EPISODE 116 | Guest: Sean Matthews, president & CEO for Visix
In this InfoComm preview, hear all about the three (count ‘em, three) new products Visix will unveil at this year’s show that all aim to greatly improve the user experience. There’s support for a digital signage player that’s becoming ubiquitous, an affordable solution for office hoteling and hotdesking, and a brand new product that aims to completely disrupt the room booking industry and mindset.
- Hear about Visix digital signage support for the BrightSign player
- Explore the benefits of the new pocket-sized EPS 42 E Ink sign for office hoteling
- Discover how the hybrid workplace is changing habits and expectations
- Learn about Visix’s disruptive new space booking product Choros
- Get information on where to find Visix at InfoComm 2023
Get a free exhibit hall pass and find out more about our new products premiering at IC23 here.
Derek DeWitt: Many businesses and industries kinda show off what they’re coming up with, what’s coming down the pipeline, by attending various trade fairs and events and conferences and so on. In the audiovisual communications space, one of the biggest ones is InfoComm, which happens in the United States every year, bouncing between Orlando, Florida and Las Vegas, Nevada. This year it’s in Orlando, and, as usual, Visix will be there.
To talk with me about what Visix will be showing at InfoComm 2023, I’m speaking with Sean Matthews, president and CEO of Visix. Hi Sean, thanks for talking to me today.
Sean Matthews: Hey, Derek, thanks for having me on. And thanks to everybody listening as well.
Derek DeWitt: Indeed. Thank you everybody for listening to this episode of Digital Signage Done Right. Don’t forget, you can subscribe to the podcast, and you can follow along with a helpful transcript of the conversation Sean and I are about to have on the Visix website. Just go to resources and podcasts, and there will be helpful links as well.
So, Sean, Visix has been going to InfoComm for ages, yeah?
Sean Matthews: Oh yeah, yeah. We, you know, the company’s been around for more than 40 years, originally called Tech Electronics, and the company was a manufacturer of audio, video and control routing devices. And so, you know, we’ve been selling those technologies, or were selling those technologies, through the audiovisual channel 40 years ago. And, of course, we’ve evolved as a business, and we continue to deliver our digital signage and facility management technologies through the AV channel to this day.
Derek DeWitt: I know in the past, Visix has been kind of, I think, at the forefront of a lot of things that now are commonly spoken about in the digital signage and AV communications realms, especially with visual communications. Visix has been talking for a long time about democratizing communications; now suddenly all this technology exists, and all these players are suddenly in the marketplace talking about democratizing communications. Visix was one of the first ones that I know of that started saying, hey, look, it doesn’t just have to be, basically a TV, a display; anything with a screen is potentially a digital sign, and now we’re starting to see that happen as well.
So, Visix has kind of always been kind of pushing the outside of that envelope. What’s gonna happen this year?
Sean Matthews: Yeah, man, I mean, so we have three really cool things that we’re delivering to the market this year.
As you noted, we’ve pioneered a lot of things in the digital signage and visual communication space. You know, we were one of the first to deliver a browser-based solution. Basically, that goes back to 1999, sort of at the end of the dotcom era, you know, we were delivering a dotcom technology.
You know, we pioneered the utilization or the integration of electronic event schedules that would normally be delivered to large form factor displays, “digital signs”, and associating those event schedules or those event calendars down to the individual room. We did not invent the room sign, but we certainly pioneered the utilization of room signs in conjunction with digital signage.
And another notable was that, you know, we pioneered the use of Common Alerting Protocol for emergency alerts in conjunction with digital signs. So basically, wiping the screens clean of normal communications, and replacing them with alert notifications and instructions for what to do in the moment of that alert.
So, you know, we’ve pioneered a lot of stuff in this space, and we’re gonna actually deliver our most disruptive thing, Derek. In fact, so disruptive that there are probably 50 competitors who have invested a lot of money in technologies that they’re delivering today that we basically will render useless in short order.
Derek DeWitt: There you go! That’s, that’s the way you play it!
Sean Matthews: Yeah, it’s, you know, for us, it’s quite exciting. This is our first patent application. For all the things that we’ve done for all these years, this is the first thing that was identifiably patentable. That submission has already occurred, you know, no telling how long it takes to actually get a patent, but we did start the filing, which is, you know, step number one.
Derek DeWitt: What’s this laser gun you guys have invented?
