PJ Thelen On Why RoveIQ Sees A Need And Opportunity In Digital Wayfinding For Healthcare

July 27, 2022 by Dave Haynes

When PJ Thelen talks about his company’s software and hardware, he focuses almost entirely on the experiences they enable and deliver, as opposed to the features and specs of the technology.

It’s refreshing, because a lot of the conversation and marketing around outdoor displays for directories, wayfinding and advertising has been – at least in recent years – about how they were more than just screens, but smart city devices that did a variety of things, including WiFi connectivity and IoT sensors. Thelen went so far as rebranding the company he now runs from smartLINK to RoveIQ – getting away from the heavily-used smart moniker and emphasizing how Rove speaks to enabling people to navigate a space with intelligent – the IQ bit – guidance.

The company has a CMS, sophisticated mapping, an ad server and analytics capabilities all designed to help people find their way around big places. The early adopters have been commercial properties – like mixed-use lifestyle developments. In many to most cases, those are wayfinding directories with mapping, supported by advertising.

But Thelen sees a lot of possibilities working with large-footprint healthcare, helping people find their way around sprawling medical campuses. There would be physical screens providing guidance, but in his vision, RoveIQ guides people from the time they park in a hospital garage all the way to a specific building, floor and waiting room.

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Peter, thank you for joining me. Can you tell me what RoveIQ is all about? 

Peter (PJ) Thelen: RoveIQ really emphasizes smart kiosks and wayfinding software solutions. 

We just rebranded our organization from smartLINK to RoveIQ and Dave, a big reason for that was we wanted to make sure our new name is better aligned with the solutions that we bring to market and the value that we provide for both our customers and partners. Now the word Rove, it’s the whole idea of wandering, discovering, et cetera but the IQ element is to do it in an intelligent fashion. So you have a very efficient and enjoyable experience.

So if somebody listening to this is trying to visualize what you do, the visual that would immediately spring to mind would be a display totem outside in a public plaza or something like that with directory or mapping, correct? 

Peter Thelen: Yeah, without a doubt. So I always use the analogy, Dave, to pretend that you’re going to a place for the first time. You’re not quite sure where you are or what is around you so you leverage the hardware and our software to understand what is available and then ultimately leveraging either the kiosk experience or the mobile experience allows you to essentially get to where you want to go leveraging a Blue Dot scenario, which obviously is our wayfinding software.

Blue Dot scenario, what do you mean by that, or is that just the name of the software itself? 

Peter Thelen: No, that’s just the analogy I use Dave, where if you think about where you are and let’s just say, hypothetically, you want to go to a restaurant, the dots correlate to the path that you need to take to go from where you are to where you ultimately want to go.

The old name, smartLINK, connoted the whole idea of smart cities and that there were all kinds of companies coming up with smart city kiosks in the last decade or so, and I don’t necessarily see a lot of traction for those sorts of things. Is that kind of driving this as well? What if you better focus on the whole idea of guiding people, as opposed to saying this is this station that will do all these other things to help cities become smarter? 

Peter Thelen: Yeah, we took a step back. RoveIQ is a software company. It just so happens that it needs a hardware platform to promote the value that we drive on a day in and day out basis.

In our minds, smart was widely used. It didn’t necessarily correlate to exactly what we do today and where we’re going tomorrow. From a search engine optimization perspective, it was tough just because there’s so many smart this and smart that. As RoveIQ continues to grow, we’re growing more and more into other verticals beyond just the smart city. So the bottom line is that we wanted a name that more appropriately aligned with who we are and what we’re doing on a day in and day out basis, and it just made sense. 

It was a great exercise. It was about a six month long exercise with a phenomenal local company here called Brand Fuel, and we’re very happy with the results.

There seem to be two kinds of threads of these kinds of outdoor street furniture displays. There are those shopping malls and community business districts, that sort of thing put in to help people find their way around intelligently, and then there are those that are there primarily as advertising. “Oh, by the way, there’s also a directory” or “there’s also some sort of a lookup thing” but it exists for advertising. Do you go down one path or the other, or do you serve both? 

Peter Thelen: Yeah, that’s a great question, and we definitely serve both, but there is no doubt that the emphasis of our software is around creating experiences. Experiences that a visitor or a resident is wanting to have, or is not expecting, and ultimately has, which generates this great feeling. 

