Metrics and Measures on Digital Signs

EPISODE 11 | Guest: Sean Matthews, president and CEO of Visix

The modern workplace thrives on data – it stimulates teamwork, drives performances, provides transparency, and allows the organization to see how they’re performing against goals. Since you’re already using your screens to motivate your audience, it’s just common sense to include metrics on digital signs.

In this episode, we’ll look at data mapping, data-triggered content, data visualizations and other unique ways to use your digital signs to create a productive and mutually beneficial feedback loop between management and employees.

  • Learn how metrics on digital signs can affect human behavior
  • Explore data mapping to external sources
  • Understand data-triggered content and how it is different
  • Know the difference between data visualizations and dashboards
  • Get real-world examples of metrics and gamification

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Learn more about this topic in our Masterclass Guide 2: Digital Signage Communications Planning


Derek DeWitt: Much of being an effective communicator is having good feedback systems in place. Employees want to know how they’re being evaluated, not just that they’re being evaluated on how they perform but how they’re being evaluated. And, especially today, they really expect constant feedback, in today’s world. Digital signage is really kind of a great place to keep people informed about things like progress towards goals, whether it’s for individuals or teams or the whole organization. But what should you measure, and how can you get that information onto the screens in a way that’s engaging and easy to understand and digest? To help answer those questions. I’m here with Sean Matthews, president and CEO of Visix. Hi, Sean.

Sean Matthews: How are you Derek? I appreciate you having me.

Derek DeWitt: Thank you. I’d like to thank Sean for talking to us and thank all of you for listening.

Derek DeWitt: So, I know there are lots and lots and lots of ways to measure performance. The thing that’s kind of being used now in a lot in businesses is called the Third Generation Balanced Scorecard, which is [that] we kind of shift from you know, performance evaluation – which is that once, maybe twice a year review which almost feels like a test and makes everybody really nervous – to something much more frequent, which is called Performance Measurement – which happens much more frequently; it’s kind of ongoing. A lot of the metrics that are used today, so managers and higher-ups can determine whether or not a project[‘s], or even an organization’s, health is good is…they have these seven criteria which are: safety, time, cost, resources, scope, quality and action. And these are all these different sorts of metrics that can trigger specific performance-related actions – encourage improvement, increase effectiveness, and so on and so forth. How does this work for digital signage? How can digital signage help assist this process?

Sean Matthews: When you think about an organization, and you and I can meet as individuals and conduct a review, or we can meet as a team and conduct a team review, but it’s not really out for everyone to see. So, in the world of digital signage, you start adding displays around the organization; visual endpoints that are everywhere. And basically, everyone begins to see how the organization is performing overall.

And so, we can drill into certain subsets of that, either through touchscreen interactivity or just the way we feed the screens information, and we can affect what is on screen. [And] in exchange for that, we can affect human behavior and attempt to alter the course of whatever performance direction we are currently heading [in]. And so, sort of the visualization of that information throughout the organization has a profound effect, because it does tend to encourage behavioral change.

Derek DeWitt: So tell me about KPIs – key performance indicators.

Sean Matthews: There’s a lot of talk these days about big data. You hear about it everywhere, and everybody wants to take big data and turn it into some sort of visualization. And that big data is comprised of key performance indicators. You know, we’re trying to measure the performance of our operation in general, right? And so our operation, we may have very specific measurable things that we’re looking to achieve and they’re relevant to our organization, relevant to our organizational culture. And often these indicators are bracketed by periods of time – we need to accomplish these things in this period of time because it’s important, not just to our bottom line, but the overall health of our business.

Derek DeWitt: Right, or project or whatever. I mean, it’s one of those things that seems counterintuitive that you would think that if you care about something you would then measure it, but in fact it turns out that whatever the organization measures is what they then care about. Because that’s how they decide what a “win” is or they define what “success” is.

Sean Matthews: Yeah. In fact, you bring up a great point. Like if in our business, if we measure our software support team on the number of tickets they close, and that’s important to us let’s say, then they’re going to work to close as many tickets as possible. However, closing tickets does not always mean that the client who called in received the support that they needed or received the answer that they needed, right? And so, they don’t get the helping hand that they were expecting. But I’ll be damned, we closed the ticket.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. They called, I said, “I can’t help you, goodbye”, click, and close the ticket.

