“The future belongs to those who have a good general gut sense of the surround and can utilize these tools to sharpen their intuition.” — Chris Devlin lays out the roadmap to post-COVID success in digital signage, marketing and communication.

The art and science of crafting a dynamic digital canvas

Crafting a dynamic digital canvas – “If you can see the big picture, you’re going to go far.”

Chris Devlin, president at Omnivex, joined Digital Signage Today via video conferencing from his home office in Toronto to share stories from a career journey that has led him to being president at Omnivex, insights into the company’s operating philosophy, and predictions for the future, along with keys to success in the rapidly changing industry for operators of any size and vertical.

“The future belongs to those who have a good general gut sense of the surround and can utilize these tools to sharpen their intuition,” Devlin said, speaking fast as he elaborated on a broad array of strategies he advocates for digital signage and communication across industries and verticals; whether you use his products or not (and he would prefer that you did!), Devlin made it clear that he wants people using digital signage to get maximum value from this tool, which he feels can transform operations and user experience across the board. The growth of the overall industry, from hardware and software to integrators, is something Devlin was clearly passionate about, with a stated belief that good systems and communication simply make business operations (and by extension, people’s daily experience) better.

An “IT crowd”

With a background in enterprise software, including storage and security, Devlin sensed a special magic when he first encountered Omnivex around 2013.

“I connected with Omnivex and met this gem of a company with a great vision and set of products,” he said; he started in sales but quickly realized that opportunity was ripe for the company — and the industry — to grow into something far bigger than it was at the time. “I saw it at that moment as much more than a sign,” he said. “It’s something we’ve built our reputation on. Omnivex is 32 years old now. We’ve been transforming the way businesses communicate for a long time.”

Starting with a small, tight-knit group, Omnivex has been growing for three decades, even before he came on board, but Devlin says the same sense of camaraderie is alive and well.

“I happen to have a bit more business experience,” Devlin said. “I’m the business guy. Doug (Bannister) is the visionary and engineer, Corie (Bannister) is the CFO, Jen (Gvozdek) runs marketing — we’ve got a good group. And we stay in our lane. We focus on enabling companies with what we think is the industry’s best software. You know, we don’t do hardware, some of our competitors have gotten into hardware to make it easier — but easier isn’t always better,” Devlin said.

The silo question

Before defining digital transformation, you’ve got to define digital signage. So, brass tacks: does digital signage still exist as its own category, or should we surrender to holograms and the metaverse by marking the “end of the silo“?

Devlin replied with a banking analogy.

“Is a bank a mortgage company, or are mortgages, mortgages?” he asked. “You know, (banks) do savings, they do interest they do mutual funds, they do investing now — they do everything. Now, is every company a bank? No. There are still mortgage companies.”

In that vein, Devlin said, Omnivex is not a solutions company (the so-called E2E category). Instead, as a dedicated software company, Omnivex partners with many different partners — including hardware, consulting, graphics, resellers, technology partners and systems integrators; this ties into the growing “ecosystem” model in the technology and business world discussed by industry thought leaders like Kamales Lardi. Many of the partners in that ecosystem prefer to continue thinking of digital signage as a separate category, Devlin says, though some are embracing the new view.

“I just see it as a point of view,” Devlin said, “and I think, like all things, you shouldn’t discount people’s point of view. That point of view is valid. Digital Signage is valuable in and of itself. There are companies, like advertising companies — a good example is digital out of home — that focus just on digital signage, that’s their whole thing. And that’s all that it’s going to be, and that generates revenue, and it has its place in the world.”

Make it dynamic digital canvas, make it dance!

Given the current changes in the world, Devlin sees challenges for the industry, along with opportunities — after all, digital transformation is something virtually every business and sector has to deal with these days. “You look at the world, and the world is changing every day,” he said. “And I think that technology will play a bigger role in this recovery than it has in any other, but you’re going to need to be agile and dynamic.”

So, how is this accomplished?