Our software, which we consider a platform. It is a content management solution. It has the ability to be an ad server, which allows you to download and upload ads as well as schedule ads, then it has this third element around data analytics and reporting. So we feel like we have some of the best software out there. But there is no doubt at the end of the day, we’re trying to promote more experiences as compared to just ads. 

But a big part of the ROI from a customer perspective is that digital out-of-home ad opportunity, and post COVID that’s growing significantly, which is creating great opportunities. 

And ultimately, regardless of the venue and the scenario, something’s gotta pay for the thing, right, so that’s why advertising tends to come into play? 

Peter Thelen: Yeah. We always say there’s hard and soft ROI in terms of your investment in RoveIQ. The soft is the experiences that both the customer, the resident, the visitor, incurs on a per visit basis, and how do you measure that? Secondly, it is the digital out-of-home ads based on whatever DMA that property or the city resides in that correlates to how big of an opportunity that is, and then the third element, which in my mind is still fairly immature, but it’s becoming more relevant and more mature each and every day is this whole idea of how do you leverage the data? 

Whether it’s the touch analytics, whether it’s the video analytics and then the ability to potentially incorporate both WiFi and mobile, and then what do you use to do with that data to do something of value with it. 

You mentioned experience, how do you define and characterize experience? 

The experience can be what you see on the screen, what it looks like and everything else, or the experience can be, “that was easy. I found what I was looking for quickly, and that was a great experience” because now I can go in and experience whatever public plaza or mall or attraction that I’m at? 

Peter Thelen: At the end of the day, people want to be informed, they want to be educated, they want to gain access to information in a very quick and inefficient manner, and ultimately, they want to. 

We’re designing our software where when you approach a kiosk and you start to interact, you can get off of it in less than 40 seconds and feel really happy about the experience and you’re on your way, and you feel like you’re on your way in an intelligent way. I always use the analogy, Dave, if you come to a property or a city for the first time, you’re gonna be inclined to use our software. We at, RoveIQ wanna make sure every time you visit that city or that particular property, regardless if you know where you are and what is around you, because of your previous experience, you want to, once again, interact with our software, it causes you to want to come back, and if you’re coming back, that means we’re doing our job and adding great value to the customer, the property, etc. 

So if you’re doing your job, this is where repeat visitors tend to migrate to like Moss to a light. They just know, “I’ll start here to help me find what I’m looking for”?

Peter Thelen: That’s a hundred percent correct, and our new brand promise is this whole idea of enriching lives through intelligent software designed to move humans, then we elaborate saying both physically and emotionally, and that emotional element is probably the most important. 

So where does your company start and where does it stop in terms of services and technology that you provide?

Peter Thelen: So knowing that we’re a software company that ultimately needs a digital display to add value and differentiate, we’re providing a fully integrated solution to a customer, which obviously includes the hardware, the related installation, the software, and then the ongoing maintenance. To do all of those things, you need to wrap it in a bow from a project management perspective, and then ultimately you’re bringing this data element and this advertising element as part of the overall solution as well so the customer looks at you as a one stop shop. 

So we have that ability today. Now, obviously, we leverage partners where that is their core business to add the ultimate value and aspects of the overall solution. But hopefully that’s transparent to the customer. 

Yeah, I’m guessing that you guys would be happy as clams if you could just be a software company and not have to worry, or really even think about hardware and just provide the specs that it needs to run on this sort of thing, but as you say, people want one stop shopping, they want turnkey. 

Peter Thelen: Yep, but that does bring up a good point. Before I got here in May of 2021, we were predominantly dependent on hardware. Of course, in the last 14 months we’ve made phenomenal strides in promoting mobile-only solutions. So if you think about something as simple as a smart city or a mixed use real estate, yes, you’re walking up to a kiosk, but as you exit that kiosk, you can scan or text to phone, to basically take that exact same experience from the kiosk with you on your mobile device, you don’t have to download anything, it is considered a web app and off you go.

We’re also offering mobile-only solutions which are cool. As we penetrate colleges and universities and healthcare, we’re not dependent on that hardware. You can get the benefits of our software, just leveraging your mobile device which has been pretty exciting to see and we look at that as a high growth vertical. 

So in theory, let’s say on a university campus, you could walk up to a support column in a building and there’d be a QR code on there with a message that says. “Having trouble finding your way? Scan this!” and it’ll launch your app and off you go? 

Peter Thelen: That’s a hundred percent correct. 

