The Rise Of No Code And What That Means For Digital Signage, With Intuiface’s Geoff Bessin
May 10, 2022 by Dave Haynes
NOTE – Podcasts normally come out on Wednesdays, but as a favor to Intuiface – which is at this week’s ISE trade show in Spain – I moved it up a day to coincide with the show’s opening day …
One of the big trends in the software world is the whole idea of no code development – the premise that both programmers and mere mortals can create applications without getting their typing fingers dirty and brains fried doing traditional computer programming.
The proposition is that no code development platforms can cut out a lot of time and cost associated with pulling applications together, and also deal with the reality that good programmers are in high demand and therefore scarce.
The French software firm Intuiface is in the interesting position of having offered a no code platform long before no code was a discussion point, so the folks there are a great resource for discussing the implications for the digital signage and interactive display market.
I spoke with Geoff Bessin, the CMO and main voice for Intuiface, about the distinctions between no code and low code development platforms, and how they differ from the simple drag and drop, what you see is what you get user interfaces that are common in digital signage content management systems. We also dig into the benefits, the limitations, and more than anything, why you should know and care about no code.
Geoff, thank you for joining me. Can you give me the rundown first on what Intuiface is all about?
Geoff Bessin: Will do, Dave, thank you for having me. So Intuiface is a no-code platform dedicated to the creation of interactive digital content. That includes digital signage, but really it can anything in the venue. It could be a museum exhibition, could be a sales pitch for a movie sales team, could be anything at a trade show, something in a real estate office, et cetera. So you create it, you deploy it, you can do analytics with it. It’s all good.
And the company is based in France, correct?
Geoff Bessin: We are headquartered in a town called Labège, which is right outside Toulouse in France. Although I’m not, but it’s funny, my name is Geoffrey Besson, so both my first and last name look French. So people always assume it’s French, but that’s not the case. I’m in Boston.
Can you speak a lick of French?
Geoff Bessin: Oui. Yes.
Good for you! I wanted to talk about no-code software, cause you guys have been no-code before people were even using that term and no-code is one of these trends, just like headless CMS, that seems to be bubbling up and maybe people don’t understand a lot about it yet.
Geoff Bessin: Yeah, you could go back to the 80s and find things like HyperCard where you were enabling non-developers to create an application of some sorts. So it goes back a long way, but in terms of a movement, generating notice, gaining investment and having companies spend money on it, it’s only been the past few years.
I can tell you that statistics are now saying that the market size, the amount of money being spent on no-code software used to create apps is almost $14 billion. It’s a lot of money being pumped into these apps. And in fact, more than 65% of apps are now created using no-code tools. So more than 50%, more than half of apps are being built with no-code software. It is the predominant means of delivering applications these days.
What’s the distinction between no-code and low-code, because I’ve heard both terms.
Geoff Bessin: There’s no formal distinction. You can’t point at it and go, “Oh, this one’s no-code” like you just went over the line. But the idea is that with low-code, there are back doors. There are means to enhance, to extend, to facilitate integration that might involve a little bit of coding. Even that coding could be simplified based on maybe either a scripting language that is native to the tool or a public scripting language like Ruby.
Whereas no-code is just 100%, you’re not going to see code anywhere, and so you are in a way limited to the sandbox provided by the no-code platform, what it is you’re able to deliver is limited by what you can piece together with the Lego blocks of that platform. no-code gives you those little back doors to branch yourself out.
So what does it mean for development? Does it distance or mediate the need for application developers completely, and just any old end-user can produce an application without having to engage developers or is it more something that accelerates the development process and just gets some cost and time out of the way?
Geoff Bessin: I think that question brings us to who’s doing it, and why are they doing it? As I mentioned, no-code has exploded recently, and it is due to a set of developments that have driven application development to what is now called the “citizen developer.”
Trends such as a shortage of developers, it’s not that we’re trying to get rid of them. It’s that there’s not enough. I saw one statistic that back in 2020, there were 1.2 million unfilled developer jobs in the United States, just the US but 1.2 million developer jobs unfilled in the US and colleges and universities were only cranking out about 400,000 developers. There’s a shortage. So it’s not that we don’t want them, we don’t have them. What do you do about that? There was also COVID, which has greatly accelerated investment in these no-code platforms, because everything moved online, and when everything moved online, everything needed to be digitized and companies realized we have to move now but we don’t have enough resources, so how the heck are we going to digitize these things?
