EPISODE 107 | Guest: Sean Matthews, president & CEO of Visix.
Facility managers have to keep the big picture in mind while juggling a lot of disparate systems and teams. Using enterprise digital signage software can help pull those systems together for a unified visual communications strategy. Combine message management with event schedules, wayfinding, emergency alerts and even space management – all managed from a single UI. Not only can it reduce workload and waste, but it also adds up to better employee, customer and visitor experiences.
- Understand how digital signage fits into facility management
- Hear how digital signage helps facilities remain relevant and competitive
- Learn how integrated communications are more effective
- Explore interactivity for events, wayfinding, menu and donor boards
- Discover affordable e ink solutions for space management
For more systems info, download our free white paper: Simplify and Diversify Facility Management with Digital Signage
Derek DeWitt: We often talk about the benefits of digital signage for different markets, but there’s one group that bridges kind of all the industries, and that’s facility managers. Whichever type of facility the facility manager is managing, digital signage can help modernize and streamline messages, alerts, wayfinding, space management, everything really in one centralized platform.
To talk about that with me today, I’m with Sean Matthews, president and CEO of Visix Digital Signage. Hi, Sean.
Sean Matthews: Hey, Derek. How are you? It’s great to be here.
Derek DeWitt: It’s good to be here as well, for once not over the phone; live together in the new Atlanta offices. Very exciting. They’re quite swanky.
Sean Matthews: Yeah, actually, we’re pretty excited about this, man. I mean, you know, we were in an older facility for many years, and the pandemic changed the way everybody worked. So, we had an opportunity to design a facility that would really entice people to come to an office when they wanted to. But, you know, certainly we’re sticking to the entire concept of work where you live.
Derek DeWitt: Yeah, work from home, baby. It’s the buzzword.
Thank you everybody for listening to this episode of Digital Signage Done Right. Don’t forget that you can subscribe to this podcast, and if you’d like to follow along, there is a full transcript on the Visix website. Just go to Visix.com/Resources/Podcasts.
So, Sean, does Visix deal with a lot of facility managers and at what point, in sort of a digital signage deployment, do they come into the process?
Sean Matthews: Yeah, they’re sometimes the ones that are actually shopping for a solution, but it’s often IT and/or a combo of IT and facilities personnel. You know, either way, facility managers, they need to be involved at the start when planning, shopping or implementing a system. You know, we saw a large uptick of people looking at this technology when they were having to manage the reopening after the covid shutdowns, and they really needed, you know, a centralized way to put out policies, and health and safety messages.
And so, you know, we’re also seeing facility managers getting involved as the workplace becomes, you know, more connected and collaborative. You know, we have a lot of folks modernizing, even more to attract talent in competitive labor markets. And so they have people coming and going from facilities. And, you know, a lot of really technology companies, finance service companies law firms, those types of people, you know, they’re coming and going from these office spaces. So, it’s a real mix of being in the office a couple of days a week and then working remote other days.
So, obviously in the grand scheme, a lot of these facility managers are looking to justify the downsizing of these facilities, because they’re hoteling those spaces more often. And a lot of these venues are moving towards a more IoT type of setup. So, digital signage is being included in these IT plans, because it can integrate with a lot of other systems.
Derek DeWitt: Sure, that makes absolute sense. Is there one particular market where facility managers are most involved in the digital signage strategy?
Sean Matthews: Not really, Derek. I mean, you know, everyone who has a venue has someone managing that venue, and so it doesn’t really matter the market, whether it’s higher education, corporate campus, medical facilities; you know, it runs the full gamut. They may have different titles, but the job is the same.
You know, we do a lot of higher education deployments, and generally they have someone looking at all of the overarching uses for digital signage, you know, across the campus. But most industries need some, you know, combination of communicating with their audiences, alerting them to emergencies, and, you know, on top of that, managing their spaces.
And so facility managers are, you know, a great project leader for digital signage because, you know, they have this sort of all-encompassing view of the systems in place, whereas others might, you know, think of it more in silos, in particular to their respective teams.
Derek DeWitt: Right. Facility managers kind of by definition have the larger picture, more of an overview, bird’s eye view of everything.
Sean Matthews: Yeah, I mean, that’s definitely the case. And, you know, we talk about silos often, and a lot of institutions have, you know, these silo groups, particularly things like, IT and whatnot. But when it comes to facilities, there usually is a fair amount of collaboration, with the exception of some facilities where they have like a for-profit purpose. And even on college campuses you’ll see venues that have a for-profit purpose, even though it’s like a, a conference center.