How do you make money off of that then? 

Peter Thelen: Well, that’s all our software. If you think about it, the theme you’re probably hearing from me is, we’re a software company, and every time we’re providing value around our software, there is a fee for that subscription base , it’s monthly and it’s based on the opportunity. 

So in a conventional setup where you are providing display hardware, you would have a play out license for that display, but with the university campus or something like that, if you’re not using physical displays, you would just have some sort of a site license for the campus?

Peter Thelen: That’s a hundred percent correct.

Okay. That makes sense then. I’m curious about wayfinding. Mapping for big public displays has been around, I’d say at least a decade, maybe 15 years, and like everything it’s evolved, and I saw on your website, one of the things you talk about is three-dimensional wayfinding. 

Over the years, what has your company found in terms of what resonates with end users? Do they care about certain things like it being three-dimensional or do they just want something that’s very intuitive and quick? 

Peter Thelen: I’ve concluded it’s all the above. I think users today are smarter than ever. They have a very high expectation in terms of the experience that they’re aspiring to have. So they want everything. There’s a lot of wayfinding solutions out there. So we always think to ourselves, what makes ours better than the next, and knowing that we emphasize experiences, how do we really promote a better experience as it pertains to that whole wayfinding experience? 

So not everybody does 3D, most only do 2D. The whole idea of interactive is a big deal, and we obviously wanna promote that fairly aggressively, but the one thing that we’re really emphasizing, Dave, is this idea of hyperlocal. Do we capture all elements of a property? So when an individual starts their journey, leveraging our software, it’s a great experience. They very clearly know where they’re going, they can visualize the surrounding environment and as they’re going, there’s no fear and uncertainty or doubt about where they’re ultimately going to get to, because there’s a high degree of confidence in that.

The hyperlocal is a very important element to our solution. It could be as simple as a bench, it could be a tree, it could be the look and feel of the building. Our UI/UX team does a phenomenal job of configuring the property on a per deal basis to make sure it looks and feels just like that property actually is.

So some of the areas you’re in like Port Orlando in Orlando, or Miami Design District and so on, if a shopping or mixed use outdoor district like that approaches you guys and says we want to do this. What is involved? You were talking about the UX design and everything. Do they go on site or how do they put this together? 

Peter Thelen: Yeah, it’s a lot of different elements, which makes it fun and exciting, but ultimately it starts with a site survey, where we walk the property with the respective owners. We identify those high traffic areas. We understand the goals from the owner in terms of what they really want from this hardware and software. You have to define the advertising opportunity as part of the whole digital out-of-home. Sometimes it’s a great opportunity, sometimes it’s just an average opportunity and in some instances, based on the location of the property, it might not exist at all. Then the last element is this whole idea of data. 

Data is becoming more valuable like I referenced earlier. Each owner wants different types of data sets that’s important to them. So as part of the onboarding, we define those data elements. But as we leave that site survey, you’re taking all these pieces to the puzzle and assembling them into this picture that correlates to ultimately what they want which is a combination of hardware and software that are strategically placed throughout the property. We’ve built out the software in terms of the configuration so the experience as you approach the digital display looks and feels just like the property. 

I always use the analogy, picture your iPhone. When you open up your iPhone, you have the various apps on the first page. That’s no different than what we do for a customer as part of the configuration process, and then we build out the maps. Take into consideration that hyperlocal, 3D concepts 

It is the core goal and aspiration simply to ensure that people who visit a venue like Port Orlando or whatever, to just not be lost and frustrated, or is it a little more sophisticated and evolved in the case of trying to influence where they might go?

Peter Thelen: I’m chuckling a little bit because it’s both. If you think about the whole idea of moving people physically and emotionally, the physical aspect is the wayfinding, and that is the emphasis of our software, but we’re one of the first in industries to roll out augmented reality selfie. I was at the Avalon property outside Atlanta, Georgia last week, and I sat on the property for three hours, Dave and I watched people interact with our software, and 70% of the people were leveraging the selfie and having an absolute blast with it in terms of what filter to use, how many people to incorporate into the selfie picture. I watched them scan or text to phone and I watched them walk away giggling, because they were so happy with the experience. 

Okay. So this is walking in front of a totem, there’s a camera, it’s capturing your image in front of the camera and then you’re overlaying it like mouse ears or whatever?

