Earlier this year, Almo Professional A/V pioneered something amazing on behalf of the AV and IT distributor markets: a top-rate, digital version of its award-winning regional experience, E4. Yes, as was the case with pretty much all shows this year — with the exception of the last great live event of 2020, ISE Show — Almo was forced to pivot to move its regional roadshows to an online format. But after viewing Tuesday’s fall E4v, I can tell you the distributor did it with grace, putting together a delightful experience with content that wasn’t designed to put you to sleep.
This is the second of two articles encompassing sessions from day one of the October E4v. The first article, all about UCC, can be found here.
Almo’s E4v attendees logged in from around the world Tuesday to hear some pretty incredible AV and IT educational content in a live, not-canned format. Led by an entertaining-as-ever Joel Rollins, event emcee, day one of E4v proved to be particularly great.
Our roundup of the Digital Signage part of the show — part two of five in an E4v recap series — is below. Let’s discuss.
Digital Signage During a Pandemic: Trends, Technology and Opportunity
Jonathan Brawn is the principal at Brawn Consulting and, valuable bit of information, AVIXA’s 2020 Educator of the Year. So, naturally, we knew Brawn’s knowledge sharing on E4v Tuesday would be brilliant.
“There truly is a light at the end of the tunnel,” Brawn led.
Yes, he’s talking about COVID-19, but that’s because you really can’t have a conversation around changing technology today without the pandemic part of the convo — it’s still top-of-mind for most. That’s for good reason: We shouldn’t be specifying technology today that isn’t suited for what (we now know) could happen tomorrow. During this pandemic, we’ve had to find new and safe ways to do everyday tasks, Brawn continued. Otherwise, we’d all be in a convention center face-to-face right now.
Brawn’s session Tuesday explored changes in communication, monitoring and security that COVID-19 has produced. By the end of the livestream, he circled us back to how we can start navigating it now, not later. Digital signage in particular, he continued, is going to shape the future of life in a pandemic and beyond.
Some callouts on the impact that COVID-19 has had:
- We have been shocked by, and are now suffering through lockdowns, quarantine and enforced changes to daily routines.
- Operations have increasingly been driven outside — with dining, shopping and even salons operating in rapidly constructed outdoor spaces.
- The majority continue to work from home at least part-time, and 4 in 10 of all working-age Americans currently work from home exclusively.
- 77% of Americans are not currently comfortable dining out.
- 42% of Americans are not currently comfortable going to the store.
- We continue to live our lives via Zoom calls and cloud tools, adapting to constantly changing situations while trying to stay sane.
Yup. That last one I can definitely relate to.
Among these changes, who even has a morning routine anymore? Brawn joked. If you do, we commend you.
Next, we learned of some insights from AVIXA’s Impact Surveys and its IOTA report. Contrasting the dip we’re all seeing and feeling now, Brawn continued, we’re still forecasting a ton of pent-up demand. The opportunities are there — while different from what was considered normal before — if, of course, we’re willing to adapt to them. (Take Brawn’s personal example: He considers himself more of a projector guy, though he’s doing a ton more with flat panels these days.) That growth will explode in Q2 of 2021, and we all need to be prepared for it.
Trends that Brawn explained are emerging under the pandemic: a new global focus on healthcare facilities; a strict requirement for increased cleaning and maintenance of all public-facing technology; a desire for touchless interaction whenever possible; the further integration of mobile devices into our daily lives (e.g., tracking of mobile device users via Wi-Fi); and a greater focus on cloud-based implementations. All this leads to a definite merging of digital signage, surveillance, security and IoT technologies into a new set of unified solutions, Brawn explained.
As we see these rapidly growing trends in digital signage, we should note that many of these solutions ultimately leverage our technologies (that’s the AV industry’s technologies) to meet the needs, Brawn pointed out.
The session continued on with the addition of Chris Mertens of Samsung joining the livestream to discuss more specific technology that could help today.
— rAVe [PUBS] (@rAVePubs) October 27, 2020
Technologies discussed next were digital signage with hand sanitizer (yes, we went there; but with the callout that we’re now seeing higher-quality displays for these types of executions); traffic management kiosks (driving people to act a certain way, like getting thousands into a manufacturing plant on time but safely); temperature detection and access control (like temperature scanners); touchless interactive signage (this is old technology made new, Brawn added); smart lockers (where you can go up and use your phone — scanning a QR Code, for instance — to unlock it); workplace distancing solutions (self explanatory); and QSR signage (if you can figure out the zoning permits).
