Digital signage may be seen by some as little more than window-dressing, but screen-based technologies are poised to play an expanding role in business intelligence, speakers said at Scala’s international partner conference in Holland this month.
In between presentations, Tom Nix (pictured, left), current sales head at Scala’s US operation, and Gerard Bucas, current chief executive of Scala, spoke to CRN about how IT resellers can succeed with digital signage in an increasingly competitive market.
“Scala has great business experience and knowledge [about growing sales], either directly or through partners,” says Nix. “And we listen to our customers across all different verticals. We are hearing that they want to see, from a signage perspective, first of all mobility, for example.”
Customers are telling Scala, Nix says, that end users are seeking ways to make their signage work with the mobility offerings they have, including hardware like the iPad or other more consumer-oriented kit. That is not always easy to do - meaning that growing opportunities exist for a savvy partner who can sell, develop and deploy customised software or services to make that happen.
“Some companies have tried to address the demand for mobility with a one-size-fits-all solution, and it simply is not the case that it can suit everybody,” says Nix. “One app is not going to solve everybody’s problems. People may need to develop an app that interacts with others.”
Bucas hands the chief executive reins to Nix at the end of next month, as reported on ChannelWeb. Nix’s roles over the years have included channel partners, so he believes he can ensure the company will have what it takes to enable VARs to continue to grow their Scala business.
Specialist vertical approach
There are no concrete plans outlined to restructure the channel either globally or in the UK, but it is fair to say that Scala will seek to encourage partners such as systems integrators that take a more specialist vertical approach, and which also aim to provide a single point of contact for customers. Scala will help that evolution where necessary and IT VARs will continue to play a role, Nix says.
“What we are hearing from customers is that a lot of companies have not been investing in data. It could be Salesforce.com, it could be an ERP system, and they might have spent a lot of money on consulting, and creating KPIs, but they want to take the data from their Salesforce.com platform or ERP and want a customer channel that drives their business,” he says.
Business intelligence systems have been deployed in many organisations, but few are really taking advantage of the potential for that data to inform what they do every day, partly because the data is ‘hidden’ within one or more applications.
Digital signage can and should be used more to make that data visible, to create and play visual representations of business data, updated in real or near-real time, to ensure that more end users have the business intelligence they need at their fingertips in more situations - creating organisational efficiencies and improving productivity. It’s quite a large vision for a technology once primarily thought of as an advertising medium - but the potential is certainly there.
Nix pointed to a new product due out towards the end of this year, a CxO (C-level executive) board, which he says will help address this demand to harness data. “It will be able to automatically leverage the data that is in these environments, especially in corporate communications, to get more value out of business applications in a stable, extensible platform,” he says.
The IT space, he continued, is a “tremendous opportunity” because the IT sector is always looking for ways to maximise a company’s efficiency. Many IT Vars sell unified communications (UC) today and a part of that can and should be offering screens that put information on the wall for organisations. It can also be done via the cloud if desired, adding potentially yet another string to their bow.
“And the opportunity is not limited to one or two different verticals,” Nix says. “What we are seeing in our market is the ability to take analytical information and drive systems, playing back that information on a digital sign, as well as displaying point-of-sale information.”
Scala’s partner training programme is aimed at facilitating that. Technical training has been a feature for years, but this year the vendor has added sales training, which it sees as essential if partners are going to take a piece of this large and diverse series of opportunities, delivering full value to the customer, says Nix.
“That’s where we really see partners excel. Partners that have the ability to engage customers through consultancy tend to find out about customers’ biggest needs,” he explains.
Bucas agrees: “It’s the niche guys with the consultancy skills. It is about getting closer to the customer and being involved in the bigger sell.
“And partners are also asking us for services in areas that do not reflect their core capabilities.”
Bucas says the recent engagement with cloud-based signage offering SignChannel is another way that Scala is working to deliver the most rounded, ‘can-do’ portfolio to its customers. The company wants to offer cloud to customers if they want it, and be able to change back to on-premise as they go if it suits them. Or vice versa, without having to go to a new provider.
Both Bucas and Nix warn, however, that they see more consolidation on the cards for the digital signage market.
“My feeling is that the market is not big enough to support the number of people trying to deploy software as a solution,” Nix says. “It seems to support people in the solutions, agency or customer experience business, so I think this market will experience more consolidation as they scale up.”
“The technology is coming down in price,” adds Bucas. “And there are too many kinds of digital signage software, so how do people choose? There are also so many providers for installation. It is too difficult [for end customers to choose between them.”
Asked whether he would most like to see Scala emulate the likes of HP, Apple, Microsoft or IBM in future successes, Nix replies without hesitation: “Apple. The main reason is because the opportunity isn’t about the technology; the opportunity isn’t about screens and other things. It is about the experience.
"Apple doesn’t come at you about the iPhones, telling you that it has this processor or whatever. Apple has done that in such an effective way."
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