And then there’s also tangential, but influential, the fact that even in our own home, we’re not coders, but we are programmers. If I’m working with my Nest thermostat, that’s programming. I just got a puppy and they have these apps that you can then program to see how many steps they’ve taken and how much water they drink, that’s programming, and the digital native is used to controlling their environment digitally. There are tools out there that enable them to realize their ideas as an application, and somebody has to build it because there’s not enough developers to go around. That’s what really kicked the no-code market in the butt.
What we’re seeing subsequently is that the developer shortage is being filled by these citizen developers producing applications, maybe for personal use, maybe for internal employee use, maybe for customer us, it depends. Those developers are now being transitioned to work on larger projects, more intricate projects. They have more time arguably to focus on the big tickets stuff that still needs the hardcore development, offloading their responsibility from the simpler things that can now be handled by that citizen developer.
Are there trade offs that you have to accept, to use no-code instead of just doing your own thing?
Geoff Bessin: Certainly. There are obvious advantages, there’s speed and there’s costs benefits. There’s a big productivity boost, but of course there’s trade offs. I like this notion of Legos. You have these prebuilt blocks and this is a finite number of block options that you can combine in an infinite number of ways. At the end of the day, you’re still limited to those blocks, right? And so if I’m using a no-code platform and I need a block that doesn’t exist, I’m stuck.
Now, I suppose if it’s a low-code platform, depending on what I need to achieve,okay, maybe I can put something together if I have the skill, maybe I don’t, but if I don’t have the skill or if the opportunity with the platform doesn’t exist, I am limited, and I think that might be the fundamental challenge is what can I do? What can I realize? Cause recognize that a lot of these platforms are built to be generic, to address sort of breadth, not always depth, and so that can be a challenge. You are also, of course, relying on them to be responsible for performance and reliability. You are handing over that duty, that responsibility to the provider, the no-code platform. I hope they’re doing a good job. Because it’s out of my hands, I can’t control that, and so those are the big risks: can I achieve exactly what I want or am I making compromises? Am I achieving the level of performance? My ability to deploy? My ability to collect data analytics? My ability to manage that deployment?
There’s 150-200 platforms across the spectrum offering no-code and low-code options. You might be making some compromises on the way, certainly are, but as I shared with you, 65% of apps are now built with no-code platforms. So companies have decided it’s worth the risk.
What’s the distinction between no-code and what you see is what you get (WYSIWYG) user interfaces?
Geoff Bessin: No-code, I think it’s more of a connotation, not a denotation. I think you could argue that a lot of no-code platforms are WYSIWYG. Intuiface is a no-code platform, it’s a drag and drop tool. It’s a WYSIWYG. The connotation of WYSIWYG, it could be for a developer. It could be for anybody of any skill set. So it’s more of a generic catchall for applications enabled to create other applications by dragging components and you can see what they look like at design time and development time.
No-code connotes the non-developer, the citizen developer that you don’t have coding skills and you’re not expected to have those skills. So I think that’s it.
You sent me a white paper that kind of goes into this and you’re making the argument that while no-code is out there, it’s exploding and growing and everything else, there’s really no application, I think you called it a ‘no-code blind spot’ in terms of in-venue applications. What do you mean by that?
Geoff Bessin: So let’s define in-venue because that is exactly our contention. In-venue is an encapsulation of any digital deployment out of the home. It could be digital signage, could be all those things I mentioned with Intuiface as well, the museum exhibition, the sales presentation, real estate office, et cetera. It is out of the home. It is not my phone though. It is not my PC. I’m not browsing the web at home. I’m out of my home, I’m in a venue and there is some digital content trying to communicate to educate, to promote, to sell to me.
That domain has been, I think with the exception of Intuiface, untouched by the no-code movement. For sure, if you look at the landscape of companies delivering solutions to address the needs of the citizen developer, there is nothing out there addressing these in-venue deployments. It’s all about web and mobile apps and some websites, that’s it. So if you want to create digital signage, if you want to create that museum exhibition, the sales pitch, there is no option out there now, and which brings us David, I know you’re going to want to ask this, which is, will, aren’t all digital signage platforms, no-code? Which is great question, Dave, by the way…
You are a psychic!
