Why You Need Room Signs Instead of Tablets

EPISODE 42 | Guests: Sean Matthews, president & CEO of Visix and Joe Murray, system engineer, Visix, Inc.

For space management, nothing is as effective as digital room signs. They’re more efficient, more flexible and even more cost effective over time. And while it might be tempting to just use consumer-grade tablets, room signs are purpose-built for enterprise applications.

Sean and Joe talk about the different room sign solutions that Visix offers, which works best in what environment and what features are best for different user scenarios. They also cover the shortcomings of trying to use tablets to display event schedules 24/7.

And yes, this podcast episode is about specific Visix products. It’s our podcast, after all. And even if you’re shopping for room signs from several vendors, this podcast will give you some helpful tips.

  • Learn why room signs are the essential modern space management solution
  • Meet the most customizable room sign in the world – the Touch10
  • Consider Connect room signs for turnkey room and resource management
  • Manage collab and hoteling spaces with wireless electronic paper (EPS) E Ink room signs
  • Understand what type of room signs work best in different environments
  • Hear the disadvantages of using consumer tablets instead of purpose-built room signs

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Derek DeWitt: Managing spaces in an organization can be rather challenging. Sometimes meeting rooms and common spaces that everybody uses are the most popular things. And you probably don’t have enough to go around, truth be told. So you really need to figure out a way to manage them in some way, shape or form. That’s why there are room signs. So we’re going to talk about why room signs are an awfully good idea. I’m going to sit here and talk with Sean Matthews, president and CEO of Visix. Hello, Sean.

Sean Matthews: Hello, Derek. Thanks for having me.

Derek DeWitt: And I’m here with Joe Murray, systems engineer and architect, also for Visix. Hi, Joe.

Joe Murray: How’s it going?

Derek DeWitt: Good. Good. Good. I’d like to thank the both of you for coming on and talking to me today. And I’d like to thank all of you for listening.

So, I’ve got all these spaces in my organization. I need some help managing it all so that it’s not a kluge. How can room signs help me?

Sean Matthews: Well, I mean, room signs had been around now for, electronic room signs have been around for about 15, 18 years. And we got involved in that particular market segment simply because the most popular deliverable on digital signs happens to be event schedules. And the room sign is just an extension of that event schedule, down to the individual room itself. So, there’s an individual calendar associated with each room, and you can either book that room from the normal applications that you use, or in some cases with interactive room signs, you can walk up in book the room if it’s available right at the door.

Derek DeWitt: That’s like a touchscreen?

Sean Matthews: Yes.

Derek DeWitt: They’re certainly modern, I’d say. I mean, instead of making a bunch of photocopies or handwritten signs and sticking them up, it doesn’t look so great when the corporate big boys are coming.

Sean Matthews: Yeah. I mean, so what we would see historically is that, you know, an administrative assistant would walk around the building every day, or an intern, and they would replace the 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper that had today’s events, you know, printed out of Exchange or Outlook or whatever it was at that time. And it would be inserted into a little plastic folder mounted on the wall. And of course they would do that every day, day in and day out. And of course, if anything changed throughout the day, either somebody used a marker and crossed it out, or they printed a new piece of paper and redelivered it. So it was, you know, it was sort of a caveman-like updating, right?

Derek DeWitt: And whoever had the nicest handwriting got stuck with the job.

Joe Murray: Right.

Sean Matthews: That’s correct. Yeah. Particularly if you couldn’t print out a new version. So, you know, if you think about the effectiveness of the room sign, I mean, it really provides individuals with up-to-date information with regards to whether or not the room is available. And that’s most important today in organizations where these open floor space designs are really gaining in popularity, and so the hoteling space is used throughout the day. And it’s often that people are looking for a place to go work and, you know, close the door and huddle up and work on a project. And there are far fewer of those rooms than there are open spaces. So availability definitely becomes an issue.

Derek DeWitt: Right. A lot of these have availability lights on them, right? Where red means it’s occupied….

Joe Murray: Correct. Yeah. So we actually have two models that have the availability lights. We’ve got the Connect room signs, which have those red and green lights. And then we have the Touch10 room signs, which also have the red and green lights on them.

Sean Matthews: And we’ve talked about, you know, sometimes people want to have a little, if you look down the hall and you can see that room light bar is an amber color, that might mean that there’s 10 minutes left or five minutes left.

Joe Murray: Right. Exactly.

Derek DeWitt: Oh, I see! So, it’s gonna free up soon.

Joe Murray: Exactly. So we’re looking into that with Signage Suite and our Touch10s because those are actually RGB LEDs in those units; they can be any color we want. And so potentially a little sneak peek on the podcast for you right there.