Sean Matthews: Right. Which is very different than if you call someplace like Zappos, and you get the most white-glove customer service you could possibly get. But I will say this – aside from things like that, that are measurable in that way…I’ll use this one example that I think most people could relate to. If you think about the impact it might have on your business, you think about safety first. If our core corporate culture is “safety first”, it doesn’t matter if it’s a pure manufacturing facility or some kind of production organization, if safety is important to our culture because it affects productivity, employee availability, insurance underwriting, it affects our insurance, you know, costs for employee medical and healthcare, right? So, let’s say it affects a lot of things. And in our particular business, that’s an important cultural thing that we want to address.

So, not only do we have days of running clocks of how many days we’ve been without incident, but we also have reminders and important things for people to think about related to safety. And our objective is to affect human behavior and make us all extremely conscious of safety tips that we need to be aware of. So we always use this example of, we have a client whose little tagline is something to the effect of, “Watch out! Forklifts are everywhere.” In their world, that’s important. So you can imagine though, when people are stopping at intersections in a warehouse facility and there are a lot of forklifts, that they’re not stopping at intersections, they’re taking steps to step into safety areas that are off the forklift grid. You know what I mean? It permeates their organization.

Derek DeWitt: It has to become second nature to them to do this or else accidents happen.

Sean Matthews: Yes. And if accidents happen, we lose productivity, we lose valuable people resources and therefore we’re less productive. And it affects all those other insurance costs which impact the bottom line.

Derek DeWitt: Plus, you know, injured worker.

Sean Matthews: That’s correct. Yeah. Yeah.

Derek DeWitt: Now he has eight fingers.

Sean Matthews: Yup. And so, you know that to me is a great example of a top-down key performance indicator that we want to measure. But you know, there’s other types of measurements that crop up in organizations.

Derek DeWitt: Like what?

Sean Matthews: You have employee-led metrics, which, you know, you could argue that, well that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but let’s say,…

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, what do they know?

Sean Matthews: So, but what they do know is that as younger generations come into an organization that might be a GE, a hundred-year-old organization who may be a little set in their ways when it comes to certain indicators or performance indicators; where you might have another generation of employees, for example, that they want to have a positive impact on energy consumption and waste reduction. And so now you start incorporating real-time data, which reflects energy consumption and waste reduction. And you’re delivering that information in real time on every part of our business in terms of the visual saturation. And then people began to realize that, “Wow, we do consume a lot of energy!” And then you start incorporating tips for how to reduce that consumption. You know, people leave their phone chargers plugged into the wall with the little LED on there…

Derek DeWitt: Vampire load.

Sean Matthews: Yeah. All the time. And people don’t think about it, right? And maybe you grew up in a household that, maybe that wasn’t important in your family household, but to this corporate culture, it’s important. And they’re asking you to turn off your monitors, to actually remove the vampire consumption out of your office at the end of the day, or your workstation or whatever space that you’re using. And that goes throughout the organization instead of just being limited to some sort of corporate campaign. This is driven by peers from the bottom up.

Derek DeWitt: Why should we show them on digital signs? I mean just to disseminate them more widely or…?

Sean Matthews: No, I mean that’s kind of…we’ve talked in the past in other conversations about just doing it for the sake of doing it. But the reality is that if we have a well-saturated organization, with a lot of visuals that are effectively delivering information to passersby, then it is much more efficient than memos that we might send out; email is crazy, over the top…

Derek DeWitt: Yes, one of a hundred I got that day.

Sean Matthews: That’s correct. And I cannot monitor every social feed that my company participates in, whether it be LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, you know, Pinterest. It just goes on and on, and I just can’t monitor those things all the time. I’m trying to do my job. So, on the way to have lunch or on my way out the visit out the building, I realize that, “Wow, I need to think about this message that was displayed a little more tomorrow than I did today.”

And so it’s a great medium to deliver that information. And of course, the cool thing about this technology, which is different than printed signs – we’ve all been to someplace where they have the little board that says, you know, “37 days without incident” compared to last time.

Derek DeWitt: Right, they have to change the number each day.

Sean Matthews: With this technology, you can integrate with other data collection systems, so that as the information updates and the key performance indicators update, they update on screen. And so there’s not any human intervention, so there’s no workload.

Derek DeWitt: So they’re just boom automatic because you put it, whatever, in a spreadsheet…because it feeds from that. It pulls it in.

Sean Matthews: Yeah. And you mentioned we can pull data from things like simple Excel spreadsheets. But you know, there are other technologies that are automatically populating – XML sources, JSON files, SharePoint. There’s other collaboration technologies that are automatically being populated by the performance from a production line or a phone switch or internet switch or whatever. And so you have no involvement whatsoever. It’s just happening based on the productivity of the individuals or the machines that are helping in that production process.

Derek DeWitt: I’ve heard it said good metrics sort of create a positive work environment.

