Challenges Lessons

When should you break everything to fix something

I am in the middle of much thought regarding communication between multiple servers, some production, some development and some on customer’s premises that are fire walled from the world. Getting all of these to talk properly is getting very tumultuous and causing lots of necessity to tear things apart and start over.

So, that go me wondering when is a good time to tear down the walls and start over (using what we have learned from the past to speed construction and build a better foundation for the future of course). My current issue is programming of software, but I have run into it with business processes, employees and even constructing several buildings over the years. It is a question that actually has a time and place in most every decision.

One of the trickiest things is to even notice that parts of our “building” are getting rickety because there are pieces nailed onto other pieces that were nailed onto pieces before it. In the case of houses and office buildings, that is a little more obvious, but not so much with intellectual issues. That being said, I have seen some contractors try to hide lots of things behind the sheet rock. Sometimes the best way to see the band-aids is to have an outsider take a peek (when working with a contractor, you are typically the outsider).

Once you have identified that something is getting cobbled together, you have to identify whether it is safe to keep it as it is (or safe to add to it). Safety can be defined in terms of future costs, revenue, capacity, morale or actual personal safety (among other things). If this is putting you in a dangerous future situation, you need to correct it immediately.

If it is “safe” to keep it as is, you may decide that it is not aesthetically pleasing. This could relate to how it looks to yourself, your staff, your customers or potential investors of your “house”. If you decide that it could “look” better, then you need to decide if now is the time to do it. I often look at the amount of time already being spent on it compared to the time to fix it right. If it is not more than double, I make the extra effort to rebuild it. Typically rebuilding the component from scratch makes the needed repair much quicker, so it costs a lot less than doing the steps separately.

If you decide that it is time to rebuild, then you need to come up with a plan tear out all the bandages and start over on that piece. Of course you need to plan for it to be massively torn apart for the time (perhaps go to a hotel or if rebuilding your stairs, put up a ladder on the outside of the house to get to the second floor). You also need to plan for contingencies to handle customer issues that come up in the meanwhile. The most important part is to come up with a plan to test all affected areas before you start. Following those steps will help to keep your remodel job a lot more manageable.

Challenges Marketing

Now is the perfect time to partner!

Partnerships are a way to expand your current offerings into new areas that support your core sales. Interestingly, with the tougher economy, most companies are quite open to creative approaches to working together.

Of course giving a piece of your business away often seems questionable in good times, much less bad. The tricky part is the cost of doing it yourself – and the potential for lower sales than you need to support a new product or service. Worse still, there is the risk of unhappy customers due to high cost, less than perfect implementation and slow turnaround. These can easily jeopardize your business relationship with them.

Of course you can never offer a product or service that your customer’s are requesting, but then you are forcing them to look for another vendor — a vendor that will probably try to undermine your relationship and take the rest of the business.

To me, it seems that the best option is to partner with a product or service provider that has the ability to deliver the system as specified — and as part of the relationship, you each agree that you won’t come after the rest of each others business. You each focus on your strengths, and are able to exchange customer leads back and forth as they come in.

So, if you are thinking about how you can refresh your business and give your customers another reason to buy from you, this may be a good time to step back and assess what your strengths truly are. Then, determine if the most efficient and cost-effective way to satisfy your customers is to continue to develop needed skills in-house, or expand or enter new markets through partnerships. With the slowdown of business today, it’s time well spent that can add more to the bottom line in a shrinking market and broaden your horizons when businesses loosen their purse strings.

Challenges Marketing

When is “Free” not good enough

The economy is taking it’s toll on all of us, and it is interesting how it impacts people’s thinking. Digital signage is one of those areas that actually makes money for a company that uses it. Our prices are low compared to most of our competition, yet I feel that in this economy, it would be good to help people out with a free digital signage software product.

I have been talking with several people about free or low cost products to have people talk about it and create a buzz. Since software has it’s cost on the front-end while it is getting developed and very little once it is completed, there is some flexibility. Of course a company cannot stay in business for long without some revenue stream. We would create a lower end version that offers enough functionality to have positive reviews, and limit some of the high end features that we offer to get revenue from the larger corporate accounts.

We have experimented a little with this. We offer a free 30 day demo that is initially setup in 5 simple steps. From there, it can be further customized and fully run for the trial period. This obviously is good to get a feel, but not good enough to create a buzz. We also have offered a free product for some companies that are on the edge of closing their doors to try to get their revenues up with the great advertising that digital signage can do. Some have taken part, but many do not. I suspect that everyone is so overworked and overwhelmed that something outside of their core business is just not something they want to deal with.

I was told to get the book “Free” by Chris Anderson. I have not started it yet, but I will report later on what I discover from the book. I hope that it offers insights into how, when and what approach helps gain a large customer base that also offers some revenue opportunities. If anyone reading this has insights into this subject, please let us know.


Digital Signage Expo Review

First off, thanks to everyone who took the time to meet with me. This is an update of what was discovered at the Digital Signage Expo show in Las Vegas last week.

One of the first things that I learned is that the Digital Signage industry is definitely an early market. The Digital Signage Association is pushing to get their own trade show and stand on their own financial feet. At the same time, the Digital Signage Federation is trying to start a new user group. First off, it tells me that there is getting to be a lot more interest in Digital Signage. Secondly, my past experience in other industries tells me that if both try to go forward, both may die an unfortunate and untimely death.

I feel the same for digital signage shows. Exhibitors (the people paying for the show) want to see a return on their investment. Yes, we do like to see some of our money go into growing the industry (this is the strategy for the DSA group), but we need qualified attendees. Too many shows just dilutes the user group so that again, all shows have trouble. I would like to see consolidation to one organization and one major show. Of course I have little say on the matter!

Other than growing the business, we had a focus to learn about options for a dedicated linux based player PC that mounts to the back of screens. There are several options that we are researching and hope to announce this new product offering soon.

We also focused a lot on discovering available content to help our customers even more. We have begun the process of content partnership with several companies for animated images / backgrounds, safety information for employee communication and general news, sports, trivia that is licensed and presented in interesting ways. Again, we hope to announce the integration with these companies soon.

I used to go to Vegas for trade shows over 20 years ago. Vegas has changed dramatically – especially the prices. It used to be a great place to get away for a few days. It has definitely become a tourist trap that in my case, makes me want to stay away even more….