Why Integration Partners Matter

EPISODE 78 | Guest: Trey Hicks, chief sales officer, Visix, Inc. l

You need a digital signage system. So now what? You can research software and hardware vendors online, but who takes care of installing the screens, networking and cabling, and getting all of your systems to work together seamlessly? That’s where audiovisual integration partners come in.

In this episode, we discuss the value of working with an AV integrator to help you plan, install, spin up and maintain your digital signage system and, most of all, how they can save you a lot of time and headaches.

  • Understand how the process works and where integration partners fit in
  • Learn how integrators assess projects to create scalable, repeatable solutions
  • Explore physical installation, training and support services
  • Discover how experts can integrate disparate business systems to work together
  • Hear how integration partners help you after the installation is complete

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Get more information about Visix integration partners on our Partners webpage.


Transcript

Derek DeWitt: As we so often say on this podcast, it’s an awfully good idea to get a digital signage system in place if you don’t already have one. Though, some people may shy away from this because they fear that it’s too complicated. Fortunately, you don’t necessarily have to do everything all by yourself. There are plenty of integration partners that digital signage companies work with to help ease you into the process and get you up and running in no time at all. So, to talk with me about that stuff today, I have Trey Hicks, chief sales officer of Visix digital signage in Atlanta, Georgia. Hello, Trey.

Trey Hicks: Hello, Derek. How are you today?

Derek DeWitt: I’m good. I’d like to thank everybody for listening to this episode of Digital Signage Done Right, and don’t forget that you can subscribe to this podcast.

So Trey, digital signage. I mean, it’s not really like an out-of-the-box kind of a product. It’s not a toaster, you know, like unbox it, plug it in and boom, I got a sandwich. It’s a little bit more complicated than that.

Trey Hicks: That’s right. You’ve got the TVs, you’ve got cabling, you’ve got media players. You’ve got a CMS, basically the server that needs to go somewhere and more commonly today, the CMS is housed in the cloud. So, it’s great to think about working with an integration partner to figure that all out. You know, where are we gonna put the equipment? How are we gonna connect it together? How are we gonna get it installed? And who’s gonna train us on all this stuff?

Derek DeWitt: Sure. That makes sense. After all, I don’t know all this stuff, it’s all new to me. So, better that I employ the services of experts in the field.

Trey Hicks: We strongly recommend it. And we work with integration partners around the world. And the great thing about integration partners is those guys will come out to your facility. You know, they’ll sit down with you to understand your specific needs and what problems you’re trying to solve.

Derek DeWitt: So, they’ll actually go to the physical space.

Trey Hicks: Yes. Yeah, yeah. In fact, a lot of AV integration firms today have locations only throughout the US and Canada, but a number of integration partners that we work with have locations around the world, so they will come on site and meet with you.

Derek DeWitt: So, let’s walk through the process. Let’s say I’m a, or you know, a mid-size organization. And I keep seeing digital signage everywhere. And I’m like, hmm, that sounds like a pretty good idea. And I decide to go with Visix. I look at the webpage, I look at all the features. I think this is the right fit for me, software wise. I talk to the salesperson. They convince me, yes, yes, this is the way to go, but I don’t really have the time or the bandwidth to do all this myself. So, I’m gonna go out and find an integration partner. So how do I do that? Do I Google it? Does the Visix sales rep suggest someone in the area?

Trey Hicks: We can easily recommend local AV integration partners based on where you’re located, what market, you know, what vertical you’re in. We may recommend different integration partners, depending on whether you’re in manufacturing, whether you’re a university or if you’re a corporation trying to communicate better with your employees. So yeah, we can easily help in that direction. And the AV integration partners, they’re gonna come out on site if that’s a good for it for you, sit down with you and they’re gonna ask really good questions to understand your challenges and what your specific needs are. You know, they’re gonna ask about, you know, what your budget is that you have to work with for your digital signage deployment. They’re going to look at the specific areas in your buildings where you would like to have signage. You know, it may be in high traffic areas. It may be in the front lobby. It may be in your employee cafeteria or where the students go for meals. They’re gonna look at those different environments and understand what it’s gonna take to install digital signage in all those areas.

Derek DeWitt: So, they’ll go ahead and drill down as deeply as I need. Now, what if I’ve already done that work myself? Then they’re not gonna, I mean, will they just give me some advice? Or, if I say, look, I don’t need you to do all this. I just need to get the physical infrastructure in place. They’ll be cool with that.