Derek DeWitt: Wow. That’s super exciting. Obviously the EPS, the electronic paper signs, they don’t have these availability lights, right?

Joe Murray: Exactly, yes. They are paperwhite displays themselves. Sort of like a Kindle, you know, you get that really cool, very printed text look and feel to the displays themselves, but no LEDs.

Derek DeWitt: Are they back lit at all?

Joe Murray: They’re not back lit. But just like sort of a piece of paper you don’t generally need that. They work well in very low light scenarios, obviously pitch black you’re gonna have a problem, but it works well in a high range of lights, basically. Which is great. That’s exactly what we wanted; no eye strain for those.

Sean Matthews: So, we have basically three different products, as Joe described. And from a market segmentation perspective, the Touch10 room sign is a highly customizable interactive sign that includes really virtually an unlimited number of interactive elements, including wayfinding, directories, event schedule manipulation. I mean, it’s a full blown interactive sign.

Our Connect room sign is designed to be a much more standalone room sign product. It’s prepackaged software. It’s an Android solution that’s very easy to bring up and online quickly.

Derek DeWitt: So that’s an out of the box, boom, it’s ready to go.

Sean Matthews: That’s correct. Yeah. So the Touch product can be out of the box, but it’s fundamental design is such that it can be fully customized. You can fully brand that, you know, design, plus the user experience can be whatever you want it to be versus a shrink-wrapped product, which is a much more cost effective, but it’s designed with more constraints. But as a result, it’s very effective at what it does in the room management world.

The third product that we have in our offering, which Joe just mentioned, was the electronic paper sign based on the E Ink platform. And that’s a much different technology because it only consumes any power or energy whenever the image or the event schedule is being updated.

Derek DeWitt: Right, when it changes.

Joe Murray: Exactly.

Sean Matthews: Yup. Other than that, it’s completely wireless. It also includes, or you can choose as an included option, customized frames to go around it, so you can brand it to the architectural design or the interior design of the building that you’re trying to match it to.

Joe Murray: Right. So we definitely hit, you know, basically every product category. Just like Sean said, you’ve got the Touch10s, which you’re going to want to customize. They’re just so cool. You can change basically any aspect you want on screen.

Derek DeWitt: And by that you mean what? Colors, fonts?

Joe Murray: Oh, anything, honestly, behaviors, hotspots, your fonts, coloring. It’s basically anything you want, we can probably put on that Touch10. So, it’s great. Now we do have out of the box stuff, like you said, so, you know, we have these Signage Suite bundles where you can just download them onto your server and, you know, get that going if you want to hit the ground running. But you’re going to want to make changes, because every customer does, you want to brand stuff. So, that’s what the Touch10s do.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, that’s the truism: give somebody a template, and the first thing they want to do is change it.

Joe Murray: Yeah, exactly. But if you do want to be more standalone, if you do want to be more just turnkey out of the box, then that’s really what the Connects are for, and the paper-white as well. So we really have something for everyone. And then yeah, the paper-white’s being wireless, just, you know, a lot of people love that.

Derek DeWitt: You just pick them up and how do they mount? Is it like Velcro or something?

Joe Murray: It’s like a double-sided tape solution, basically.

Derek DeWitt: Because they’re really light.

Joe Murray: They’re very lightweight and there are truly no wires involved whatsoever because it’s powered with just a handful of button cell batteries. And they go for, depending on how much your schedule changes, they usually go for months and months at a time. It’s great.

Derek DeWitt: And then you just swap the batteries.

Joe Murray: Exactly. Yeah.

Sean Matthews: Yeah, the Connect room sign, from a mounting perspective, people often ask about, you know, the lightweight mounting techniques that we use, you know, can easily be removed from the wall. But we also include a mounting bracket that can be mounted to the wall using drywall anchors. So, if you’re mounting in that environment…

Derek DeWitt: If you’re confident this is going to stay.

Sean Matthews: Yep.

Sean Matthews: And in that particular case scenario, we include security screws as well. So that some kid can’t just walk along and take it off the wall without ripping up the wall.

Derek DeWitt: Right. Some kid. And glass mounting, too, I think you guys have.

Sean Matthews: On the glass mount side, you know, we just incorporate some 3M quality products where we’re just using, really, adhesive bonding to mount to glass.

Derek DeWitt: Make sure that glass is clean.

Joe Murray: Seriously!

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, because otherwise it’s going to fall off.

Joe Murray: Yeah, there’s going to be problems.

Derek DeWitt: Don’t blame me. What about integrating with something like RoomBoard™ and interactive wayfinding as a part of it all? How does that work?