Sean Matthews: Well, I’m gonna save the laser gun for last. Because if I tell, if I say it now, you know, it’ll just ruin the whole story,
Derek DeWitt: Right. You have to listen to the whole episode, folks. Sorry.
Sean Matthews: So, that was the teaser there at the beginning.
But, you know, first and foremost, this is something oddly enough that we did not pioneer at all. In fact, we are the very last guys probably in this space, coming to the table with a solution that supports the BrightSign media player.
Derek DeWitt: Ah, yes, the purple box.
Sean Matthews: Yes, yes, yes. You know, the little purple box, the BrightSign player has become ubiquitous with the AV channel as an appliance that supports HTML5 playback. Pretty basic blended playback, but it’s just a bulletproof device that is an appliance that’s cost effective. And, you know, their approach, very similar to the Roku Box, is they support all of the content management systems that deliver content to those boxes. They’re not really in the CMS business themselves, even though they do have one. Their real offering is a device that connects to any number of the CMSs that are out there.
So, you know, we’re probably the last guy to go out and support, you know, this type of technology. And, quite frankly, it’s because we didn’t see an overwhelming motivation to go support the player simply because our client base was much more interested in the sophisticated data mapping tools that we offer through our Windows media player, and also the blended content layers, the opacity layers those types of visual effects, were more important than the sort of basic HTML5 type playback. So, we’re the last guys there, but we certainly are doing it because our channel partners are looking for support for this ubiquitous device. So that’s, that’s offering number one.
Derek DeWitt: All right. I mean, that makes absolute sense. You know, it’s like, might as well just interface with the purple box, because not everybody wants it, but a lot of people do.
Sean Matthews: Yep. You’re spot on. So, that’s offering number one.
Number two, we’re pretty excited about this one as well. Actually, we’re very excited because this is one of our room sign offerings, which is really no longer just a room sign offering. It’s sort of a space booking offering, right? Meaning it can be associated with work stations, hotel offices, hotdesk environments.
You know, a lot of what’s happening in the hybrid work environment today is driving interest in this new technology, which for us is just a modification of an older technology. And that is an electronic paper sign that comes in a 4.2-inch diagonal viewable screen area, so it’s quite small. But it’s perfectly designed for hotdesk environments or any space where you just need a marker that indicates who might be sitting there and when they might use it. You might include a QR tag that’s tied to a space management platform like AgilQuest, for example, which is an organization that’s deep, deep into space utilization, particularly hoteling and hotdesking in the new hybrid work environment.
You know, about 25% of the US workforce, and, you know, North America’s our main focus, even though we’re in other countries around the world, you know, about 25% of the US workforce can work remotely in some way, shape or form. And so, some subset of that is actually working hybrid or flexible, where they’re remote sometime, but in the office, you know, other days. And you hear about a lot of companies pushing a, you know, two-day office deal, some companies three days, that kind of thing, versus the, you know, all-out call for return to work.
And if you follow anything, not to bore you but, about commercial real estate in the United States, you know, this is an ongoing sort of train wreck because companies, as their leases mature, which commercial leases are very long compared to personal residential leases, you know, as these leases mature, these companies are looking at exactly what Visix did: scaling down the physical space and utilizing that space on a rotational basis, so that people can come in, you know, when they feel like it.
And this EPS 42 technology, which is an E Ink technology, is really powerful for allowing people to see who’s occupying a physical space. And these are very cost effective devices. They’re environmentally, you know, sustainable, because they only consume energy when the imagery changes. So, the EPS 42 is something that we are delivering a lot of. And to put this in perspective, Derek, we have sold and delivered more electronic signs in the first quarter of this year than we did in the previous 12 months. So, it has enormous velocity right now. So, we’re excited about bringing this other tool to market.
Derek DeWitt: It’s interesting, you know, I recently spoke to Daniel Brown, who’s the editor of Digital Signage Today, and he said he was at, not InfoComm but at a different trade show, and he said there’s kind of an ePaper, E Ink sign revolution going on in the digital signage space, which is interesting. You know, everybody’s going, oh, size, size, size, you know, how big can they get? And I know that some company just came out with a big, I think it might even be 60 inches across, like a truly massive one.