Trey Hicks: They’ll wanna take a look at, you know, the monitors, the TVs, the displays that you already have place, and they wanna make sure that they are in good shape. You know, the world has moved from, you know, through different resolutions. You know, from 720 to 1080p, you know, now to 4k. Uh, you know, from analog VGA connections to digital HDMI or display port connections. So, they’re gonna check out the displays that you have in place, and to make sure that they are compatible with today’s technology, they’re gonna look at networking concerns or, or needs, you know. Are we gonna be using wifi to update the media players at the different locations in your facilities? Or should we run networking cable to have a direct network connection at these different locations? You know, they’re gonna sort that out with you. They’re gonna make sure that you have ample power in place, you know. Because you could have a location where you have, you know, it’s a high traffic carrier. It’s a great place to have a digital signage display, but you need at least two power jacks or, you know, plugins at the wall behind that display – one for the TV and one for the media player. So, they’re gonna do a site survey. They’re gonna assess everything that you have in place. Look at what’s already in place that we can use. And they’re gonna make any specific recommendations to bring anything else up to today’s standards so that you have a reliable, good implementation or deployment that’s gonna meet your needs moving forward.

Derek DeWitt: Sure. That makes sense. I mean, you know, there’s the old, the old saw about, you do something for 5,000 hours or 10,000 hours, and you’re an expert, Joe at the organization thinking about digital signage. I’ve never done this before, but these guys, this is what they do. So they’re, of course, gonna, they’re gonna see potential problems that I would never see and, uh, come up with some suggestions to optimize things. And as a result of using them, I’m gonna end up starting off in a much better position than probably if I just did it myself.

Trey Hicks: That’s right. Most organizations and companies that deploy digital signage, they are trying to communicate something better with whoever their audience is. So, we’re talking about display placement. That’s really important. You know, you want to saturate your message in those high traffic areas, whatever those right spots are. We talked about power a little bit, you know, you gotta have power in place. You gotta have networking in place. They’re also gonna look at other considerations, such as audio. You know, do you want to use audio with your digital signage in these different places as well? And if so, what speakers are required or would be appropriate for those environments? Yeah. So, there’s a lot of considerations that come into play with the physical installation of displays in a, an environment. And the AV integration firms, they bring best practices and standards to the whole equation, which is great.

Derek DeWitt: I should also think, you know, obviously ADA, especially if you’re dealing with interactive displays, ADA requirements are not just a good idea, but in many places, uh, the law. And I would assume that they’re up to speed on current standards and regulations for things like that as well.

Trey Hicks: Absolutely. AV integration firms have certifications such as CTS or CTS-D or CTS-I all supported by AVIXA, one of the prominent industry groups in that direction. So with their certifications, the standards that they uphold and best practices, they are gonna help you plan for considerations, such as ADA, which can be as simple as mounting your displays at an appropriate height for ADA considerations.

Derek DeWitt: Hmm. Yeah, for sure, yeah. I mean, exactly. It’s like, well, we’re gonna put it here. Unfortunately, a person in a wheelchair can’t reach that. And now we have to take it off the wall, put it back in. Maybe we have to re-cable. Like I could just see if you did it in an ad hoc, hey, I’ll just figure it out as I go, I’m smart kind of a way, it could turn into a big headache real fast.

Trey Hicks: Yeah, that’s right. So you want to get it right the first time. And you know, these days room signs, meeting room signs are more and more popular, you know. So that as you approach a meeting space, you can see if that room is available or not just by looking at the lights on the side of the display. You know, the lights will be red if the room is in use, green if it’s available. And speaking of ADA, a lot of times today, we are incorporating braille into the meeting room signs so that a vision impaired person can quickly figure out if they’re at the right room or not.

Derek DeWitt: Now, will they also give you like, hmm, I guess what I’m thinking of, we’re talking about interactive displays. What I’m thinking of is, like voice-activated interfaces and things like this. Will they give you some advice like, hey, you know, you might consider this might be a good place to do this, or are they just kind of gonna follow the brief that I give them.

Trey Hicks: As we know, that’s one of the things with digital signage today, there are many ways to interact with digital signage. You can use gestures. You can, of course touch the screen. And software from Visix is interactive. All of our software is interactive. So you can touch, you can talk to it, you can use gestures. And if you’re wanting to talk to the screen, you know, if you’re wanting to use voice commands, you definitely want good AV design around that. Because, you know, the field of audio and microphones is very complicated. You know, do you need an omnidirectional mic or, you know, a mic that is just listening in a single field for audio input? The placement of the mic. There may be background noise that needs to be eliminated in the environment. So Derek, I think this is one of the many reasons that you want to consider partnering with integration firm for helping you plan your deployment. Especially if you’re gonna use audio either as a way to interact with the digital signage, or if you’re gonna have audio being broadcast from your displays, you want to place the mic correctly. You know, you want to have the display just in the right place. And working with your integration partner, you want to have the right prompts in place to let people know that they can talk to that display. And it’s important to even give them prompts as far as what they can say to the display. Show me the directory, show me where the meeting room is or show me where meeting room 110 is.