Geoff Bessin: That’s a yes, but, it is absolutely true that you don’t write code, but there are certain expectations of a no-code platform that the traditional digital signage CMS cannot fulfill, and it’s interesting if I take a step back, really by definition, it has always been the non-developer on the digital signage side, hasn’t it? You buy a platform, there’s a CMS, the user of the content management system is the content person. They’re not coding anything. They’re working with the CMS, they’re assigning content to zones and they’re day partying. By definition from day one, digital signage was always a non-developer domain, whereas web and mobile apps and these sorts of things were always the developer domain.
The no-code movement was, “Hey, this complicated stuff, we gotta make it simpler. We need the citizen developer involved.” So they brought no-code to the domain that started with developers, which I think is one of the explanations for why it didn’t really come over to the in-venue side yet, because it was always non-coder users, but there are certain expectations of the no-code platform, that is not really in scope of the platform delivering in-venue content. A simple example, just to give you one would be the notion of context. To react to the user, react to the environment, in real time in that context, and do something as a result that is inherently this notion of logic. If this, then that. That’s coding, right? It’s got the whiff of coding and how do you do that? And there’s a list of things we can discuss about what makes in-venue unique. But it requires the accommodation of additional concerns that are beyond the scope of what a traditional CMS does and that no other no-code platform does across the no-code spectrum.
I guess what you’re saying in certain respects is you can develop a playlist, do all the basic functionality of a digital sign, you can target content and everything else, but the moment you get into a request to do something different, that’s interactive, that as you say, maybe responds to triggers and so on, that gets a lot more complicated, and at that point you’re putting in, if you’re an end user, you’re putting in a request to your reseller or to the software company directly saying, can you do this? And they’ll say, yes, we can, but it’s going to take this amount of time, this amount of money and, we can’t get this to you for six months cause it’s off of our roadmap or whatever… Is that one of the arguments you’d make?
Geoff Bessin: I would say that for sure. You see, a lot of companies have libraries. Here’s our template library, here’s our plugin library, here’s our integration library. Oh, you want something we don’t have? We can build that for you. Here’s the cost. Here’s how long it’s going to take. That’s one example.
I can tell you that from a Intuiface perspective, we don’t have any libraries. We haven’t really prebuilt anything. Our paradigm is to enable integration with any web service, to create any UI, to integrate with any content management system, to have that ubiquity, which means that we don’t have to build anything for our clients. The customer can do that. But it also means that, well, you better have a good idea and you better need to know what you. Because you’re starting with a tabula rasa, but yes, that is certainly one good example of how you fulfill these sort of unique needs you might have thought about. I’ll give you another example, which is retail point of sale. How would you build that thing? To me, that qualifies as an in-venue application. That’s in the venue, right? I can order through a website, but do I want to put a website on a kiosk? It’s a different domain. It’s a different paradigm. It has different design requirements, different expectations, different issues about security, about being able to run potentially offline. But having to work with peripherals, having hyper-local context dependence, there are all of these concerns that will impact that user experience in the venue that may not be relevant or at all to a web experience. If I want to build that thing, how much flexibility am I going to have? Now there are companies like Grubber, which are pretty much pre-built everything, right? All you do is you push your menu into their back office system, and you’re good to go. You just have to hope it does exactly what it is you want because you’re constrained within the confines of what they offer for design, with the offer for business process, what they offer in terms of context, awareness, and reaction and if you need to make any kind of changes, you’re dependent on them to make those changes, and that has a cost and a time penalty to it.
What kind of skillsets do you realistically need to use a no-code particularly in the context of Intuiface? I’m assuming the proposition is anybody can sit down, but you still have to plan out, you have to have some methodical thinking about what you want to do with what the decision tree is on all that stuff, right?
Geoff Bessin: You do, and that gives me an opportunity to give you just a brief history of Intuiface because we were never a no-code company, that wasn’t how we were oriented. The company was actually founded back in 2002. It was founded by a couple of PhDs with expertise in touch technology. And from day one, it was about bringing user experiences to a lot of it was, believe it or not, the defense industry, but also retail, touch-driven user experiences for something, to accomplish something. The company was always about the user experience.