And it’s very interesting that Visix has gone the other way with a smaller one to fit this particular use case, which I think, I mean, I know that Forbes and a bunch of other business watchdogs and commentators like to make comments that, especially when a CEO of a big company says some kind of nasty thing about remote work or hybrid work that, oh, yes, this is a failed experiment. But I don’t think it is a failed experiment. I just don’t think it is. I think this is going to be a defining part of the work landscape for the next several decades, for sure. So, it’s interesting that Visix has decided this is how we’re gonna go, is we’re gonna go with this small, sort of hotdesking idea to sort of get in on that trend that I think is going to become the new normal.
Sean Matthews: Yeah, I agree with you. I think, you know, the guys that make these claims that, you know, everybody’s gonna return to work, that kind of stuff, unfortunately, there is a sort of commitment to the past and the way things, you know, have “always been done”. But, you know, remote work has been around for quite some time. Companies like JetBlue, basically, they had their entire call center for booking reservations and tickets were people all across the country who would just check in on the phone system, you know, in that era. People would be dialing 1-800-JETBLUE or whatever it was, and, you know, it was going to these remote, not trying to stereotype, but let’s say housewives, for example.
Derek DeWitt: Yeah, stay-at-home parents.
Sean Matthews: Yes. And they’re, you know, there with their kids or whatever. The kid’s taking a nap, and they’re able to log in and put in an hour’s worth of work as a, you know, ticket reservations assistant or person, you know. So, it’s been around a long time. I saw a documentary more than 10 years ago about IBM, you know, basically shutting down an entire corporate facility and going virtual way before virtual was even a thing. And they were, you know, evaluating the benefits.
And, you know, the CEOs that make the claim that the impromptu conversation, the camaraderie, all that kind of stuff cannot be done, you know, remotely, I think actually what they’re really looking at is they have to pay rent, no matter what, on their current lease. And it’s difficult to justify paying rent for an empty property. It’s just tough.
Derek DeWitt: Yeah, I guess that does make sense. I mean, there is a certain, and, you know, different people have different priorities and different ways that they deal with things. I, myself, I like, sort of working on my own, and I don’t really need to check in with folks that much. Having said that, there are plenty of people out there who this is an important part of the work landscape for them. But I think we’re adapting, we’re finding ways. You know, people are doing things online, they’re doing things through Teams or Slack or other shared work platforms using the web.
And hybrid means, sometimes you do go into the office. I mean, you could certainly coordinate, if you’re all working in the same city, or a bunch of you are working in the same city. If it’s really that important to, you know, seven of you, you could all arrange ahead of time, hey, let’s all go in on Wednesday, you know, and let’s all go have lunch and catch up, and things like that.
So yeah, I think that that’s a bit of a false claim that this is making people depressed and so on. Certainly not the introverts. The introverts are about as pleased as punch with all this stuff because they don’t have to go through the hassle of interacting with people every day.
Sean Matthews: Yeah, yeah, for sure. I mean, and you know, what’s interesting is that, you know, our conversation that we’re having right now, you know, is about, you know, sort of space management and space utilization, and how that factors in to a company like ours who’s really basically been in the sort of visual messaging business, if you kind of get back to the roots of what digital signage is, and how that’s morphed, right? So, that visual messaging is still a part of those workplace environments, because people are going to those spaces. And announcements and the delivery of information, whether it’s on an intranet portal or tied into Teams or something else like that, you know, those are the things that, you know, people get inundated by. Whereas just walking past the display is sort of that passive audience. That’s often where a lot of these messages have the most impact.
But, you know, for us (I talked about this early on), we pioneered sort of the tie-in between event management from a large display all the way down to a room sign, right? And the messaging outside the room sign. You know, the room sign market’s been around for 15 years, Derek, and at my last count, there’s at least 50 companies that have some kind of room sign, whether it be, you know, a true digital sign with the availability lights on it or an electronic paper sign.
But what I was alluding to earlier, Derek, was this technology, this approach, that we look to deliver to really completely redefine how organizations and individuals look at space management and space booking, right? And this is, again, the most disruptive thing that we’ve done.
And, you know, currently, you know Derek, spaces are booked either really one of two ways. One extreme is the room sign itself. So, you can walk up and actually interact with the room sign, book the room, either with credentials or without credentials.
Or at the other extreme, there’s either, you know, an app that can be downloaded to your personal device, or some sort of web portal that allows you to go in and book a room, right? And the apps seem to be a little more popular, in particular, in conjunction with the EPS 42, you know, that we talked about earlier. You can scan the QR code through the app, and you then book the room through the app itself. Of course, you have to download the app and all that kind of stuff.