Derek DeWitt: So, what are, what are the specific benefits of digital signage to facilities management?
Sean Matthews: Well, you mentioned IT earlier, and the biggest one is bringing all those things that you mentioned earlier under one umbrella.
So, you have messaging alerts, wayfinding and space management. And it’s a huge undertaking to put all that in place. You know, if it’s four different systems, that’s four different things you have to shop for, buy, implement, get trained on, manage, maintain. I mean, the list goes on.
Derek DeWitt: Right. And four separate places where something could break down.
Sean Matthews: Yeah, that’s, I mean, that’s definitely the case. You know, the interconnection between those is always a problem. And just managing software updates and security patches and all those things. That’s like a full-time job.
So, you know, if you use an enterprise digital signage system versus, like, a standalone siloed product, you’ve got it all in one place; the connectivity, the API connections, all that stuff is there.
You know, also, you gotta think about this: the facilities manager is focused on operations, but you know, he or she is always looking at expenses. You know, so a system like this reduces printing costs, waste, you know, which all ties into the environmental efforts we’re seeing from a lot of venues, particularly on college campuses and, you know, those types of environments. And, you know, the larger facility and/or the audience, you know, it’s often much more economical to deploy digital signage than all of those printed materials that might span an enormous square footage.
Derek DeWitt: Yeah, that’s true. Digital signage does seem to be very effective at scale.
Sean Matthews: Yeah. You know, and there’s often this debate about the purchase price of a digital signage system. You know, often it’s a one-time cost, whereas printed communications are continuing, you know, and they’re a revenue drain that, you know, add up over time.
But, you know, there’s a lot of ways to slice how it is that you pay for, you know, a digital signage solution. You know, if you don’t want that capital expense, you can certainly go the subscription route, whether it’s a software subscription or even, you know, hardware as a service type subscription.
Derek DeWitt: Sure, sure.
Sean Matthews: Anyway, there’s certainly a lot of advantages from a delivery perspective in how quickly you can change, particularly event-related information and alert information in those venues.
Derek DeWitt: So, let’s go through some of the things that facility managers might be looking for or want in a digital signage system. Obviously, informational messages, hey, here’s new information that you need, but, and you mentioned alerts and a bunch of other things. What else?
Sean Matthews: Yeah, I mean, you know, first and foremost, it’s a communication system. The most common use is putting up announcements, some sort of feed of some sort, data visualizations, dashboards. You know, it’s certainly the most popular use of digital signage is event schedules. I mean, just delivering event schedules. And the fact that they change often is a very, very popular use.
They often also like to localize content to, you know, different screens for different audiences. You know, the school of business versus the school of law, that kind of thing. You know, so facility managers, you know, do need to plan for that when they’re setting up, you know, this type of system solution.
You know, if you’re gonna pull data in from calendars and other external systems, you know, you can do that, but you need someone with knowledge and access to those systems. And we often run into situations where they don’t really understand how the event management system works and the data formats that it ultimately spits out.
And, you know, also if you have work from home employees or other, you know, type remote audiences, you might want to export those messages to intranets, deliver them to other webpage endpoints, those types of things. You know, that’s another consideration that doesn’t usually fall under facilities, but it crosses over into that digital signage solution.
Derek DeWitt: Sure. Like you said, we have the hybrid workforce all over the place. It’s almost kind of like facility management has escaped the facility.
Sean Matthews: Yeah! I mean, and it really, I mean, they have. And the good thing about this technology is that when you know messages drop off the screen automatically as they expire, you don’t have to worry about going out and, like, recycling printed posters and pulling them down, which I’m sure facility managers, they appreciate.
Derek DeWitt: Now, when we’re talking about messaging, are we including alert notifications as part of that, or is that a separate animal?
Sean Matthews: Yeah, I mean, alert notification is certainly very popular in the higher education space. You know, it’s a special type of messaging. It’s, you know, a separate app or something in the system that ties into the digital signage solution. It’s often triggered by SMS systems that go to cell phones in the form of text messages.
You know, facility managers can use third party apps like Alertus, Everbridge, Rave Mobile Safety, those are easy ones that integrate with our solution. That way if there’s an emergency, it’s triggered by the SMS solution, and then it overrides all the screens or just certain screens. You can create these alerts in advance to save time, you know, during an emergency. It’s almost pre-scripted.