At the end of the day, as great as your touch technology might be, nobody cares if it’s not usable. If it doesn’t make it easy to achieve some goal, and so Intuiface, when it was born it was all about the user experience, and in fact, most of its early hires were focused on that, on how to make something intuitive and that where the company name comes from, an intuitive interface. To make intuitive user experiences that we’re driven by interaction like touch. What happened was we were servicing all of these organizations, again, a lot of defense, Intuiface is headquartered just outside the Toulouse, as i mentioned. So you have the big aerospace and defense industry located in Toulouse like Airbus. So a lot of those clients, but also retail, commerce. Focused on user experience, and it was hard to scale the business because you had this deep technical dependency underneath because it’s driven by touch and we’re going back 15 years, so expensive hardware, challenging technology, and at the same time, trying to come up with these really intuitive user interfaces, it was a challenge, and we decided internally, I say we, but I wasn’t here yet. Intuiface decided internally that we need to come up with something that can accelerate our ability to deliver good user experiences on top of this touch technology.
The company builds something called Intuikit, it was used internally by user experience experts, designers, and people good at aesthetics, people good at thinking about the customer. They were not developers. Ultimately, we decided this thing called Intuikit is pretty awesome, maybe that’s our business, and so we’re. It’s a short story about how the software platform Intuiface was born. We were always about the user experience. It is our expectation that our users are experts in the users, creating intuitive interfaces, not In having any necessary knowledge about development. So that is our expectation, and that’s what we think is appropriate. You need to be creative. You need to understand the user. You need to understand the domain. You don’t have to worry about the platform you’re building it on. That should not be your problem. You should be all about solving the customer’s problem.
I realize you work with a bunch of industries, but a lot of your activity is in digital signage. If I am an end-user and I’m using ACME digital signage software, can I use the Intuiface with it? Does it plug into it or are there restrictions? Do you have to go through door number one or door number two, you can’t use both doors?
Geoff Bessin: Probably, you can’t do. Typically the content management system used by the DS platform is proprietary. It’s a closed system. It doesn’t have a published API. So we couldn’t read from it. Intuiface conversely has its own runtime as well. We can run side by side. In fact, on Windows, we have the ability to run side by side with other applications, we have had customers who are not ready to transition off their existing DS investment. So they were sort of a cohabitating interactive Intuiface based content at one part of the screen and traditional DS content and others were cohabitating that screen. But normally no, that wouldn’t be how one would do it.
Certainly Intuiface is positioned around interactivity. We believe that by definition, once you introduce interactivity and the need to be responsive and context, and to accommodate not just touch, but sensors and voice and computer vision, when you need to account for all of these things, you need to be very good at that if-when, right? And that notion of conditional responses to events which are completely typically outside the realm of the traditional DS platform. That’s where we start, and then clients can decide, do I want these Intuiface to co-exist with this DS platform? Or do we need to make some sort of transition.
If I’m an end-user and I start with Intuiface and have a series of interactive screens that are doing some sort of functionality, whatever it may be and then I decide, I want to also have an expanding network of “dumb screens” that are just running traditional digital signage content in some sort of a sequence. Can you do that too?
Geoff Bessin: Sure, the content doesn’t know it’s in a dumb playlist, right? The content is fine. Certainly you can do that. The Intuiface was born, solving the interactive problem. And it’s interesting, Dave, because in the early days of selling our platform, digital signage was something else. You didn’t touch signage. So our communication to the marketplace was not interactive signage. There wasn’t such a thing. There was interactive content for kiosks. That was the world when we first walked in, you were touching something such as a table or a kiosk. There were touch screens, very expensive touch screens. You could be bound on a wall, never a perceptive pixel from a million years ago. Like those CNN screens and that sort of thing. You spend $2,500, you can have a touchscreen, but bylarge, it was kiosks and that sort of thing.
What happened was that they had this largely commoditized, digital signage space, hundreds of companies offering traditional digital signage and customers had iPhones in their pocket and they had iPads at home, and they started thinking about interactivity. They see the voting coverage on CNN and people tapping screens. So can you do that? That’s why we started getting questions about traditional digital signage. Can you fulfill that as well? We were like yeah, we can, and over the years we developed additional capability to accommodate it.
