EPISODE 31 | Guest: Sean Matthews, president and CEO, Visix, Inc.
The digital signage field has become quite crowded lately, with hundreds of companies offering just about every kind of solution you can think of. Many of these might be right for a smaller deployment, but larger organizations really need to consider the features that come with an enterprise-level product.
Sean Matthews of Visix talks about five key things to keep in mind when shopping around for a digital signage CMS, and why it’s worth the time and money to invest in a product that’s right for your organization from the very beginning.
- Scalability: how the system not only scales in size but also in features
- Interoperability: being able to connect with databases and automated content sources
- Extensibility: the ability to add subsets of features to your system
- Security: on-site safety using alert notifications, but also internet security for your system
- Reporting: having tools to measure a number of elements so your system is always running efficiently
Learn more about this topic in our Masterclass Guide 1: Digital Signage Systems Overview
Derek DeWitt: Digital signage is good for, really, almost any-sized organization and any type of organization, but honestly, when it’s deployed on a large scale, at kind of an enterprise level, that’s really where the benefits really are quite, quite clear. So we’re going to talk about some of the advantages of scaling up to enterprise-wide and enterprise-level digital signage. To that end, I’m here with Sean Matthews, president and CEO of Visix. Hi, Sean.
Sean Matthews: Hello Derek. Thanks for having me on today.
Derek DeWitt: Thank you for coming. And we’d like to thank all of you for listening.
Derek DeWitt: Your focus really is on enterprise-wide stuff. That seems to be what you guys are kind of pushing. That’s kind of what you guys are aiming at with a lot of what you write about and the way you develop products. Let’s talk about some of the advantages there. I remember once you and I were talking for something once, and you kind of described it as it all kind of fits in five, what you call it, “buckets”, which I guess is kind of a business term.
Sean Matthews: Yeah, yeah, yeah. We’ll go with “business term” there. You know…
Derek DeWitt: Buckets!
Sean Matthews: Yeah, the buckets category is whatever.
I mean, but really Derek, you know, when we think about large enterprise-like deployments, we’re not talking about the free digital signage that you might find on the web. You know, that’s how we differentiate ourselves. Because really our clients, Fortune 500, Fortune 1000, large colleges and universities, hospitals, those types of people, you know, they’re looking for scalability.
And when we look at these five buckets, scalability is the number one in the list. We have scalability, interoperability, extensibility, security, and then reporting. And when we think about these things, we’re talking about putting content on screens (and a large number of screens) designed to affect human behavior. We’re not talking about PowerPoint-style slides like you would see on an interstate billboard, you know, that transition every 15 seconds or something. We’re talking about communication technology that is designed to drive and affect human behavior.
Derek DeWitt: Right. On a large scale.
Sean Matthews: On a large scale, that’s correct.
Derek DeWitt: I know this very often happens. You can start off, say there’s a large college campus, let’s say, university campus. One department gets it. Then another department says, “Okay, we want that, we’ve got it in the budget.” Boom! And you just kind of, it doesn’t have to be discreet, disparate systems. It can all be one system, even controlled from one place (if need be), and it can scale up. ‘Cause I know this stuff scales up to…. I mean is there a limit to how high it can go?
Sean Matthews: Yeah, there’s really no limit. You know, there’s two types of scalability. There’s the scalability that’s associated with the physical size of the deployment; you know, on the network, whether it be on a college campus or in multiple buildings in a corporate campus.
But then there’s also features scalability. And so with enterprise-type systems, you’re going to find a much deeper, richer feature set than you might find in, let’s say, a free product that is a web-based-only solution that that basically is templated in its design.
So, you know, certainly the physical scale in terms of size in the network, there are really no limits to this type of technology. I mean, it’s like if you think about the number of PCs that you might have on a college campus, there are no limit to the number of PCs that you can put on that campus.
Derek DeWitt: Tens of thousands.
Sean Matthews: Right.
Derek DeWitt: Every student could have three.
Sean Matthews: Yes, if that’s what they need. And it seems to be going that way, between a laptop (a Chromebook), a tablet, a phone. So there’s, all of these things, they’re already carrying them around anyway.
Derek DeWitt: Right, right. And then God knows what’s coming. I mean, one of these days, wearable computing will work and who knows what will happen after that. So, that’s one of the advantages, is obviously you can scale up as big as you want. I mean, I’ve even, I think we even did a case study many years ago about a company that uses it across the U.S. And it’s all controlled from corporate.