Derek DeWitt: It’s interesting; as I was flying here, at the airport, I saw a sort of almost an emergency-notification-like use of their digital signage, which is they took over the screens for these flights right now are boarding, no joke. You’d better get in there and get to that gate. So, even though it wasn’t an emergency, it was a kind of an alert notification, and I felt kind of foolish that I had never really thought about that before.
Sean Matthews: Yeah. I mean, it’s a great use of this technology because, you know, it’s a powerful visual prompt. And historically, when we were in airports, you recall that it was, you know, sort of public announcement address.
Derek DeWitt: Which you cannot understand!
Sean Matthews: Yeah, that’s correct. And yeah, and certainly in, if you take into other languages and that sort of thing, they have to repeat the message three times, and you can do it visually much more efficiently. So, yeah, I mean, that’s a great use of, you know, using an alert type function in the event of something that’s not a quote unquote “emergency”.
Derek DeWitt: That’s exactly so. Well, it’s an emergency if you’re trying to get on that plane.
You know, on this podcast we talk a lot about the experience of being in a particular facility. It’s not just, I go and I do my job. Like there’s a whole culture and community there. And you’ve talked a bit about the workplace experience with, obviously, messages and alerts, but what about, like, the customer experience or the visitor experience? We’re talking about not internal, but external-facing communications now. What can facility managers do with digital signage to improve that kind of messaging?
Sean Matthews: Yeah. Probably the number one way to improve that experience is, you know, incorporating a wayfinding aspect into the signs themselves. You know, that’s the number one thing that we see used for visitors. Whether it’s a campus with new students, a hotel, retail mall, doesn’t matter, people wanna find their way fast.
And, you know, using digital signs for wayfinding is just a good deal more modern than the classic hospital approach of arrows and signs on the walls. You know, it’s more economical over time, because you can update it as things change, as construction occurs, you know, that type of stuff. You can really do a lot with digital signs in the wayfinding experience.
Derek DeWitt: Right. And not always, but usually, that’s through interactive touchscreens, usually, or kiosks or something.
Sean Matthews: Yeah, yeah. Most of the time it is that way. You know, touchscreens let, you know, people serve themselves. We’re all very accustomed to kiosks and that type of thing. And we’re obviously very familiar with that with our own smartphones.
Facility managers can, you know, often offer up directories or event schedules that are tied to maps. So, if you find your event, then you wanna find your location, you can add those together. You know, people can even put in their phone number and have point-to-point directions sent to them; so turn-by-turn type directions. Even if you don’t use touchscreens, you can show a map, incorporate a QR code, so they can download the entire wayfinding application to their phone, particularly if it’s just an HTML5 type project.
Derek DeWitt: Sure. Or heck, I mean, if it’s not that big a place, but big enough to still warrant wayfinding, even just a static pdf, you know?
Sean Matthews: Yeah, yeah. It’s certainly an easy way to, you know, help people find their way around without having to incorporate some sort of volunteer or information desk that just gets disrupted all the time.
Derek DeWitt: Yeah, exactly. Are facility managers using other kinds of interactive content in addition to the wayfinding angle?
Sean Matthews: Yeah, I mean, you know, certainly menu boards are really popular. And at first you think about a menu board, and it’s not really interactive, but you can incorporate that with a point of sale or, you know, order entry type of kiosk as well.
You know, a lot of folks have been asking for interactive information boards with things like history or timelines, class photos, athletic teams for schools; you know, athletics is really into posting their hall of fame type thing, in every sport. So it’s just making, you know, really general information much more engaging.
You know, some people do show interactive building dashboards to help in energy saving efforts, you know, water consumption, et cetera.
Derek DeWitt: Oh, right. This is how much electricity we’re using right now. Turn off that light.
Sean Matthews: Yeah. And there’s often suggestions on what they can do, you know, to reduce their footprint while they’re in that building.
And you can imagine that donor boards are all going digital, so facility managers don’t have to keep updating plaques and that kind of stuff. And particularly in those environments, you can see the values of those donations increase or decrease over time, particularly if they increase.
And, you know, meeting rooms that once had printed plaques or placards, you know, they’re all switching to interactive room signs. And whether it be interactive or electronic paper, which is a very green way to go about, you know, putting information outside of a conference room or a classroom, you’re seeing much more of that than you did just literally five or six years ago.