The paradigm is still different. We don’t have a traditional notion of a playlist for example, but you can create a playlist within Intuiface. We’re using our Lego blocks, not just to build interactive content, but non-interactive content as well. You can do both.
So it was something you could do, but it’s not your focus?
Geoff Bessin: I would say, we’res interactive first, but the traditional broadcast signage, and I don’t mean this in a judgy way, it’s not typically that complicated. So if it is a playlist of stuff, images, videos, documents, it’s very easily done, but people very rarely come to us, Dave, with traditional first. They’re coming to us because they need to solve an interactive need, and oh, by the way, long-term you can transition to traditional content as well.
I agree that, the conventional side of digital signage, the meat potatoes, run this stuff at this time and these locations and all that is commoditized and pretty simple, and I always say that the complicated stuff is behind the scenes, the device management, the API integrations and all that sort of stuff. Are you at a level now where you can provide the building blocks, the Lego blocks to do the interactive piece, but also enable the end user to monitor and remotely manage all that?
Geoff Bessin: We do offer that, and in fact we offer both of what you mentioned, cause you also mentioned the API integration, we can accommodate that as well.
On the device management side, certainly we have an awareness of the devices in the field and you can set up notifications if things are going wrong, that sort of thing, you can see what’s running on those devices. On certain platforms, you can remotely update on runtime, that sort of thing. We’re not averse to working with a device and platform management options, to collaborate with them in a deployment, but we do offer some of that. And with API integration, we’ve actually offered for six years. It’s been a long time and it’s one of those things, Dave, where, as I said, we weren’t born with no-code. We were born worried about user experience and we realized we looked in the mirror and wen, oh, we’re actually no-code.
We’ve been offering a software called API Explorer. You can automatically create an integration, an integration with a web API without writing code And it is a real time integration reading from writing to that web API. It could be a back office system, ERP application, CRM application could be a database wrapped in an API, could be a device on the internet of things, all of these options can be integrated with a running Intuiface experienced by a non-developer, using API Explorer. So we’ve offered that for some time.
We now have our own CMS but you don’t have to use it. Our original value prop is to use whatever you want. We have API Explorer, you can plug into whatever you want. We have now introduced our own because depending on the scenario and the requirements of the project, it just makes better sense to use ours. But we still have customers that would rather use that other thing, or Dave, they’re integrated with the ERP application. They’re building a retail point of sale application with Intuiface, and they have integrated with the ERP system, they need to work with the API and you can do that.
Who would you describe as your kind of core end-users, core customers?
Geoff Bessin: I would say 50 to 60% of our customers are agencies and integrators. So we can discuss with the actual user might be, but I would say more than half of our installed base are agencies and integrators with their own clients. And there is a spectrum of reasons why they’re using Intuiface. Some of them, they don’t have the development skill, but they want to offer interactivity. Others have men and women on the bench with the skill, but they don’t have the scale. That’s the problem with people is that they can work on one thing at a time.
And what we find is that a lot of the integrators in particular will be taking Intuiface so they can scale. They can take on a larger volume of maybe small and mid-sized projects that they can do with Intuiface, and then put the men and women on the bench onto the bigger high value projects. We find that customers are saving 80% of time and 60% of costs versus customer that don’t use Intuiface. So it’s very easy for them, and it’s an easy pitch. Conceptually, if you can build an interactive application, doing exactly what you want with a no-code platform is probably cheaper and faster than if I wrote code, so it’s an easy idea to wallow and it is what our customers experience. So that’s what you’ll find. I would say the majority 60%-55% agencies and integrators, the rest are the small and midsize museums, schools, retailers, sales offices, marketing, and sales teams, they want to do it themselves.
And do they want to do it themselves because of cost or control?
Geoff Bessin: Often it’s because of cost. They have ambition or they’ve been bitten, Dave, where they have outsourced it. You don’t see this going in, but you meet an agency. You tell them what you want, they agree and deliver something in two months that doesn’t resemble what you wanted, so you ask for revisions, and this cycle continues while you pay for the time. It’s not an agile process, and again, I’m not casting aspersions at the agency, they are our customers. But their sales pitch is we use Intuiface so we can deliver what you want faster than the other guys that do exactly what you want, and by the way, if you don’t like the work we did, you can take it with you.