Derek DeWitt: Okay. So that’s, that’s that sort of initial consult and we’re working it all out. And, and then what? Uh, will they also help me source hardware if I don’t have any already or if my hardware is, you know, 15 years old and let’s be frank, I just need to buy new stuff? Will they help me source that as well?

Trey Hicks: Yes. They will definitely help you with hardware. And in fact, one of the key values that integration partners bring to the table is they work with a wide range of hardware and software providers and with their experience in designing other systems and the best practices they’ve learned. You know, they’re gonna mix that in with your specific requirements and they’re gonna make hardware and software recommendations, you know, that they think best fits your budget, your project goals while taking in consideration things like what hardware you already have such as displays and what software your teams, your employees, or your students commonly use. You know, it’s important to know that in your environment, if your employees primarily use Microsoft Teams for meetings and such, then any hardware or software that they recommend, they wanna make sure that it’s compatible with Teams. So, they’re gonna make recommendations in that direction while keeping budget in mind. They’re gonna put together a budget proposal that’s gonna cover the whole solution. And they can even provide complete system designs. You know, kind of like a blueprint for a house. They can provide CAD drawings and a complete system design for your whole planned deployment.

Derek DeWitt: Hmm. Before any work gets done, I can see the whole thing mapped out.

Trey Hicks: Yeah. And to be fair to our integration partners, certainly if you want them to provide detailed system design, they’re gonna charge you for time to put that together. But an advantage there is you have on paper, or at least in a PDF, you know exactly what the design of the system is gonna be. And often you have the choice to move forward with that design with them or someone else in the marketplace.

Derek DeWitt Right. That makes sense. That’s why they charge you for that work in advance, because they’re like, we know that you might just take our fantastic idea and design and then go someplace else.

Trey Hicks: That’s right.

Derek DeWitt: So yeah, a little cheddar up front if you don’t mind.

Trey Hicks: That’s right. That’s right. And if you do choose to move forward, they’re gonna assign project managers to your project to aid in communication and planning, you know, that kickoff day for implementation. They’re gonna coordinate with any other contractors as needed to get your environment ready. We were talking about power and networking needed for the displays that you want to put in place for your digital signage deployment. Well, they can even coordinate with electrical contractors and even networking contractors if needed to get everything in place before they start deploying media players, networking, cable, all those good things. So, in some ways they can kind of act as your GC for your project. And then once everything is in place, they’re gonna provide training right along with the vendors of the products that they’ve brought into the mix.

Derek DeWitt: Right, sure. This is, all right we suggested this stuff, but we’re not just gonna hand you a PDF manual and say, good luck. We’re gonna show you how to use it, especially how to use it for what you’re trying to do.

Trey Hicks: That’s right. Yeah. And specifically to Visix, they’re gonna immediately get you involved with the Visix learning management system, which is in the cloud, which gives new Visix clients immediate access to tons of training and video content that they can access at any time. So they’ve got 24/7 access to those training resources. And another thing that they can do is they can sign up for instructor-led training that happens throughout the month.

Derek DeWitt: So, uh, so actually that’s the sort of thing that might make one digital signage software company, a, a better fit for my organization over another. So it’s, it’s conceivable that I might not go to say Visix first. I might first approach a local integrator and then they might suggest Visix.

Trey Hicks: Sure. Yeah.

Derek DeWitt: Because, you know, if like, if I’m saying, look, training is very important to me. Well, hey, guess what? It turns out, uh, one of the companies we work with, Visix, has this really comprehensive LMS online. Uh, that’s the way you should go.

Trey Hicks: Yeah. It’s a very important part of the consideration, you know. Because you can have the best technology, but without solid training on how to use that technology, you know, the tech can end up being worthless.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, yeah. For sure. Yeah. Let’s say I wanted to go in the direction of finding an integrator first and then letting them recommend hardware and even software. How would I go about that? What do I look up? What do I Google?

Trey Hicks: If you Google “audiovisual integrator” for your area. So, in Atlanta or in Columbus, Ohio, you know, wherever you happen to be. I think you’re gonna see immediately on Google multiple AV integration firms who would love to help. If you’re already speaking with Visix, as we noted before, certainly we can make recommendations on AV integration partners who do a lot of work in your specific market, in your vertical and have a lot of experience there. Otherwise, as noted, just a quick Google search will get you there. And they’re very easy to engage with. And another thing is, you know, they really strive to recommend the best products, the best solutions for what your needs are. And in fact, our AV integration partners today, they’re working with hundreds of different manufacturers and vendors. So they have access to a wide range of different products and solutions.