Sean Matthews: Yeah. And so, the idea behind that centralized control is that, if you look at, let’s say, even your example there, more recently we were at a local school district, which was a county-wide deployment. So, there’s a centralized concept and a centralized model where there are a few people that can approve the distribution of content before it’s published. But the idea that there can be many hundreds of contributors to the content creation process, you know, adds to that whole democratization of the content. And therefore, the more people that are involved in it, the more people are invested in the content, in the quality of the content and the quality of the campaigns that are being delivered.
But it also affords the centralized concept wherein the folks in the ivory tower, for example, can approve what gets published, but they can also create corporate campaigns that might be separate from the regional campaigns that occur at the local level.
So, scale is certainly (I would think) the number one important piece when we look at this type of technology versus let’s say an all-free sort of cloud-based technology. Because those guys would probably argue that, well their cloud product can scale to an infinite degree as well. While that may be true, the feature set can’t scale to that degree, and that’s where we start getting into interoperability.
You know, the connection of databases and database sources, and with connections with other applications to bring in realtime data so that, quite frankly, you’re not tied to your desk creating content all day long. These campaigns can be auto-populated.
Derek DeWitt: Oh, right, of course. I’m always interested, too, in these large, large scale, (you know, over a geographical region) or dispersed deployments, that you can have this uniform corporate stuff, but you can also very easily, as well, (on the smaller level, the regional level or even the building level) you can have stuff that’s just targeted for them. So it really is super flexible in that regard.
Sean Matthews: Yeah. And really, Derek, the only reason that you really need this centralized sort of control, obviously you want to maintain some sort of brand standards and ensure that things aren’t getting published that really are inappropriate, or actually maybe aren’t even a truthful representation of what’s going on in that organization.
But you know, also another piece to it is, particularly if you’re a college campus, with a system like this that has true enterprise features, you have compatibility with things like Common Alerting Protocol. So, in the event of an emergency, you can use a single point to trigger what may happen to the displays in the event of an emergency.
Derek DeWitt: And that’s important there because in an emergency timing is of the essence.
Sean Matthews: Yes, that’s critical. You know, it doesn’t matter if it’s a fire emergency, weather or some other man-made emergency, getting information to people in a timely manner could be critical. Even lifesaving if need be.
Derek DeWitt: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. Extensibility. Let’s talk about that. What is that? Is it being able to be extended or…?
Sean Matthews: Well, I mean when we really look at extensibility, we’re talking about subsets of features that can be added on to the product.
Derek DeWitt: Over time.
Sean Matthews: Over time. So whether it be apps, which might be single-purpose software items or widgets. That might be other tool sets that are designed to handle automated content refreshes, and even publishers, which might be intermediaries that can co-opt existing screens, so you can publish to desktops or mobile devices or other things like that.
That’s where you get into the extensibility of the platform and what it is that you can add to it. Particularly feature sets that can be developed out of band. It might not affect the core operation of the platform itself. So, you could add things like, let’s call it a social media widget, this widget is created, has nothing to do with the enterprise platform itself, but it’s just dropped into the platform, developed that way.
Derek DeWitt: It just plugs in.
Sean Matthews: Basically, yeah.
Derek DeWitt: And you don’t have to stop showing stuff on your screens, reconfigure everything, reboot it. It’s just a, “And now we’re adding this element.”
Sean Matthews: Yeah. And in fact, if you think about your smartphone, it’s the same concept there. You know, you’re using 52 apps or whatever and you want to add the 53rd, you just simply download it. And in the meantime, your iTunes just continues to play in the background or whatever it is.
Derek DeWitt: Sure, sure. Okay. We talked about security, obviously alerts: a big deal. And the thing is that we always kind of say for campuses, but it’s not just campuses. I mean, we all in our minds have what we might euphemistically call man-made disasters, which seem to be in the news a lot, and everybody kind of dances around that topic, but there’s plenty more besides that. We’ve got tornadoes, we got floods, we got, you know, someone let all the animals out of the zoo; vipers are on the loose. Who knows what? It could be anything.
Sean Matthews: Yeah. And so when you think about that type of security (which we talked about), the Common Alerting Protocol, which is a standard that is used, you know, not just in this type of communication but at every level – at the federal, state and municipal level, all adhering to this particular type of standard for that sort of alert notification.