Derek DeWitt: Honestly, three years, just before covid even. You know, you’re starting to see more and more of these. But meeting room signs, they can still be digital, but they don’t have to be interactive. You could have static.
Sean Matthews: Yeah, yeah, that’s correct. I mean, the most efficient space management solution is one that you don’t have to, you know, run cables to, and you end up buying like a, you know, a $1500 room sign or something like that. And that’s where electronic paper, E Ink comes into play. You don’t have interactivity, but the device does not require any hard wiring. It’s super lightweight. It looks like a piece of paper on the wall. It only consumes energy or battery life when it’s updating the image, which is on screen. And so, it typically only changes when the event itself changes.
And of course, a lot of people are now starting to incorporate these types of E Ink signs for, you know, desk booking or space booking because they’re small, they’re wireless, and they’re pretty affordable. I mean, you could, depending on the size of the sign, they can be as low as like $10, right?
Derek DeWitt: Wow. That is an affordable solution! So don’t, there’s literally no excuse for you to not have some kind of digital signage. Come on folks. $10!
Okay. So, I’m a facility manager, let’s say. What do I need to think about when I’m planning for a digital signage system, and when I’m shopping for a digital signage system? What are my parameters?
Sean Matthews: Well, the very first thing is, you know, hopefully there’s some overall buy-in about why are you even doing this. If you can’t answer the question why, then you’re just spending a lot of money. But let’s just assume you have a good answer, why are we doing this?
Derek DeWitt: Because it’s a good idea!
Sean Matthews: Yeah! And you’ve mapped out all the things that you believe that this technology can do to help your facility. And so obviously the very first thing would be how many displays, what type, where will they go? That’s the very first step. You know, you need hallway intersections, elevator bays, places where people congregate is, you know, certainly a good location. Um, you know, and since they’re usually multiple teams contributing to this content, that can affect the number of licenses that you need. So, you really wanna work that out in advance.
You’ll also wanna look at, you know, what systems and apps you’re already using that you might want to tie into these screens, you know, for things like KPIs, event schedules, that kind of stuff, and certainly on the alert side as well.
And you’ll also want to think about, you know, hosting your CMS in the cloud or on premise. You know, obviously the cloud is all the buzz these days. Everyone wants to talk about subscriptions and the reduction of work on the IT force if it’s in the cloud, but some people still want a subscription that’s on-premise. So, it’s something to keep in mind. And there are cloud advantages and on-premise advantages, and they can be subscription or perpetual, doesn’t matter.
And you know, I’ll say that, like, one of the coolest places that we have, in terms of the deployments, the University of Wisconsin in Madison. You know, they took the time to create a document that mapped out every single display, it’s branding, what messages go on it, who’s responsible for those messages. And it made the deployment incredibly smooth, like much smoother than most that we see.
Derek DeWitt: That’s kind of the digital signage deployment version of “measure twice, cut once”.
Sean Matthews: Yes, for sure. Yeah. You know, but if you don’t wanna do all of that and go through that exercise, you know, make sure you tell everyone up front. You know, don’t just spring it on them after it’s in place because, you know, you went from a blank wall to now you have all these displays, and you know, people are like, what are we supposed to do with ’em?
Derek DeWitt: So, as I said, we often use the word experience in a lot of our writing and this podcast and other things. We’re talking about employee experience, we’re talking about customer experience, we’re talking about visitor experience. But for busy facility managers who are trying always to streamline systems, digital signage can help with all of these things by unifying visual messaging, alert systems and room management into a single platform that, if it’s web-based, I mean, honestly, can be managed from anywhere, honestly. Right? From the beach.
Sean Matthews: Yeah. That’s my next stop. I’ll be managing this from the beach. So, you know, as we wrap up today’s conversation, I’ll be thinking about that beach investment.
Derek DeWitt: Ah, very nice. Just don’t get sand in your laptop.
Thank you, Sean Matthews, president and CEO of Visix, for talking to me about digital signage and how it can help facility management. Thanks, Sean. Always a pleasure and good to see you in the flesh.
Sean Matthews: Yeah, good seeing you, Derek. I appreciate you taking the time, and, as always, I enjoyed it. Thank you.
Derek DeWitt: All right. Thank you everybody out there again for listening to this episode of Digital Signage Done Right.