Sean Matthews: Yeah, I mean they do. Because, of course, if we have good metrics and they’re, let’s say the metrics are all positive, we feel good about what we’re doing, and we’re being basically patted on the back for our overall productivity and the performance of our organization and/or the things that we think are important. And of course, if it’s [that] the signs are all red and they’re not green for the day, we know that there are things that I can do to effect positive change in this organization. And I see it – as I passed by in the hallway this morning, it was red, by one o’clock we’re to yellow, and by four o’clock we’re to green.

Derek DeWitt: Back to green!

Sean Matthews: Back to green.

Derek DeWitt: I think it lessens the sting of a negative piece of information of some sort. You know, like, “Hey, this is what we’re doing right, this is what we’re doing right, oop, there’s a blip – let’s try and fix that, guys. Back we go. Here we go, here we go.” Whereas if it’s always just “this is what you’re doing wrong, this is what you’re doing wrong, this is what you’re doing wrong”, it’s almost like an abusive relationship. It’s not motivating.

Sean Matthews: Yeah. I mean it ultimately leads to a sense of ownership; I mean individually. There they feel like they’re in power to effect change, and they feel like they own a piece of the responsibility which ultimately contributes to their own intrinsic motivation and boosting that motivation. So from my perspective, and I think that of many others, the platform is well designed to deliver dynamic information that affects human behavior. And we can recognize that performance and then further, us take ownership for what it is that we need to do to affect change.

Derek DeWitt: Let’s talk about data-triggered content and data mapping. What’s the difference? Is a KPI part of this, is it separate?

Sean Matthews: If you think about data mapping, really what we’re doing there is we’re just tying two sources together, so that we’re pulling data from some other data source, right? And so, what we’re doing is we’re taking that data from some data source and we’re posting it on screen. And I think a great example of this would be like event schedules. We’re taking the events scheduled from Exchange, and we’re simply formatting in a way that makes sense on a big screen. So, today’s events that are going on, on this floor, in this conference room, it doesn’t matter, in this building. So, that’s a great example, I think, of just data mapping. We’re just pulling data, right?

But data-triggered content, which is slightly different, is conditional logic. If this happens, then show this, right? So a great example would be – we’ll back up one. So data mapping, like if we want to map to the weather, right? You know, we want to map to event schedules, RSS feeds, you know, that kind of stuff. But data-triggered content, when you go back to weather, if it’s sunny, show the sunshine, right?

Derek DeWitt:  Oh right, change the icon or something.

Sean Matthews: Right. If it’s raining outside, we want the background to look like it’s raining. So it’s if-then sort of conditional logic. But when you think about key performance indicators, you know, the easiest one to think about is the stock market. If the market’s up, the arrow is green; if the market’s down, the arrow is red and it’s pointing down.

Derek DeWitt: Frowny face.

Sean Matthews: Yup. So, that’s the same kind of thing. So, when you get to triggered content, data-trigger content, you’re talking about swapping imagery, you’re color-coding things. So, even the words can change colors on screen. So not only artistic elements, you can, if you’re thinking about, we’re contributing to a fund in our organization that’s going to go to a nonprofit or something that we all agree to. So we can have a thermometer, and as our contributions build up in the thermometer, the thermometer’s temperature changes, it fills up. That kind of thing. And you see that at lots of organizations when they’re looking for donations or we’re working towards some sort of contribution.

And really, you want all this stuff to be completely automated, so that the designers are building a campaign and this campaign is set around KPIs that we believe are important. And as we perform against those objectives, then the visualization on screen changes. And so the designers create basically the campaign theme. The data automatically changes the elements on screen based on the parameters that we defined. And then that’s what you see, is the motivating factor for we’re 99% there. We need one more percent that meet our goals, right?

Derek DeWitt:  Someone just push!

Sean Matthews: Just push a little bit harder, right?

Derek DeWitt: A little bit more, boys…or girls. How do you design these sort of data visualizations? I mean, I assume there’s a whole range of options out there. I mean, how do you even determine…should it be a thermometer, for example, for that drive or should it be an arrow, or should it be a person running? How do you even make these kinds of decisions?

Sean Matthews: Well, there’s a lot of information out there that you can find. It provides examples, but a lot of [it] is experimentation. Like when we create these visualizations, and I don’t want to confuse data visualization with just like data-triggered content because visualizations are often much more elaborate than just data-triggered art or text changes, that kind of stuff. And so, when you look at products that have entire dashboards that are built for like Power BI from Microsoft, where they’re tracking network performance across big swaths of the country or whatever, so those sorts of visualizations often are indicators of things that might be wrong here. You’re looking for negative blips that might be happening. But of course what you want to really consider is – if this is information that’s designed for a passerby, you can’t really deliver an entire dashboard to that surface. Because they’re going to pass by, and if they see four quadrants of charts, that’s not going to really convey anything unless they’re all going down or all going up, right?

