How Netpresenter Was Doing Workplace Digital Signage 20 Years Before It Became A Thing, And Is Still At It

May 8, 2024 by Dave Haynes

When the pandemic hit and a lot of people started working from home, many digital signage CMS software companies started developing and releasing solutions that pushed the digital signage messaging more normally posted on screens around workplaces to the laptop and computer monitor screens in the formal or ad hoc workspaces created around houses and apartments.

It was a new but necessary feature for most companies, but something the Dutch company Netpresenter has been doing for almost 30 years. The software company started out with that problem in mind, borrowing on the concept of screensavers to create what it calls desktop digital signage. Over time, it added more conventional digital signage capabilities for workplaces – a solution that founder Frank Hoen says is not an add-on, but as robust as the many, many, many other CMS options out there.

Along with offering a lot of integrations with business systems like SharePoint, the Netpresenter platform is very deep when it comes to triggered alerts for things like emergencies. That was developed in the wake of 9/11, when Netpresenter’s US office in the World Trade Center complex was lost in the terror attack.

Netpresenter has more than 5 million active users globally, from SMB to huge multi-nationals and government agencies that see screens on desktops and walls as the most effective way to reach and update its workers. While most of that footprint is desktop digital signage, Hoen says at least five percent of Netpresenter’s software licenses are being used for conventional digital signage in workplaces.

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Frank, thank you for joining me. I have been aware of Netpresenter for the longest time, but we’ve never actually chatted, and it’s interesting that you’re one of the oldest companies out there but not terribly well known.

Frank Hoen: We’re all over the United States. We have hospitals like George Washington Memorial Hospital and big hospital chains across the US, for example, oil refineries in the Middle East, and military installations. There is just a lot of oil, a lot of industries, and a lot of offices across the globe that use our software, and it’s been a while, so we have a couple of very interesting customers. 

One of the very earliest ones was the US Space Command, I believe, in 1995. Can you imagine that? Those were the days of PointCast, and everybody was saying it was the next big thing. 

I remember PointCast. 

Frank Hoen: Which was a dragon of a piece of software. It was terrible. 

Sucked all the bandwidth! 

Frank Hoen: Yeah, and it is interesting because, actually, the beginnings of Netpresenter could be traced back to the fact that we were selling one of the big brands of signage out there. I can tell you it was a Scala, Commodore Amiga, which was expensive as hell. They tried to bridge TV to the PC, and well, you know, they weren’t that successful. Windows was not very multimedia-oriented then, and it didn’t go that well, in the beginning, at least. 

We saw that, and we didn’t want to build a signage solution or compete with them, but what we did see is that for the first time, all these computers out there with screens, which were managed, which were there, were available, and they were interconnected, and so you start to experiment. You put some images and videos on the server, and then the server comes down because of all the bandwidth. So we introduced some smart caching, and voila, Netpresenter was born. 

It was kind of an interesting beginning, but big companies like Nokia, Sony, and the early pioneers picked up on it, and one of our early customers was actually a US Space Command. And so I literally started going to the trade show. I came across a Marine who was in this battle group who used Netpresenter, and I never heard of the people. I didn’t know they were using it. They might have copied it from one Navy server to other ships, but what can you do? It’s a nice story now. 

So you have interesting roots in that since COVID became a thing, the pandemic bubbled up, and a lot of people were working from home. A lot of “conventional” or “mainstream” digital signage companies branched into making effective screensavers, pushing information to desktops for work-from-home people.

You, on the flip side, started as a corporate screensaver company that then evolved and expanded into doing digital signage as well, correct? 

Frank Hoen: Well, yes, and if I may add, and taking it a bit back from COVID, we had an office in Twin Towers, and when obviously that happened, and all the people who I knew had died, we were like, could we have actually maybe contributed in a positive way and then trying to prevent when something similar happens to be able to save more people? And that was the beginning of what we call our Emergency Alert Capability of Netpresenter. 

So, sir, you had an office in the World Trade Center?

Frank Hoen: Yes.


Frank Hoen: So, that was one of those pivotal moments. Obviously, COVID was as well, and I’ll get back to that. But, imagine this, there, and suddenly boom, and it was, yeah, obviously terrible. But it was for us. We were like, let’s introduce emergency alerts in our platform so that our customers can actually use this for emergency evacuations, fire, aiding and fire alerts, giving specific information, active shooter, tornado warnings, and the software has been with us since then, basically, and to this day, many us hospitals actually use our software for that specifically as well, for example. 

Still, we have whole countries that are actually running the Netpresenter software, including the screens, all these tools, apps, and push notifications. This is a full omnichannel emergency alert system capable of serving whole countries. They’re running software. So if people are buying, and that’s my point, if people are buying Netpresenter, they’re buying something that literally whole countries depend on to address millions and millions immediately. So, we have seen quite a few copycats over the years, and I always felt, and so our developers, they had a very high shareware component in there. It was kind of like hack on the hack. Obviously, then those, what we have very often seen is people start off with that because they have rock bottom prices, obviously, because they can’t compete on features. Still, eventually, those customers end up at us. 