Brawn hopes the industry approaches this topic with optimism — perhaps cautious optimism? — with a belief that there’s just a ton of potential for what could happen here.
NSCA Roundtable — Digital Signage
Rounding out the day Tuesday, we were excited for a roundtable led by Tom LeBlanc of the National Systems Contractors Association (NSCA) and two industry guests: Robert Parsons of Taurus Technologies and Michael Ferrer of NEC. These sessions in particular are exciting in that they can take a number of directions as the conversation plays out.
As public health has become top of mind, people want to see that the businesses in which they work and stores in which they shop are clean and are being properly maintained.
Thus, many verticals that were doing signage before are only expanding upon it, Parsons said. Alternatively, companies that did not embrace the signage approach before are changing their perspectives; they’re now seeing just how impactful digital signage can be.
Ferrer added that, pre-COVID, a typical digital signage deployment included large interactive touch screens, kiosks, large video walls, portrait-style screens, etc. It was often about one-upping the other guys, whether that was making a display with smaller bezels or what have you. Today, while, of course, we’ll keep innovating in this sense, we need to serve the customer first — and keep looking for opportunities to better user experience through signage, despite it being a crowded market with many going after the same sales. One suggestion, Ferrer added, is to guide customers to look at the technology investment long-term, not just choosing what’s lower-cost or a quick win now.
Partners like Taurus Technology, where Parsons serves as VP of sales at the AV integration firm based out of Dallas, can help customers look at it holistically. Today, some of the demands lie around a renewed sense of customer challenges in-stores, Parsons added. Integrators and system designers in digital signage need to pay attention to new trends — Parsons says he’s not necessarily seeing us take advantage of new ways to create signage (enticing people outside of just QR Codes, for instance).
Ferrer joked that he’s still seeing static signs — in other words, poles stuck in orange cones with tape all over them. We can help our peers and customers feel safe through digital signage (perhaps getting rid of the tape?).
On Not COVID
The panel transitioned next to topics such as analytics, Digital-Signage-as-a-Service (DSaaS) and selling digital signage.
On the latter, LeBlanc started that many end users think first about signage impacting customers, students, employees — and a lot of time, the customer thinks more about the outcome and less about the technology. Do integrators think the opposite way though?
Parsons agreed and added that he attempts to talk, first, about what customers want to accomplish. Who are we trying to reach? How are we trying to reach them? How often? He urges his clients to figure out the style of content and what the future goals are with the signage — not just for today. Then, the hardware is a complement to that. Integrators can spend a little more time talking about the overall design of the concept to the customer, Parsons argued, focusing heavily on the content.
In agreement, Ferrer added that integrators selling digital signage can better align with customers on the purpose of the signage before selling it, making sure the system is easy to use and maintain. In other words, don’t sell customers a solution that will need rewiring a few years down the road when they demand changes or add-ons.
It’s both a content and a hardware game. But if the success of a digital-signage solution hinges on content, we could be doing a better job, as integrators, in the discovery phase to set that stage for success early on — does that customer have the resources to create and deploy good content along with good hardware? Making standout content for the displays is critical, Ferrer argued. If customers don’t understand that, we need to guide them.
E4v Day One: Very Much Worth Your Time
Almo’s second E4v, a totally online version of the show, began Tuesday, Oct. 27. It will continue to take place over the next two days, Oct. 28 and 29. The show is broken down into six verticals — what Almo is calling “Solution Centers” — that offer the industry a wide array of insights and forward-thinking education. Oh, also offering 14 AVIXA CTS Renewal Units (RUs) over the course of the three days is a very real draw too.
The Solution Centers: UCC, digital signage, next-generation workspaces, pro audio, the future of events and meetings, and direct-view LED.
Each day’s live webinar-style sessions (offering the opportunity for audience participation and an interactive chat feature, so the audience can talk to and challenge the speakers directly in real time) are followed by prompts to explore any of the six E4v Solution Centers. One of Tuesday’s featured Solution Centers was Digital Signage (as per this wrap-up article), and some of the featured content covered topics like:
- Create Stunning, Immersive Digital Signage with Projection
- Digital Signage Solutions for Any Business Need
- What’s at the Core of Your Digital Signage Installations?
- Why Use a Commercial Quality Mount for Your Digital Signage?
Also interesting was the breakdown of Digital Signage “Product Solutions” in this Solution Center: including displays, video walls, media players/software, mounts specialty displays and more.
If you missed day one of the fall E4v, catch day two on Wednesday, Oct. 28. If you’re not registered, sign up for day three (Oct. 29) here: https://e4evolution.com/.