Derek DeWitt: “Something’s wrong!”

Sean Matthews: So it needs to be, instead of all four quadrants, which is quite common in some of these dashboards, it’s just one quadrant, and it’s the one that means the most to us, right? Or that we think that a passerby can understand; it’s clear. And then they could go back to their workstation, or wherever it is that they’re going, and have some kind of effect on that information. And so, you don’t want to overcrowd the space on screens like this. You do want to use charts and graphs that are very visual, and they’re easily understood by the passerby.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. There’s a lot of visual information that you can get across in just a good graph.

Sean Matthews: Yeah, that’s correct.

Derek DeWitt: Pie chart – boom!

Sean Matthews: And you want high contrast in colors and these sorts of settings, right? You’re not conveying, you’re not writing a budget text to convey a story. What you’re doing is delivering a visual that’s going to cause me to behave in a different way, because I know that visual is either all positive or all negative or it’s just flat, and I want to be able to decipher that as I pass by. And of course, in the end, if you can incorporate some sort of call to action, again, “Forklifts are everywhere”, you know…

Derek DeWitt: “Don’t get smooshed.”

Sean Matthews: Yes! “Use the safety lanes in the warehouse”, and that’s the kind of thing that you want to do. And so it’s a reminder, it’s a call to action, “Use the safety lanes”, and that’s an important piece.

Derek DeWitt: What about this idea of, I don’t know, sort of gamifying it? Like, hey, you know what? If there’s different departments for example, or different teams that are all not necessarily working on the same project, but there’s some measurement that applies to both of them. Like you said, for example reducing energy use. Does that work? I know that you’ve written about this in the past, but I mean, do people do this? Would it work? Does it work?

Sean Matthews: It does work. In fact, I had the sort of luxury or benefit of being in a conference, and it was a roundtable session that happened to be mediating this meeting. And there was a guy in the audience who, his company and he was completely tasked with the gamification of performance in their operation.

Derek DeWitt: That’s his job.

Sean Matthews: That’s his job. And historically what they were doing is, they were doing sort of ESPN-style interviews, right? And they were asking questions of how you were doing against your performance. But they took it beyond just these sort of ESPN-style interviews that ended up on their intranet. So, they outfit their entire facility, and they were not using our technology but similar technology, and this gentleman’s task was to create leaderboards on a daily basis. And what was interesting is every employee had their own performance indicator. And it didn’t matter if you were a salesperson, a support person, an admin person, we all had certain things that we had to accomplish on a daily basis. And there was a formula that levelized our performance. So, if you’re a salesperson and you were responsible for generating 27 phone calls a day and four proposals, they were able to levelize that against the support person who was responsible for three implementations and 27 help desk tickets per day. So there was a form…

Derek DeWitt: Somehow, they all become essentially equivalent.

Sean Matthews: That’s correct. Right. So, your performance is no different than mine in terms of its measure. And so every day, it didn’t matter if you were the top dog salesperson or the top dog admin person, there was a fight to be on the leaderboard, right?

Derek DeWitt: Of course there was.

Sean Matthews: And so, the leaderboard was published everywhere, and it created this sort of gamification concept. And they still did the ESPN-style interviews, but it was, the interview then became, “So Derek, how do you do it every day? You’ve been on the leaderboard for seven straight days?”

Derek DeWitt: Well, when you’re the best, you’re the best.

Sean Matthews: Yeah! But it created this sense of excitement in you. People get enamored with being on television and, you know, it’s not every day that people end up on TV. So even that little exposure, even if people are embarrassed by it, you know…

Derek DeWitt: They kinda secretly like it.

Sean Matthews: They do secretly like it. It’s why the kids Snapchat 24/7, right? They secretly like their picture being there.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, for sure. Going all the way from very, very simple measurements, all the way to complicated dashboards and data visualizations, to even crazily-gamified things like this – there’s a lot of scope for using metrics and measurement on digital signage, actually affecting change that you can see that day.

Sean Matthews: Yes. And that’s the objective. You know, you want to use this realtime platform to deliver as much as you can in real time so that you do affect the behavior then and in the future.

Derek DeWitt: Wow. Fantastic. Thank you for talking to us, Mr. Sean Matthews.

Sean Matthews: Thank you, Derek. Glad to be here.

Derek DeWitt: And thank you, all of you, for listening.