Peter Thelen: That’s a hundred percent correct. I would say think of Snapchat filters, that’s the exact experience that we’re promoting, leveraging our software. 

Is that all just about the experience? Like I did this at this location and it’s going to brand it and say I was at Avalon, and I did this fun thing and it’s cascading out to that person’s followers and therefore it’s helping the Avalon brand? 

Peter Thelen: That’s a hundred percent correct, and then the other side of that, and I’ll just use an example of coupons. Think about the whole dynamic of a property wanting to potentially push more and more of the visitors to select locations or select stores, think about the whole idea of, I’m at Avalon for the first time, where is Lululemon? I used the software to understand where Lululemon is from a wayfinding perspective, Lululemon then offers me hypothetically a 10% coupon for today’s spend, I scan that QR code, I work my way to Lululemon, I obviously make my purchase, I go to the POS as part of my payment process and I get 10% off my total order.

Lululemon’s ecstatic that our technology drove people to their store, but the visitors were ecstatic because they got 10% off that they weren’t expecting, everybody’s happy. Those are the ideal scenarios. So the next time that family comes to Avalon, they’re gonna be very inclined to leverage our software to understand what other coupons are out there.

That’s got traceability too, right? 

Peter Thelen: That’s a hundred percent correct. 

Yeah, and is that happening very often, people using it?

Peter Thelen: The answer is yes, and it’s happening more and more every day. RoveIQ has only been around since 2016, it was started by two individuals that also had another company. So you could make an argument, it really was a hobby.

I came here in May of last year. We had very talented people, it just needed more direction and more leaders, and we’re adding new features every single day to our software to once again, heighten the whole idea of creating more and more experiences.

. Did you know much about this space when you came into it? 

Peter Thelen: Yeah, I did a little, I do adapt to be dangerous, but I ran an IT solutions company for 19 years. I spent my last two years at an organization called Kroger, a rather large grocery store where I ran a division called Sunrise Technology, and that was all about leveraging technology that Kroger developed in house and realized that it worked, and the ask from me was to take that technology and sell it to the global retail world. 

The emphasis of that technology was digital shelves inside a grocery store. So I took that same experience, in that case, it was a digital shelf. In our RoveIQ world, it’s a digital display, but the elements of the solution were very similar: data, advertising and experiences. 

I noticed in the press release announcing the name change that you also made a reference to healthcare software that was coming and I thought that’s interesting, so what was that all about and is it now live? 

Peter Thelen: I’ve had so much fun with the team and healthcare customers working on this new concept and it’s going great. The premise is fairly simple. If you think about the average experience today, where you have to go to a healthcare facility tomorrow, and these healthcare facilities continue to get bigger and bigger, which from a patient perspective, creates a lot of apprehension and anxiety around, where do I park, what entrance do I go in, and how do I ultimately get to the department that I’m needing to go to? 

So leveraging our legacy software, we have made tweaks where we are now integrating into their Epic and/or Cerner, where essentially a patient gets a text the day of their visit and that text takes them from their current location to the correct parking garage via car, then transfers to foot from the parking garage to the correct entrance, and then continues from the front entrance to the actual department. All leveraging a mobile device and obviously our software on that mobile device, and needless to say, it’s addressing a rather large problem in healthcare that we believe with confidence we can solve and we’re pretty excited about it. 

Now, where does it stand? We’re in pilots as we sit here today, which means we’re learning every single day with a set of customers, and needless to say, our goal is to go live with many customers as we enter 2023. 

That’s an interesting one because an awful lot of big healthcare complexes started off as one building and ended up being eighteen buildings and they’re all joined together and it’s confusing as hell to find your way around, and I can certainly respect the idea of something that can say: go out this door, go down this hallway, go up three levels, then turn right and left, and eventually you’re gonna find your way there because without it, you might have to leave super early because you know you’re gonna get lost. 

Peter Thelen: Completely agree, and if you think about the idea of hyperlocal and our legacy software with these enhancements, we can promote this unbelievable experience where you always feel like you know where you’re going and where you need to go to ultimately reach your destination. And from a customer experience perspective, these healthcare entities that we’re working with today, that’s one of their big issues. 

People need to feel good about where they need to go and how to go about getting there. 

Do you address language as well?

Peter Thelen: The answer is yes. Now our current pilots, they have not asked for that, Dave, but the bottom line is, our software has that capability. 