If I pay an agency to write custom code and I’ll be dissatisfied, I’m starting from zero with another agency. So you have that kind of portability benefit as well. So yes, a lot of the small and midsize, it’s budget driven or based on their experience, they have limited budgets. They outsourced it, and they were just satisfied. We do have the occasional large enterprise. They want to have maybe an interactive sales pitch. So the marketing and sales team is driving the creation of the collateral, hiring a developer to make. I could use PowerPoint. Why am I hiring? It’s hard to justify this pay developers to code a sales pitch, I can just use PowerPoint. Hold on a second, here’s this thing called Intuiface. I can build an interactive sales pitch for my Salesforce. I’m still using the tool. I’m the creative team on the marketing sales team. But I’m creating something that is far more novel and engaging than a PowerPoint.
When the pandemic hit, I speculated and I’m sure many people speculated that this was going to be a difficult time for people who were in the touch and interactive business. What happened instead is that touch actually went up in demand and self service applications became very much a big development initiative. Have you seen that happening in the last couple of years?
Geoff Bessin: We have, and then ultimately it turns out people are more afraid of other people than touch screens. And our business has rebounded quite well. What we were hoping for, and it seems to be the case is that demand didn’t drop. It got stuck behind a wall. There was a dam and the demand was building behind the dam, and you couldn’t open the dam cause nobody was out of the house and the waters were rising, people are finally out of the house, and you opened up the floodgates. So we’re seeing a really nice rebound that is complimented, not just by the building interest anyway, but the kind of renewed interest in facilitating a non-human interaction, which sounds horrible culturally, in their place of business or what have you.
And again, it’s not just touch. Yes, I think probably most people would rather take a little Purell. They’re fine with that, but still some people are not, and maybe they can use their mobile phone or scan a QR code.
But it’s also a labor issue. It’s harder to hire people and if you can use self service, then you don’t have to worry so much about staffing.
Geoff Bessin: There’s that whole other thing too which is the cost of staffing and training and enabling and equipping and there’s that as well. So for sure, there is certainly a perceived increase in interest, and interactivity of any kind and Intuiface has always been focused on any kind of interactivity, not just touch, and certainly this ability to use my mobile phone to interact with content is an increasingly interesting example, using gestures to interact, using voice to interact. So I’m not touching but I’m still working with technology directly rather than mediating through somebody else. So all of that is going on.
Last question: you guys have certainly in the last few years had a presence at ISE and at other trade shows, what are you doing in the next few weeks and months? Is Intuiface going to be something that people can walk up and get demos for?
Geoff Bessin: We will be at ISE, so that’ll be our first trade show in however many years we’ll be there. So you and I are speaking on April 26th and that’s why I say in just a couple of weeks, we will be there with a booth, and we certainly hope we’ll see others there.
We used to actually have our user conference in parallel with ISE, in-person and the pandemic put the kibosh on that. We’ve done virtual user conferences every year since then, and we like that because you don’t have to travel, and so our user conference will be forever more be virtual. We actually have our user conference in three weeks that people are welcome to join. It’s free, it’ll be online, but we plan to be at ISE. We plan to be a DSE in the US and I think it’s now November, and we’ll be participating when your colleagues at Avitas are running DSE in parallel and ISE will be participating in that as well. So we’re starting. We’re treating this as back to normal. It’s interesting, Dave working on my travel plans, flying into Spain. But you can’t just get on a plane, you need to jump through certain things because of COVID. But it looks as of today, they’re not even requiring masks onsite. That doesn’t seem to be a requirement. Just the honor system that you are vaccinated or recovered and we’ll see how that goes, but we’re excited to be there. We’ll have a big booth and about eight of us, we’ll have a lot of people there.
And where can people find Intuiface online?
Geoff Bessin: Dave, thank you for asking, Intuiface.com. They can also just contact us. You are listening to Jeff Besson. You can just email me email@example.com.
The product can be tried for free, Dave. No credit card required. People can poke at it and see if what we’re saying is true.
All right, thank you.
Geoff Bessin: Dave. It’s a pleasure. Thanks for having me.