The Comfort Factor

The Comfort Factor

The Viewpoint section of SCN is reserved for opinions and trends that reside out there but just beg to be heard in a more formal sense. In this regard, I want to talk about digital signage as a business model. The genesis of this article is that in trips around the country and as the chairman of the Digital Signage Federation, I am surprised to see so few traditional commercial audiovisual companies getting involved in this expansive market. I hear the cries of “Yes, we are involved!” but trust me, the majority are not. In fact, I am seeing a new breed of integrator all around the country that is part AV, part IT, and part creative, and they have established the beachhead in the industry.

The overriding issue here is comfort in the paradigms that many of us embrace. We have been successful over the years in selling our displays, mounts, remote control systems, and numerous peripheral technologies. We make our real money on design, integration, and service after the sale, and to so many, “all is good in our world.” I would add to that note of comfort, “for now.” What is of concern to me is not only the new breed of integrator that we are seeing but the topics and conversation heard at events like the InfoComm Top 100 get together and the DSE Fall Forum to name two.

To paraphrase the keynotes and conversations, the traditional audiovisual industry is no longer a major contender as a standalone entity. We are in fact a subset of IT, networking, and the Web. We have all heard too much about the convergence of AV and IT, and I say too much because it is a fact of life and has been for some time. The problem is that too many traditional AV companies have not embraced the new reality and in some cases still rail against it. Today it is all about communication, collaboration, and solutions to promote and expand the dissemination of information. They don’t call it Information Technology for nothing!

Nowhere is the concept of the dissemination of information more poignant than through a digital signage system. One of the problems of a digital signage system is that it smacks of retail and advertising; this is alien to most traditional AV companies, and people naturally resist what they may not understand. The truth is that retail as a segment of digital signage comprises 30 percent of the market, while corporations, education, healthcare, financial, entertainment, and security make up the other 70 percent.

The deployment of digital signage hardware and software with their distribution and management capabilities can become the backbone of corporate communication and collaboration. An overall communication plan can then be allocated to individual departments where the message can be custom-tailored for departmental use. In short, with digital signage, one size does not need to fit all and can be managed accordingly.

We don’t have to go into schools and just sell them the “hang and bang” systems. We can offer them real solutions to the problems they face. For example, Samsung just introduced its new Smart School system using derivations of digital signage technologies to extend the reach of teachers and the learning opportunities for students no matter where they are.

We all know about the baby boomers and the graying of America and the impact on healthcare. Digital signage technologies address issues and roadblocks in healthcare facilities to reduce wait times, aid in registration, provide training for staff, and promote and inform patients about available healthcare services.

The point to be made and perhaps the call to action is this: the only constant is change, and for many in the commercial AV industry, the time is now to change course—digital signage provides a solid direction as part of your business if you intend to stay relevant. It is imperative to understand the part that audiovisual plays in the big picture. While we are still important, we are no longer the big picture. The big picture and overriding common denominator is IP, IT, networks, and overall communication infrastructure. Digital signage technologies give each of us ways to utilize the infrastructure in new, and in some cases unique, ways. The bottom line is to think outside of the box and understand what digital signage can provide in the way of solutions and learn how it all fits on the IT backbone of existing and potential clients.

Alan C. Brawn, CTS, ISF, ISF-C, DSCE ( is a principal of Brawn Consulting, an audiovisual consulting, educational development, and market intelligence firm. Brawn is an AV industry veteran with experience spanning over two decades, including years managing a commercial AV systems integration company after which he became one of the founding members of Hughes-JVC. Brawn is an Imaging Science Foundation Fellow and the managing director of ISF Commercial.

The Fear of Change

The subject of change has one of two effects on people. The first effect is a feeling of apprehension, or in some cases fear. We hear the word and we become unsettled. The second response is usually to just ignore change entirely and fall victim to the “whatever will be, will be” syndrome. In business and especially the audiovisual, IT, and digital signage industries, both responses will lead you down the wrong path.

Let’s take a look at one dictionary’s definition of change: “To make the form, nature, content, future course, etc., of something different from what it is or from what it would be if left alone.” Leaving things alone in business to simply maintain and not grow is disastrous. Think in terms of the status quo of your business and if you are making all the numbers and growth is in double digits year after year, then congratulations you probably do not need to change or you have already embraced it. But if growth is stagnant or even in negative numbers, you will need to change.

Do not be afraid of the scary word. If you think about it, the only times in history that great progress has been made is during times of great change. Embrace it, learn from it, grow with it, and ultimately profit from it.

Many looking to enter the digital signage arena are confronted with change and it cannot be ignored. The IT community has gone before us down the path of what happens when we embrace change. They live every day with new programs, updates, and new approaches, and their very lives are filled with adapting to and adopting change. This is one of the reasons they lead the audiovisual community in understanding, practicing, and adopting digital signage.