Yeah. I asked because years ago I had a meeting with a hospital in Toronto and it was in a very multicultural area of Toronto, and they had a roster of staff and volunteers who just handled all the different languages that came to the reception desk, asking where the Pediatric Clinic was or whatever, and they would have to call people and say, we need somebody who speaks Lithuanian or Tagalog or whatever it may be, and it was this monumental challenge. 

I suggested at the time that you might wanna look at some sort of interactive directory that you select your language first, and then it takes you where you need to go that way, and they said that’s interesting, but they wanted to just do the wow factor, I can’t do stuff in their public areas instead, and they’re like, oh, okay, that’s not gonna solve any problems, but fill your boots. 

Peter Thelen: Yeah, the bottom line is you wanna make sure you have software that can cover the population. The healthcare entities we’re working with are defining that population. Needless to say, we’re making sure our software can perform, and since it’s our own proprietary software, the sky’s the limit in terms of the capability and potential. 

Yeah, I could certainly see what you’re describing is working well on university campuses as well, particularly for night courses and part-time students who aren’t familiar with where they’re going and really the same thing in airports.

Peter Thelen: The airports for us, Dave, have been a tough market. It’s so competitive, there’s a fair amount of rather large players. Don’t get me wrong, we focus on airports, but that’s not necessarily where we have generated the most success today.

Airports are also pretty conditioned to media companies coming in and saying, we’ll put this in for free. 

Peter Thelen: That’s a hundred percent correct. I can play that game all day, every day. I can play, it’s just a matter of, can I compete? 

Yeah, you’re not gonna win too often when the other guy’s saying, we’ll put it in free for you.

Peter Thelen: You know that’s the dynamic we deal with every day on a per deal basis. Based on the perceived digital out-of-home advertising opportunity, that can create a free experience or that unfortunately you have to pay for, it has to generate the corresponding value. So those are the discussions we have. 

I’m guessing the majority of the opportunities that you run into and close are in some way bolstered by advertising, and there aren’t that many that are purely just an informational display?

Peter Thelen: It’s interesting, we’ve had a phenomenal 2022 and the characteristics of each deal really are so different, especially as it pertains to advertising, and there is no doubt when advertising can generate that ROI on its own, it makes it a very easy decision for a customer. But when that’s not the case, then it correlates to what are the other value elements and is that important to our property? And we’re seeing that increase more and more, which has been exciting, because obviously that’s creating great opportunities for us. 

But there’s no doubt, advertising is a big play here and at the end of the day, we’re trying to do everything within our means to bring the best solution forward around advertising to optimize that ROI from a customer perspective.

You mentioned programmatic in your press release. So are you working with the many programmatic companies out there? I don’t even wanna rattle ’em all off, cuz there’s so many and I’m so confused by it. 

Peter Thelen: Yeah. So our software, because it’s this platform and has this ad server capability, it integrates into programmatic partners, and we’re constantly looking at the appropriate programmatic partners and then obviously incorporating those into our solution. 

So yeah, that’s a big opportunity. This whole idea of unused inventory, how can it be sold in an automated fashion? These programmatic partners make it very easy to fill a high volume, usually obviously lower revenue elements, but still important from a customer perspective. 

The company itself, is it private or are you publicly traded? 

Peter Thelen: No, it’s private. It resides here in Northern Kentucky, right outside Cincinnati, Ohio. The emphasis today is within the United States, although we’re always looking at growth outside of the US, but it’s a fairly small company, but it’s doing some really exciting and fun things.

How many folks do you have working there? 

Peter Thelen: So we have 12 people today. I’m trying to grow that by an incremental three between now and year end. We have about 25-30 unique customers across five verticals: smart cities, mixed use real estate or lifestyle centers, we call it entertainment, but the emphasis really there is sports arenas, and then college universities, like we talked about earlier and healthcare. We’re heavily focused on five verticals. 

All right. So if people wanna know more about RoveIQ, where do they find you? 

Peter Thelen: Our new website is RoveIQ.com, which in the last three weeks has gotten a lot of attention, which is pretty exciting. But they can also email me, which is pretty simple: pj@RoveIQ.com, and you have my commitment that I’ll respond and give it the appropriate attention. 

All right this was great. Congratulations on growing the company the way you have.

Peter Thelen:. Dave, I really appreciate your time. I appreciate your support. You do great work and thanks for giving RoveIQ an opportunity to talk about what we do on a day in day out basis.

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