If you need to run on corporate devices, mobile devices, PCs, and all these things and networks. The last thing you want is for that piece of software to be installed, which kills your bandwidth and causes all kinds of problems. There are big organizations, especially in hospitals and other places, that they choose for quality, and that means. You know, we’re not the cheapest solution out there, most expensive either, but we’ve had many customers for 20-plus years. What IT company can say that? 

Not a lot. So, when you’re asked to describe your company, do you say you’re a digital signage software company or something else?

Frank Hoen: We’re into corporate communications. Basically, this is a corporate communication platform. We do say that we have signage for the big screens, desktop digital signage for all existing PCs, app solutions, alerts, notifications, tickers, and all kinds of tools, basically any device in the organization.

I always use the parallel of a hospital. There are big screens hanging there. We provide those; we run on those. There’s all the PCs, we run on those. We run on the tablets. We run on mobile devices. There’s the alert notification as well. The whole thing integrates with things already available. In organizations such as SharePoint integrations, that’s not many organizations that offer that.

So basically, organizations invest a lot in their intranets in their SharePoints and similar intranets, but predominantly SharePoint if organizations have Windows, but very few people are seeing the content. So that’s problematic. There’s a saying it’s difficult to be famous if nobody recognizes you, and it’s essentially here we are, they have invested a lot of money in that. So obviously, things like signage solutions, big screens, and being able to distill headlines literally, need-to-know, must-know information from intranets, that’s a killer app that really is bringing the most elegant way and big heritage of push that’s bringing content, throughout organizations, fully automated, and that’s just beautiful because number one: organizations, they are popularizing the internet, but number two: they’re the headlines of what organizations should know, everybody sees them, and that’s just very cool.

Your website says you have about 5 million active users. I assume a pretty high percentage of that is desktop digital signage, as you describe it. What percentage would you attribute to the larger screens sprinkled around an office building? 

Frank Hoen: Well, it’s actually relatively high—I would say somewhere between 5% and 10%—and it’s significant.

So you got a pretty big footprint out there. 

Frank Hoen: Yeah, and the interesting thing is that we have customers who pay per annum or per month. The rule is, if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it. So if customers are happy and you keep adding relevant new features, they stay. 

Well, if you’ve had customers for 20 years, that’s a pretty good endorsement.

Frank Hoen: Yeah, and that actually brings in the fact that IT revolutions come and go, and listening very carefully to your customers and then working from there, for example, integrating AI, obviously is omnipresent. That is crucial if you want to survive as an organization, whether you’re in the signage or not.

So I’m working for an organization that’s using Netpresenter. I’m, let’s say, working remotely. How does your product manifest itself on screens? 

Frank Hoen: We use a couple of concepts. Basically, we don’t want to be intrusive, so we do have pop-ups. However, I don’t like the concept of pop-ups and things like that unless it’s in your best interest that you should be immediately notified about something. So we have that, but that’s not a mainstream tool. 

The mainstream tool is the desktop app, and we have an app that is for mobile devices that’s basically an elegant reader where you can command, and things like that, kind of a smart social internet dish, and that can actually is typically often connected with a SharePoint. So it gets automated feeds, but the key component is actually, the home is the desktop signage, desktop digital signage. That is the good old screensaver. Obviously, screens don’t burn in anymore, but the elegance of these new flat screens is basically that the difference between sleep mode and active mode isn’t that big. 

Imagine walking through an organization, and every screen, every of those PCs displays the latest information and the latest headlines from your intranet automatically. You get so many impressions of the message. Then we actually measured that you can actually increase intranet, free fault, but more importantly, the retention to two and a half. So literally, a well-used intranet introduced Netpresenter, and a lot more people recall the key messages, and that’s just beautiful. It elegantly brings without interrupting people in the core processes. We obviously want to give management from organizations a fighting chance of reaching their staff. 

So if I’m banging away on emails and there’s some sort of message that Corporate needs to get out to its staff, what’s going to happen on my screen? 

Frank Hoen: We have different levels of notifications. So you have a low, medium, and high level of notifications, and we can literally take over your whole screen if necessary. Think active shooters and things like that We call it an emergency alert, similar to the public emergency broadcast.

You get lower levels than that. You have partial screens; you have pop-up notifications. We can do things on your mobile device as well. If you’re constantly hammering on your PC, the screens won’t disappear. So there are all kinds of forms, and basically, remember old McLuhan, “the medium is the message.” 

If you have a big toolbox, you don’t only have the hammer, if you know what I mean. So you have a lot more tools available at home, but the key tool is still the screensaver. 