Derek DeWitt: Okay. So let’s say we’ve done it. Uh, I’ve gone ahead. Visix is the one. My local integration partner, you know, whatever, Atlanta integration and I working well together. We got it up and running. Visix and the integration partner helped me, uh, get up and running as fast as possible. But, you know, things go wrong over time. What kind of support is gonna be available for me? Is this just like a one and done? Like I paid them, they got me set up and now, uh, I’m on my own.

Trey Hicks: It’s really a partnership between Visix and our integration partners. We both only succeed if not only the initial deployment goes well, but that the deployment is successful long term as well. So it’s a team effort. Visix customers can always call us directly with any software issues they have. You know, we’re the first line of defense. We’re the first group to provide support. And meanwhile, our AV integration partners are on standby if anything needs a closer look. You know, Visix can pretty quickly confirm whether our software and our media players are in good shape, but it may be an issue with an AV cable, a network connection, or with one of the TVs, the displays that are part of the digital signage deployment. And that’s where the local AV integration partner really becomes key because they can send a technician on site to check out that, that specific problem area and take a look at the hardware, the software, the cabling, everything that’s involved really quick to figure out what the problem is. So yeah, it’s, it’s a team effort there. You know, more and more these days as technology moves to the cloud and more and more products and services are provided on a subscription basis, we have a really big incentive us and our AB integration partners to make sure that our solutions are a solution not only on day one, but ongoing because we’re all now in a subscription world. And we want to keep our clients happy and continuing to subscribe.

Derek DeWitt: And, you know, also, it occurs to me too, you know, sometimes it’s, yes, it could be a cable goes wrong or a mouse chew through a cable or, you know, whatever the cliche is. But you know, also like I’m from California and we Californians, we think about earthquakes all the time. And you know, if you’re living in Florida, you get slammed with, you know, somewhere between one and five hurricanes every year. So, there are also outside forces that may adversely affect your, uh, digital signage and communications efforts. And again, I assume that should something like that occur, there’s an earthquake, the building settled, you know, this wall cracked, uh, they would also be of assistance in that kind of a scenario as well.

Trey Hicks: Yes, definitely. So, a lot of our AV integration partners these days, they have an 800 number that you can call with any AV-related issues. So it’s a help hotline if you will, that you can call in and get support. Now, fortunately digital signage technology today is really reliable and, um, you know, and it’s really not a lot of maintenance ongoing. You’ve got two primary components, the CMS and the media players. The CMS, again, [will] most often be in the cloud today. So that’s completely taken care of and looked after by Visix 24/7. Really the only thing we have to worry about on site are the media players, but we have already recognized that that media player has a network connection. It has a power connection. It has an AV connection to the display and all of that has to be in good shape to provide good performance and reliability. So we, you know, we work together on that. But the thing is, pretty much all of our clients, they have so much other AV technologies in place in their facilities and they need help. You know, it’s essential to keep those AV systems healthy so that their day-to-day operations are not interrupted by AV issues.

Derek DeWitt: Right, right. Yeah. I always think of the cliche of, you know, the meeting is about to start and, you know, unfortunately the presenter didn’t bother to make sure that the projector is functioning correctly. And now it’s two minutes before the presentation is supposed to start and oh my God, it’s not working. Oh my God, it’s not working, you know. So yeah, I think that, I think it’s always a good idea to have another pair of eyes on things in advance.

Trey Hicks: That’s right. They’re working to ensure that all your AV technologies are integrated for maximum efficiency and productivity and that everything is running smoothly, which is critical. You know, just as in the example that you, you gave. You know, you’re getting ready to start town hall for all your employees. Yeah. You’re gonna broadcast it over your digital signage. You’re using projectors locally where you, where you have employees right there with you. And you’re also streaming this video and audio content, your live town hall, over the internet to your remote employees. That is a really complicated setup where a number of things can go wrong. And that’s just another example of why your AV integration partner is so important in making sure that overall system design is proper, and the fact that you can pick up the phone and get assistance from your AV integration partner at any time as you prep for that next town hall, which is definitely better, you know, the better thing to do. Test everything well ahead of when it’s go time.

Derek DeWitt: Right. Though, I think we know that very often people don’t. Okay. So, let’s just say my boss says, okay, but we use the integration partner, uh, for the initial deployment. But now that we’re up and running, I don’t need to use them. I have an internal IT team, which is two guys. Uh, I’ll just have them take care of it. What would be the advantage of not doing that and instead, uh, using the integrator?