So, the technology that we’re gonna deliver at the show this year, which is, again, our first patentable technology, is something that really, quite frankly, will render the room sign basically useless and pointless, certainly within the next five to seven years. And I’m making that claim today, just because I believe wholeheartedly in what we’re doing.
You know, the problem with a room sign is, there’s several problems. For example, they’re expensive. They require power and network at the door. There’s fire code restrictions. It’s hardware, it’s gonna fail. And, you know, it’s limited lifespan. They’re not always easy to support. And, most importantly, organizations can’t really afford to have them everywhere that they want them, right? Because they’re expensive.
Derek DeWitt: And they have to be mounted to the wall. And, you know, some, there’s nothing we can do, this particular one gets glare for three hours a day and, you know, it’s kind of hard to see the screen. Like, you know, there’s a whole bunch of things that can go wrong with them.
Sean Matthews: Oh yeah, for sure. And you know, even with our most cost effective solution, the EPS sign, you know, there are RF transmitters that transmit, you know, changes to the signs. And those transmitters are expensive, and they have to be placed geographically close, you know physically close to the signs. And so therefore you, depending on your type of building, a lot of concrete and walls or steel infrastructure or whatever, right, diminishes the ability of the RF transmitters to reach the endpoint. So, you have to add more RF transmitter. So, they’re expensive.
Now, at the other extreme, you know, I mentioned the app. Apps are quite popular with your own personal device. Now, of course, the user has to download it. It’s a B2B app, they don’t wanna download it to their personal device. They’ve gotta find or remember the app name. They’ve gotta find it in the app store. Then they have to log in, and then they have to log in again and again, every time.
The company itself has to manage user accounts. The apps have to be updated; they have to be maintained. And quite frankly, you know, third parties, Apple and Google, they control the OSs, right? So, you know, the world of commercial use apps can be, quite frankly, just a pain to deal with and users stop using them, right?
So, what we’re gonna deliver is a solution that does not require a room sign. It does not require an app. In fact, all it requires is your personal device and access to your camera. And we’re gonna deliver an augmented reality experience to the user for the purpose of booking a space. Not just a room, not just a hot desk, anything that could be bookable, Derek, like I’m talking about a pool table, a parking space, a seat in the break room, some sort of other asset, like a…
Derek DeWitt: Right. An electronic bike.
Sean Matthews: Yes, yes. A scooter of some sort.
Derek DeWitt: A locker.
Sean Matthews: Yep. So, you know, our excitement is that we’re going to completely change the thought process about how you book a space. In fact, a user will just walk up, scan a QR code with their mobile device. Doesn’t even have to be a QR code. It could be a nearfield, an NFC, you know, touchpoint. It could be anything, right? I mean, any type of communication tool that redirects the device to the user interface, which is associated with a URL, which is basically the calendar for whatever that asset is. And so, they’ll have this truly augmented reality experience with the user interface just being, you know, overlaid on their mobile device, which is super, super cool.
Derek DeWitt: So, you need a mobile device with a camera that works (and obviously, I don’t think there are any now that don’t read QR codes), and web access, and that’s it.
Sean Matthews: That’s it. Yeah. I mean, you know, currently there’re, if you look at the numbers out there, they expect, by 2024, to be 1.7 billion projected mobile AR users around the world. You know, AR product experiences are 200% more engaging than non-AR equivalents. I mean, this is the way things are going, you know, from an experiential perspective. Then, you know, you can all think about when, you know, during the pandemic, you’d go to a restaurant and the touchless, you know, menus by scanning a QR code, right? And you got the full experience right on your mobile device.
So, we’re taking what is basically an ordinary experience in making it something, you know, extraordinary. This approach is disruptive, it’s patentable, it is so easy to use that there’s no need for help or any type of instructions. It’s completely innovative. And it’s software only. There is no hardware to manage; just the individual’s personal device.
So, you know, for us, this is just really a super disruptive technology that we’re gonna deliver to market here in the next few months. But we’re certainly gonna show it in June in Orlando.
Derek DeWitt: That’s very cool. And I think that’s right. You know, it kind of brings back something that Visix has been saying for a long time, which is that, you know, anything can be a digital sign. And now anything, anything with a screen and web access and a camera can be used to book a space, a pool table or whatever, it doesn’t matter what it is.