Joe Murray: So that’s definitely more of our Touch10s. You know, our creative department loves working with Signage Suite. We definitely used a lot of their input when designing Signage Suite. And so their creative projects can integrate really well with AxisTV Engage. And so if you see yourself using more wayfinding stuff, more RoomBoard™ stuff, and you really want it to be just perfectly customized to exactly what you want, probably the Touch10s are going to be best for you, because our Connect series doesn’t really integrate with our creative project, and our paper-white solution doesn’t really either. So really, you know, Signage Suite, Engage and Touch10s are going to be what you want for that.

Sean Matthews: And the idea behind the RoomBoard™ is, to be clear, in an where you might have a lot of different rooms that are available for booking or hoteling spaces, which might be workstations. Imagine you walk into the lobby and there’s an electronic sign there, a digital sign, which has a layout of the particular floor. And you can see from that layout in the lobby, which spaces are available.

Derek DeWitt: Right then and there.

Sean Matthews: Right. And so you can book them from that location. And then, of course, then it populates the room sign itself, which is actually the destination. So it’s interactivity at the lobby before you even get back into the space.

Derek DeWitt: So, I don’t have to go and actually go…though I can, if I’m in front of the sign, I can book stuff right there at the sign.

Joe Murray: Correct.

Derek DeWitt: Extend meetings or whatever, and cancel them. But you can, with the RoomBoard™, you could do that from anywhere.

Sean Matthews: Well, like in a lobby.

Joe Murray: You’ve got basically, I guess the ideal scenario for the RoomBoard™ is you’ve got a very large touchscreen of some sort and just is really an eye catch. And you know, and then you’ve got the little Touch10s, which are their endpoints usually in front of the meeting rooms. And so you get this really cool sort of full experience.

Derek DeWitt: Well, that all sounds quite interesting. And yet I think a lot of people are going to ask, “Well, why don’t I just use a tablet? Isn’t it the same thing? Why should I buy this room sign when I can just go get a consumer grade tablet?”

Joe Murray: Right. And I mean, the idea is certainly tempting. You know, we’re used to our consumer grade products and we use our iPads and our Android tablets all the time. So why not just, you know, duct tape that to a wall and call it a day.

And unfortunately, those devices are meant to do a whole bunch of things pretty well, but no one thing stupid well. And so you end up running into an issue where you can’t customize it as much as one of our Touch10s; it’s not purpose-built to do that, so you might get more screen burn in; you’re going to have to handle updates in a more clunky manner than our own products which have remote upgrade capabilities. It’s just not ideal. You know, our stuff is going to be more rugged. We really designed it with constant use in mind as opposed to a tablet, which is not supposed to be on 24/7.

Derek DeWitt: Right. I mean, they overheat.

Joe Murray: Exactly. You’re just going to hit problems.

Sean Matthews: Yeah. Other disadvantages to the tablet approach is that the consumer grade tablet runs on one 110 AC, and so someone’s going to have to run an electrical drop to that space. The cost associated with that electrical drop far exceeds the low voltage job of running a PoE pull, which is going to take care of both data and power.

Derek DeWitt: And that’s Power over Ethernet.

Sean Matthews: Correct. And additionally, so once you even have the power pulled to that location, mounting a consumer grade device to a dry wall or cinder block wall, or some other surface, even glass mount, the product was never designed to be mounted in that fashion. And so, you know, it’s one thing to simply mount it with like a pop socket or something like that. But the reality is that you can walk away with that device. And of course a tablet is much more appealing and something to walk away with than a purpose built device that has, you know, a very specific purpose, which includes availability lights, and most of the tablets don’t really have any support for these third party availability lights.

Derek DeWitt: And of course, when it comes to integrating with, say, calendaring systems, again, because room signs are, they’re created for this purpose.

Joe Murray: That is what our software does on these signs.

Derek DeWitt: That’s all it does, yeah. Like, you’re not going to watch cat videos on a Touch10.

Joe Murray: Right. You’re not going to get distracted with other stuff. You’re not going to open up Chrome, you know, on one of our systems, meanwhile, with an iPad or something…

Derek DeWitt: Check your email.

Joe Murray: Yeah. You’re just going to be like, “I’m just going to open up a web browser and start messing around”. Then who knows what state you’re going to leave it in after that.

Derek DeWitt: Exactly. I can imagine the mischief. Or then you have to turn the touchscreen off, and then…

Joe Murray: That defeats the purpose of a lot of this.

Derek DeWitt: What’s the point of even having that? Right. What about resource tracking? By that I mean, I think some of your room signs allow you to say, hey, in this room, there’s a projector, there’s this, there’s that, there’s, whatever, a fish tank. I don’t know what….