Devlin cited the example of programmatic DOOH and other creative that can be used on dedicated digital signage displays; for example, a restaurant can display ads (and earn revenue) or show company history on menu boards outside operating hours — just like Eduardo Valencia at MSP suggested, with using dormant airport flight information displays for pDOOH, events news or even creative content.

“So if you if you can think of it more like a canvas or a capability that you could use in different circumstances, now it becomes a more customer service-oriented tool, it becomes a lot more useful and multiple things. And like all things, it’s only limited by what your current thinking is.”

Embracing digital transformation

While the term “digital transformation” is so heavily used in business circles that Devlin worries it may have lost its valuable meaning (like other terms that have become buzzwords, such as “cloud” and “metaverse“), he does feel it is a crucial process for virtually all businesses, and Omnivex’s specialized role in software relies on it.

“What it fundamentally boils down to is every business has to do away with its old way of doing things you’ve got to challenge that change and incorporate digital,” Devlin said, remarking that history shows how technology helped take literacy from roughly 12% of the population to almost 90% in the last 200 years. “And so, in today’s world, we’re getting into what I would call digital literacy — not just reading and writing, education — but how do we use technology in business.”

As businesses have become more siloed, with separate teams for legal, marketing, etc., the cross-function nature of digital transformation has emerged.

“You can’t service a customer properly just with your retail operation,” Devlin said. “There’s legal things behind that, there’s security elements behind that, there’s financial records behind that, there’s contract and history — and it by extension covers every part of the organization. So if we’re going to modernize and improve customer service, we have to improve it across the whole span. Every company is going through this, and they need to become more agile across the board.”

With deep roots in the IT industry and culture, digital signage lacks traditional “end users” in the sense that the “end user” is almost always a digital display. This has posed industry challenges, but it has also fostered the “one-to-many” approach.

“One of the things that digital signage is fantastic at is machine-based computing — machine-to-machine communication, automation — because there’s no human being there. We have to automate it. So, if we want to change that sign, we use information.”

Data is the key to “removing the dumb” — from cities to airports

This is why data has become so essential as digital signage evolves (including programmatic DOOH, ad targeting, AI-integrations, and the like). The challenge of one-to-many has made digital signage as an industry to be very apt in things like geospatial innovations, camera and sensor integrations, Internet-of-Things and wayfinding capacity, among other areas.

Specializing in these areas, along with data, has given Omnivex a special focus in helping businesses make their digital transformations dynamic. Now, data comes in many flavors, Devlin emphasized, and real-time data is especially valuable in making content dynamic, from emergency alerting to community news and event information, or even tourism content.

A top example of dynamic digital canvas is in Spokane, Washington’s digital transformation.

Unlike some cities, Spokane’s digital transformation has been driven by its public facilities department, which has been able to unify the digital canvas across the city in part because it owns many of the buildings involved, from the opera house and convention center to sports stadium signage. This allows for centralized management of content and creative, along with special news or emergency alerting.

While this kind of digital transformation can eventually lead to the so-called “smart city,” Devlin said that smart city initiatives usually have some public-to-private component, whereas Spokane is publicly-based, so some might quibble with that term.

Airports have become leaders of the dynamic digital canvas movement by necessity, because of the sheer variety of needs they encompass.

“They’ve got restaurants, they’ve got their own police, they’ve got customs,” Devlin noted, along with virtually every other municipal service. “It’s like a city … and digital signage has already gone beyond digital signage in airports, as you’re seeing recently in your write-ups, like Minneapolis, St. Paul (airport).”

Business as usual in signage (or operations) is impossible with the speed at which things move in this environment; to craft a dynamic digital canvas, you have to be agile, you have to be willing to evolve and you have to be ready to “remove the dumb,” to echo the strategy of Luke Hubbard, CTO at Screencloud.

(2023, March 24). Daniel Brown – Editor, Networld Media Group. Retrieved from https://www.digitalsignagetoday.com/blogs/make-it-dance-the-art-and-science-of-crafting-a-dynamic-digital-canvas/