Harnessing Data: the New Frontier

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There has never been a better time to witness how technology is impacting history itself. To feel the ground shift under your feet as the world lurches toward the future thanks to flashes of genius, acts of bravery, and sometimes just pure dumb luck. The Benedict Cumberbatch movie about Alan Turing– The Imitation Game– and the recent film about Stephen Hawking– The Theory of Everything– took you inside the minds and the struggles of two of the greatest minds of the last century. We can now look over the shoulder of Woz, Jobs and Holt when they built the first Mac—and will probably soon have artists place us in the room when Bill Gates somehow talked IBM into letting them do the OS for the first PCs—and keep the rights in the process. We are in the middle of important tidal flows in technology history. And what’s amazing is that everyone in this industry is playing a role.

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A big role for our industry? Is that an exaggeration? Consider: the biggest revolution in the business world over the past twenty years has been the rise of business intelligence as companies are able to capture and analyze data in ways that were not possible in the prior 200+ years of capitalism. Companies have more information now than ever before. And they have more data than they know what to do with. Most companies are drowning in data. Data about customer buying habits. Data about facility operations. Sales intelligence. Website analytics. Data from partners. Data from marketing vendors. Data from the government. Data, data everywhere, and not a drop to drink. What companies need is a way to harness and convert and communicate that data in a way that resonates with people in the way they process information most readily: visually.

That is where our industry comes in, with new tools like video walls that have new features that can harness and visualize data. We put that ocean of data to work by serving as the indispensable conduit between the nearly infinite digital information in the world today and all the people who use it in their work life and personal life. The visual communications technology all of us work on is what makes that data powerful, by delivering the information people need, faster and more effortlessly. Businesses that take advantage of this visual technology will be able to move faster, make better decisions and arm their workforce to be successful. We are what turns raw information into action, and in that is just as big as the digital revolution that led to the transformation of analog to digital.

Visual communications is something all of us live and breathe every day, and that familiarity may limit our sense of just how big a role it will play in the next major wave of technology adoption around the globe. Companies are pivoting from that two decade process of establishing the infrastructure to gather and analyze business intelligence, and the next decade or two will be about putting that information to work in transforming not only the way we work, but also the way we buy, the way we live, the way we take care of ourselves, and the way we have fun.

Visual communications technology allows companies and organizations of every type put all of that data to work—using screens of every type, including conventional digital signage, personal device screens, and Internet of Things technology that turns virtually any surface into a digital screen. One of the ways that digital signage is most effective as a link between the ocean and data and the people who use it is the way it has contextual relevance for each location. Information is most powerful when it is delivered to the right people, in the right place, at the right time, in a way they can best use it…and that is what visual communications technology does best. For example:

• Signage that posts production data directly over the production line—providing motivation and real-time, actionable information to team members throughout their shifts.

• Updated safety information that is posted visually in the area where workers congregate before heading out onto the floor for their shift—delivered exactly when workers are most likely to absorb it and put it into practice.

• Sales data and targets displayed over the sales floor—displayed in a way that energizes sales personnel and helps them exceed their targets.

• Promotional alerts displayed at the point of sale and customized to the time of day, type of customer, etc—encouraging upselling and driving sales in a customized, flexible way at the click of a mouse.

By putting information in the right place in a visual, dynamic format that people are receptive to, companies are learning that they can drive behavior in a way that has never been possible before in the digital age or the analog age. This new visual layer will also dramatically change the way companies interact with their customers. For example, in retail environments, forward-thinking companies in the fast casual food service industry are completely re-defining the experience their customers can have and how workers meet customers’ needs. It isn’t simply about adding some signs that are more dynamic than old static signage. These companies are starting from scratch and re-envisioning how their businesses operate, behind the scenes and in customer-facing situations.

One of the most interesting ways companies are putting this to work is with next-generation video walls that are much smarter than traditional banks of tiled LCD panels. Today, these video walls are data-driven in strategic, sophisticated ways that are delivering remarkable customer engagement and sales generation results for companies. Because of the advanced information management software behind these screens, these video walls are integrated with smaller displays in key locations to reach targeted audiences. For example, Four Winds has a customer that manufactures airplanes and it would need a massive 20x20 video wall of large-format LEDs to effectively deliver information to all of the employees that can get the information they need. With next-generation visual communications systems, that company can create an organization-wide, inter-connected series of screens that deliver information to employees on interactive, smaller screen in their “neighborhood,” allowing the central video wall to serve higher-level objectives and be more effective.

Digital information is great, but it doesn’t have its greatest impact until it is delivered to the right people, at the right time, in the right way. And next-generation digital signage is what makes that possible for the first time. The last time technology had an impact this big on workplaces and on company interactions with customers, it was the original wave of PC adoption that replaced typewriters with work stations and that replaced old-style cash registers with digital terminals. That was the start of the Business Intelligence era, and it was a heck of a transformation. We’re entering a new era now and it’s all about turning those 1s and 0s into visual information. I can’t guarantee that people will do a big Hollywood or Broadway production about us years from now, but, just in case, I call dibs on having Jennifer Lawrence to play me in the movie.

Janet Eden-Harris is a member of the senior leadership team at Four Winds Interactive. As CMO, she is responsible for the portfolio of marketing functions at Four Winds. She can draw on a career spent in various executive roles, including serving as the CEO of Umbria, successfully sold to McGraw-Hill; EVP & Chief Marketing Officer at both IRI Worldwide and i2 Technologies, SVP of Marketing & Strategy at Market Force Information, Vice President at J.D. Power & Associates, and as founder and CEO of Eden-Harris Group.

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