Again, I’m reminded of something that Daniel Brown said. He said that the digital signage space is no longer a silo, and that we’re starting to see, there’s a question of, well, what is a digital sign? So even though this is technically a space management and space booking system, it still falls within that kind of purview, because the concept of digital signage has expanded so much.
Sean Matthews: Yeah. And I think when you get down to what this technology is going to be, you know, used for in the long term, it’s really tied to facilitating the booking and utilization of space in a very, very efficient way.
You know, I’ve already been hit up with questions about, well, what kind of analytics are we gonna produce, blah, blah, blah? We don’t even actually have to worry about analytics. What we’re worried about is the user experience and the simplification of that user experience because this technology is tied to third party space booking platforms. So, everything from Office 365 to Google Calendar, to all these other platforms like, you know, AgilQuest, those guys can produce tons of analytic data in terms of how often it’s used, et cetera.
We’re just super excited about making the booking of a space so user-friendly and simplistic, like, it just becomes second nature.
Derek DeWitt: You’re saying, you’re just extending something that we’re already doing in our personal lives anyway.
Sean Matthews: Oh, yes, most definitely. And I think anyone who has been responsible for, you know, an institutional app management solution, right, they find it incredibly difficult because it’s one thing if you have your employee-issued phone or your government-issued phone or whatever that may be, right, the one that’s not your personal device. You don’t really mind having to put some corporate app on it because it’s part of your job, right, and that phone is part of your job. But when it comes to, you know, users’ personal devices, they are much more reticent to put these, you know, apps on their own device.
Yet IT departments are embracing the whole bring your own device, BYOD, approach. So, you know, you’re at this like odd crossroads, and we just think that more and more people are gonna be bringing their own devices to work and that, you know, unless it’s a government entity, law enforcement, you know, something like that, most organizations aren’t going to want to be in the business of getting you a phone in the first place. Just bring your own.
Even if they have to, you know, allow you to expense, you know, the phone itself, that’s much better than me issuing you a phone and then you quit and you take the phone with you, and I can’t get it back. You know what I mean? There’s all kinds of things about that go with that.
Derek DeWitt: Right. For sure. So, what’s the name of this, of this new thing?
Sean Matthews: All right, so the new product is called Choros. And Choros is a Greek word for dance, but more importantly the place where people gather for this dance, right? So, you know, for us it’s kind of a fun little play. You know, and it’s quite difficult to go trademark names, Derek, that really state what the product is, right? Like Booking or something like that, right? Those names have all been taken and, you know, you find yourself in lawsuits and cease and desist orders, that kind of thing. So, we feel like that this name works well, and we’re excited to deliver it.
Derek DeWitt: Okay. And is that, obviously Greek has its own alphabet, rendered into the Latin alphabet, are you doing it with the ch or with the k?
Sean Matthews: It is a ch, yes. Somebody else already owns the k, so we had to go a different one.
Derek DeWitt: There you go. So that’s C-H-O-R-O-S, Choros. It is the new disruptive technology for booking spaces, desks, meeting rooms, bicycles, anything. I mean, honestly, it could even be company cars, it could be anything at all. It doesn’t really matter.
So, these are the things that are coming up at InfoComm in Orlando, Florida, which happens June 14th through 16th this year. Visix is at booth 2942. That is 2-9-4-2. And you can see that they now support the purple box, BrightSign. They have an adorable little, but very efficient, ePaper E Ink room sign kind of a thing, I guess, yeah?
Sean Matthews: Yeah, yeah.
Derek DeWitt: And Choros, the new space management, space booking system for BYOD and using AR, but no app. So there you go. That’s, perhaps that’s the wave of the future. We certainly think it just might be.
Sean Matthews: Most definitely, Derek. I think, you know, we’re excited to deliver these technologies to the show, and we think most people will find them very cool, very useful, and they’ll be very receptive.
Derek DeWitt: All right. So again, make sure to stop by booth 2942 at InfoComm, June 14th through 16th, and check out all this great stuff.
I’d like to thank Sean Matthews, president and CEO of Visix, Inc. for talking to me today about what’s coming up at InfoComm. Thanks, Sean. Sounds exciting. I wish I was going!
Sean Matthews: Thank you, Derek. We look forward to, next time, you making the trip.
Derek DeWitt: All right, that sounds great. And again, please don’t forget that you can follow along with a transcript of the conversation we just had on the Visix website. Just go to Visix.com/Resources/Podcasts, and obviously this episode.