Joe Murray: Yeah. So Connect, out of the box has some pretty basic resource management. So basically you can say things like, oh yeah, we’ve got a conference phone in here, we’ve got a projector, we’ve got a whiteboard and then those icons will pop up at the top right of your Connect room sign. And then let’s say the projector bulb goes out or something, it’s got to be replaced; a user can actually go to the Connect room sign, tap the little projector icon at the top right, and then it’ll actually, you can configure it to send an email to IT and say like, oh hey, users reported that the projector’s out, that the internet’s out, the WiFi is out, something like that. Which is pretty nice, you know, as opposed to…

Derek DeWitt: … sending someone around to check and go, Oh, this is this.

Joe Murray: Exactly.

Sean Matthews: And the other piece to that, of course it does create a permanent record of what went wrong in that room. So, from a facilities and purchasing perspective, it affords buyers the opportunity to look back at the trouble tickets that exist for a particular room to understand which technologies they purchased in that room, which ones were used, which ones failed more often. So that as they begin looking at their enterprise resource planning for the next year or whatever, and budgeting for that year, they might steer away from certain technologies that either went unused or appeared to have a tendency to fail more often.

And sometimes we know that it’s not necessarily a technical failure. It’s just that they’ve chosen the technology that the typical user isn’t either comfortable with or doesn’t understand. Therefore, they report it as failing. And again, that helps these buyers understand that, hey, these types of technologies aren’t working well, not because they’re technologically deficient, but our users don’t understand how to use them.

Derek DeWitt: Right. So either we need to replace them or get some training out there. Am I wrong that very often, if you use, it’s not even if you open it up, if you use a consumer grade tablet in a commercial environment, very often, that will just void the warranty.

Joe Murray: It certainly can. It certainly can. Because again, like I was saying earlier, they’re just not meant to be on 24/7. At least their screens are not meant to be on 24/7. You’ll start getting weird issues like backlight bleed, you know, where the picture will look weird. You’ll start getting dead pixels more often. You’ll get a lot of screen burn in. You’ll have heat issues.

Listen, I love tablets as much as the next guy, but they’re really not meant for enterprise applications for the most part. That’s what more specialized enterprise grade hardware like ours is meant to do.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. It’s very tempting, I think, though.

So, you’ve got the three different products, each one kind of almost for a different environment, it seems. What would be the best environments for these, like Connect versus Touch10 versus EPS?

Joe Murray: So, I would say Touch is certainly for people who want to have the most flexibility and want to be able to change any element on screen and want to have the most interactivity as well. Because you can use two-way booking or use one of our own creative projects or you can make your own functionality via hotspots in Engage. So, definitely the most flexible environments need Touch.

And then if you need a little less flexibility and really just want the core two-way booking functionality, that’s really what Connect would be for. And you know, it still offers some, you know, minor changes. You can change, some of the font attributes, you can change, you know, the background picture, things like that, but pretty minimal more out of the box, ready to go stuff. And then you’ve got paperwhite, which I think you guys had a specific case study you were thinking of for that?

Sean Matthews: Yeah. And I think another way to look at, aside from the technological aspects and the feature aspects, are, you know, use case scenarios. And when you think about an environment where you have rooms that you want people to be able to walk up and book, then you need to look at something like Touch or Connect.

And the real difference there is, do you want something that can be fully branded and completely interactive, and you can create a unique customer experience? Then you go with something like Touch. If you don’t need all of that functionality, then you look at something like Connect. But when you talk about room signs, if there’s no need to have walk-up reservations and all you want to do is publish what’s going on in that room.

Derek DeWitt: It’s just FYI.

Sean Matthews: Right. Then the electronic paper sign is perfect for that environment. It’s also perfect for environments where you have spaces that move around or change quite often. So reconfigurable spaces, that’s a perfect environment for the electronic paper sign because you can easily move it around, whether it’s taped or Velcroed or you’re using magnets even, to move it around the space. It makes it very easy to reposition those signs.

Derek DeWitt: Because there’s no cabling.

Sean Matthews: Right. And also another good case scenario is in a conference center or a conference facility where some of the rooms are designed for walk-up reservations, like let’s call them executive offices, but you have several hundred smaller, you know, huddle spaces, then you reserve the availability lights and walk-up reservation for those executive suites versus those commonly used huddle spaces that the only thing that ever changes there is just the event schedule that someone’s booked via an app or their normal calendaring system.

Derek DeWitt: So that’s why room signs over tablets because are tablets are just not for this.

Joe Murray: Exactly.

Derek DeWitt: And of course, it has a bunch of stuff you don’t need. Like, you know, a camera. Speakers. Things like this, right? YouTube.

Joe Murray: Right.

Derek DeWitt: All right. So thank you very much for talking to me today, Sean and Joe.

Sean Matthews: Thank you.

Joe Murray: Thank you.

Derek DeWitt: And thank you everybody for listening.