But, of course, there’s also the security of the platform itself, and whether it’s an on-premise deployment or a hosted cloud deployment, security is of the utmost importance. And you know, you’ll hear a lot of debate about browser security versus desktop security versus network, etc.
Derek DeWitt: I think that’s why some companies are reticent to go cloud (in any aspect of things) because they’re just worried it’s not secure.
Sean Matthews: Well, I mean, to be honest with you, man, we have clients like the Federal Reserve Bank, and I don’t envision a day in the very near future where the Federal Reserve Bank uses a cloud digital signage deployment to go out and get information over the web.
Derek DeWitt: Too risky.
Sean Matthews: Yeah. It just doesn’t make sense. And there’s a lot of environments where it just doesn’t make sense. And when you think about, even back to one of the other buckets I mentioned earlier, interoperability and the ability to connect with different data sources or applications, there’s this inherent security risk if the database source’s out in the cloud and you want to bring that data back into your own domain. And, you know, there’s, there’s risk involved in all of that.
And so, security is an important piece. And I’m not talking about, like, healthcare security and HIPAA violations and stuff like that. I’m talking about people being able to get into your network through other mediums, like these media players or whatever. And you know, not having secure devices can be problematic. And our technology is Windows 10 IoT, so it’s an embedded technology and about as secure as it gets, and is constantly updated. And so, we’re very comfortable, and so our clients, about the type of technology security approaches that we take to bringing this platform online.
Derek DeWitt: And reporting is what? Sort of being able to track what’s going on?
Sean Matthews: Yeah, I mean, you know, everybody wants to look at a dashboard these days. It seems like the current trend in business and you know there’s whole companies that do nothing but dashboards.
But the real key to having some reporting as it relates to this technology is that you know, for example, who is submitting the most content, who is involved in the most content publication and production, you have a good sense of how often machines are being updated for the purpose of new messages being on screen. You have the ability to track how many people are visiting particular URLs or sites because they followed some message via a post that you delivered through these signs.
Derek DeWitt: Yeah, like a call to action or something.
Sean Matthews: Yeah. And so basically when you look at the reporting aspects, most people are very comfortable with what they just see at the dashboard level: how many players are up and running, how many players have failed or the last time that one was communicated with.
But really the key is to understand who is submitting content, which channels or playlists are the most popular, where is most of the content delivered, how effective is the content based on tracking mechanisms that you may employ (whether it be simple URL followings, or social media reposts or followings, it doesn’t matter). But any of those things that you’re trying to get a better understanding of how effective is the content that you’re putting on screen.
Derek DeWitt: I think it also allows you, you have a deep window into what’s going on. Maybe you needed that information, maybe you don’t. But it is there, it is available, and it allows you to create this, what I like to call a culture of continuous assessment and improvement. Because I think it’s a mistake to just figure out your system, figure out what kind of messages you’re going to put up, and then just let it run on automatic. You need to always be updating it and checking in, and what’s effective and what isn’t effective, and should we do this different?
And if you find out, hey, it turns out, again, let’s use a university as an example, the school of finance is really hitting it out of the ballpark here with this, they’re doing all this great stuff, they’re asking the audience, they’re polling, they’re doing all this. And you at, say, the Dean’s office or at the highest levels, can look into that. You could maybe then help the other departments do something similar. And you know that that’s happening because you have those reporting tools.
Sean Matthews: Yeah, it’s like any business strategy. If you’re not constantly checking on whether or not this particular strategy is working, then you’re kind of just wasting your time. And to your point about things being automated, you know, the bigger the system is, the more assistance you’re going to need, either from people contributing content or auto-updating content that is very effective.
And if you don’t have enterprise-type features built into the platform that you’re using, it’s going to be difficult to scale up the number of people that are involved and/or connect with other platforms that allow you to auto-update the delivery of content based on, you know, KPIs or other metric changes that might be occurring in your organization.
So, it is important, in the end, to have the reporting information, so that you can make decisions about what is working and what is not. And without those enterprise features, it makes it very difficult to deliver effective digital signage across a large organization.
Derek DeWitt: Sure. So, really if you’re a decent-sized organization of any kind, or you might become one in the future, something that is enterprise level, or can go enterprise level, definitely seems to be the way to go. I thank you for talking to me today, Sean.
Sean Matthews: Thank you Derek. I appreciate it.
Derek DeWitt: And we’d like to thank all of you for listening.