much different apiary sites are costing to maintain and service.

Importantly the software is 100% specific to beekeepers with targeted templates that meet their needs and MPI requirements. It has a highly visual and intuitive front end of the software that provides visual reports. It’s easy to use for those that aren’t computer savvy and manageable for workers for whom English is a second language. MyApiary spent a lot of time looking at graphics and presentation – “Most people freak out when presented with a busy screen”.

The software is part of a technology suite they’ve been working on. MyApiary hive tracking, traceability and asset management technology works with tags or ‘nails’ that are embedded with a type of microchip/barcode technology. These are ‘nailed into the hives; super boxes or pellets depending on business requirements. The tags can be scanned and read with the Gallagher cattle wand. Again there was no need to develop this tool – it existed and Darren says it’s the perfect tool - “stupidly robust” and ideal for a gloved beekeeper in a sticky, messy environment.

Already the tracking technology has been instrumental in bringing hive rustlers to court. Darren conceded that the asset management tools will take longer to take up due to the capital outlay required for the nails.

With the demand and positive take up of the software, MyApiary is busy rolling it out and creating online tutorials and support systems. However, most importantly, they continue to talk to the beekeepers, in order to further refine their product for the end users.