Two of three of us are visual learners. We’d rather see it, as opposed to read it.
We like to understand, quickly and in visual terms, what’s going on. The ancient adage about a picture being worth 1,000 words is very relevant to digital signage, particularly when most people who get around screens glance at them, as opposed to stopping and really taking in the screen programming.
That’s a big reason why I’m thinking data visualization is going to be the next big thing in the digital signage sector. Complicated, data-rich information can be communicated almost at a glance, and when done right, can be presented and updated in real time. It can also, pretty easily, be interactive.
Three Factors Driving Rise
At least three things are contributing to what I think will be a big rise in the use of visualized data:
1 – It’s getting easier to collect and harmonize data sources, and more and more data is coming available – pulled from countless resources;
2 – Visualization tools are getting commoditized and consumer-friendly;
3 – HTML5 is making it increasingly easy to present data in compelling and flexible ways.
I think there are at least a couple of types of content that suit themselves to visualized data – back of house and consumer-facing.
Data visualization has, in many respects, been going on for years in many industries. We’ve all seen images of big command and control and operations centers for mass transport, logistics, manufacturing, energy and security. There are giant video walls presenting data in highly visual terms, and versions of that data are on desktops. In both cases, it tends to have been pulled together using very sophisticated, very expensive software.
New Data Era
But we’re in an era now of programming interfaces and middleware and shared directories that allow all the generated data to be shared, and for non-proprietary, web services-friendly tools to collect that information and do interesting things with it.
I like how I am starting to run into screens in office tower lobbies that are showing energy management performance and targets – live data that reflects how the company and the office block is doing on energy and resource conservation efforts. There are companies like QA Graphics in Iowa that you could sorta call digital signage software companies, except they are entirely focused on energy dashboards.
Advantech had a giant display showing energy metrics, based on IoT sensors, in its Taipei headquatrers.
For large companies involved in manufacturing, supply chain and logistics – among others – visualizations can make a big difference in company performance.
Pulling data together from multiple sources, and then harmonizing it, allows companies to get information up on screens not only in control rooms but out where the majority of staff are located. There’s lots of research out there showing that when employees can see how they’re doing, and how their equipment is doing, performance improves.
I’ve heard of stories of companies like FedEx using screens on the shipping/process floor at plants to tell workers where they stand with getting trucks and planes loaded in time, and how the visualized data allows them to understand where they’re at and juggle staffing to get packages out the door on time.
RMG Networks, when I was down seeing them in Dallas last month, talked among many things about visualizations that were going to gamified – the idea of getting work teams competing based on the performance metrics running on big screens. That’s a company, through its Symon roots, is really well positioned to do visualized data, because of its manufacturing and contact center services background.
I’ve always liked the simple story of a flooring manufacturer that tied the performance read-outs from giant milling machines to real-time display screens running UCView, so workers on the floor could shut down or adjust those machines if their performance levels were threatening to crank out substandard carpeting. A simple tie-in saved millions.
The consumer side is, I think, equally interesting. We’re all walking around with devices and opting into apps that are collecting anonymous data about where we go and what we do.
Between video analytics, beacons, wifi triangulation, opt-in apps, fitness sensors and social media analytics, there’s endless information about what we’re up to and what interests us. Mash that up with demographics, real time traffic and transport data, polling, sales data and so on, and what can get presented on big screens is really just limited by the information available and the imaginations of network operators.
Some of it can be highly relevant and incredibly hypnotic. Consider this real-time visualization of global Twitter trending during the opening World Cup game last week …
Or look at what the Yale School of Management did with data visualization at its new building.
The display walls show real time information such as school-wide agendas, class and conference schedules, special announcements, insightful information and photography from students, staff and guest speakers as well as customized presentations, data visualizations and broadcast media.
This is a huge topic, but the capsule version is that visualized data gives digital signage network operators a fascinating, powerful and effective new way to present content, and do it in ways that means the information is always fresh and, when it make sense, interactive.
There are scores of data visualization tools out there – some that are SaaS-based and allow users to take the output as just an embed-ready HTML5 script – that make it relatively easy to do this, and likely more of them on the way.
It’s going to be rare when the data is just ready and structured in the way it needs to be to work, but I’d encourage network operators and vendors to start playing with this technology and seeing what’s possible.
Another topic not event covered here is how data can inform and shape other content decisions.
Where all this stuff is going will be among the subjects explored at DSrupted, the first conference on the impact of disruptive technology on digital signage, on Sept. 17th in Toronto. To learn more, visit the dedicated website: www.DSrupted.com