Trey Hicks: Now for a digital signage deployment, given that digital signage is a more reliable, kind of more predictable technology in your environment, especially if your CMS is in the cloud and you only have the media players and their, their connections to worry about. There is more of the option there to look after your digital signage deployment more on your own with, with your IT staff. But the thing is, likely you have lots of other AV technology in your huddle rooms, your, your conference rooms, just in different areas of your facility and your buildings. And you’re gonna need support for that. So, unless you have AV teams yourself, you know, to support all that AV technology that you have in place, you are likely gonna need the ongoing support of a good integration firm to keep all your equipment up to speed, updated and compatible with the latest software and technology that you’re gonna need to keep things moving forward.

Derek DeWitt: Sure. I’d even think that would be a consideration when choosing an integration partner is, do they have, you know, comprehensive support. Because not only could things go wrong, but hey, I might wanna expand in the future. You know, maybe we started off in, on one floor of a building. Now we wanna do the whole building and maybe into other buildings that are in our, you know, corporate campus or our university campus or, or, uh, you know, a manufacturing plant. These places are huge. It could be in all over the place or even to multiple locations in other geographical spots. So, if I wanna expand as well, I’d want once again, to utilize these people.

Trey Hicks: Yes, absolutely. You know, then again, we want to do a site survey to understand the hardware and software that’s already in place. What can we use, what can we reuse? What do we need to replace? And then, you know, we wanna look at the right technology for expanding. And, you know, another great thing that the integration partners do is they’re able to bring disparate systems together, to work well together, to provide ultimately, you know, the solutions that you’re after. They may be bringing together 20 different products from 15 different manufacturers, but they can set them up together where they, you know, they work together. They’re communicating via APIs and other ways of integration so that the whole system works.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, of course. It makes a lot of sense that if you’re moving to a different physical location, expanding, it’s not necessarily gonna be the exact same kind of a setup because it’s a different place. There’ll be different limitations, different, uh, factors to consider.

Trey Hicks: That’s right.

Derek DeWitt: And as you mentioned at the top, a lot of these integration partners are in multiple geographies, multiple locations, even other countries. So, if I am a big organization and I have, you know, I have a branch in Tokyo and I have a branch in Madrid and I have a branch in Nova Scotia and another one here in the US, one on the east coast, one on the west coast. There’s a good chance that if I end up having a good working relationship with this integration company, that they’re going to be able to help me through them or through their partners in other places, expand my system anywhere that I choose.

Trey Hicks: Yes. That AV integration firm can be critical for larger deployments that scale multiple countries. And what they’re gonna do in that direction is they’re gonna establish a standard design for all locations, you know. And there’s a lot of efficiency and cost savings in that approach, especially when it comes to training and support. That way you know you’ve got the proper design for the needs at hand. And there’s gonna be a consistent installation of product and software around the world around that design to have that consistency and ease of support. And then again, to make training possible on a global scale.

Derek DeWitt: And of course, the, the people on the ground there, they’re going to be speaking the local language, which that right there eliminates a lot of barriers and potential problems.

Trey Hicks: Yeah, that’s right. Your integration firm will also take language support into consideration. You know, what languages may need to be supported by any UIs that are part of the solution. And certainly, to make sure that all languages can be in the presentation of content, as it easily can be with the Visix digital signage system. And, you know, we were talking about training. You know, with a consistent system design and implementation around the world when people call for support, it just makes it so much easier when we know exactly the design and what product was implemented in Tokyo compared to Toronto.

Derek DeWitt: So, we’ve been talking about the advantages of using integration partners. And the main advantage is right there in the name – integration. They’re gonna be integrating a number of different hardware and software solutions into a single cohesive whole that is tailormade to your specific environment needs and goals. Yes, it’s entirely possible that you could probably do it yourself, but it would be a lot more work. And when you factor in the training and support that such organizations offer, it’s really like kind of having another person in your corner ready for whenever you need them to come out swinging and make sure that everything goes your way.

Trey Hicks: That’s right. Your AV integration partner, they have designed that digital signage deployment or that conference room a thousand times compared to your first time.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, that’s true. Okay. Interesting stuff. You can find a transcript of this episode on the Visix website, under resources/podcasts. I’d like to thank Trey Hicks, chief sales officer of Visix digital signage in Atlanta for talking to me today. Thank you, Trey. Uh, interesting stuff. I never really thought about this aspect of the business before, but of course, now that we’ve talked about it, it totally makes sense.

Trey Hicks: Well, thanks. Always fun to be on the podcast, Derek. Have a great day.

Derek DeWitt: Thank you very much. And thank you everybody out there for listening.