I’m going to assume having done this for so many years that you have a pretty good sense of the balance that you have to strike. You mentioned the word intrusive before. You can cross that line, I suspect, pretty easily and just start annoying your staff as opposed to educating them and making them aware. 

Frank Hoen: You know, obviously, we both agree that people don’t consider a signage screen intrusive. It’s just there. It’s the same with a screensaver; it’s there when you’re not actively hammering away at emails.

You know, you grab a cup of coffee, take a rest break, and turn to the computer, you will see it several times a day, but it never is intrusive because, you know, it’s there with your lock screen as well and we have solutions for that as well. So, basically, when you’re returning to your computer or not using it for a couple of minutes, we’re there on whatever screen that is out there.

And are those configurable at the user end, or is that something that’s set centrally? 

Frank Hoen: The user has some capabilities, but most of them, obviously, you want to ensure that you have some control over internal communications. For example, the screens that won’t appear when you’re doing a presentation or having a team meeting wouldn’t make much sense so you do have control over that, but the organization can determine which tools they use or which mixture of tools they’re going to use. 

I assume there’s a percentage of people who don’t want to be bothered and would be looking for ways to disable the application. How do you fight that? 

Frank Hoen: That is easily done, of course, through configuring your PC. If it’s an office PC, it’s easy to do, but you know, I should state that it’s ridiculous the amount of time people at work spend on their social media. It’s getting crazy, and it’s literally two hours or more at work.

And it’s just not being able as an organization actually to have access, even simple access, to your staff. That’s what we’re talking about. So we’re giving them back a little fighting chance. We’re never going to be able to compete one-on-one against social media and all their algorithms and elegant persuasion mechanisms but with Netpresenter, you have a fighting chance of getting your need-to-know information, your must-know information well, between the years of employees, basically. 

How do they know it’s that much time on social media? Is that IT department just looking at browser activity? 

Frank Hoen: Oh, no, these are studies.

That’s easily googled. There are several big studies out there, and it’s what I see here is from Gallup State of the Global Workplace 2023. It basically says that employees are disengaging. They want more recognition for their work, more communication from the leaders, more communication from the leaders, clear goals, stronger guidance, and engagement or culture.

How do you do that when working at home? So, how do you actually get culture across while working predominantly at home? Many employees experience stress often because of social media. They already overworked well before entering the office, so basically, there are a lot of studies out there. If you want to have the chance to keep connecting with your employees, your communication platform needs to be adapted to that so that you don’t add to the information overload but basically bring some peace and quiet. 

But if you cannot reach your staff while working at home, you will lose out. There will be no connection at all at your organization. 

How much of this is integrated into other business systems? You mentioned SharePoint before, but you know, companies use Slack and so on. 

Frank Hoen: Yeah. We also have Teams connections, for example, and several other connections. Basically, if you have the data, we’ll be able to intelligently deliver it to the screens. 

We’re even able to analyze how much of that was read and understood through AI, through smart AI solutions. So imagine letting AI summarize the key headlines your staff or your management wants employees to know. AI literally analyzes it, compacts it, makes an abstract out of it, puts it out to the screens, and then actually keeps an eye on it, does small polls, two—or three-question polls, and checks whether they have understood it. 

So basically, we’re seeing now the move from isolated tools or very smart apps into integrated systems, which are basically working like the director of a big news broadcaster. When information comes in, they determine: is it breaking news? Is it news for the app? Is it news on TV? Is it news just for a website? Is it no news? So you have our AI analyzing information, then deciding whether it will be how important it is, putting it out there on the right spot and on the right medium, but also, and that’s really new, it can actually detect among these thousands of employees, we actually typically see that on big signage screens or on the screen savers. It can actually detect if they understood it, if they know the basics of, for example, cybersecurity awareness or compliance, and that’s really cool. Basically we’re bringing signage into massive learning systems without being intrusive, and to elegantly pull, if they know it, not everyone, just a couple and just enough, so, you know, okay, now we need to snooze this campaign that now we need to snooze this campaign or now we need to upscale the campaign and show it more on screens more frequently or maybe even on other channels as well. 

So that’s awareness. Can you do training? 

Frank Hoen: Well, you know, it’s not full-blown training in that you’re sitting and having your course on C programming. No, it doesn’t do that. 

This is meant for relatively small pieces of information, not whole ISO manuals or full compliance manuals. Still, the essence of the things the organization has identified is that nobody knows but they should. So, you need to know that those crucial pieces of information are crucial; you can put that in there. It can actually detect if the employees have read it, if they understood it, and it then can report back to management and say, “Hey, you know, did you know that your organization was 85% aware of the basic rules of cybersecurity awareness? It has gone down to 65%. As an AI, upon your instruction, I’ve decided to show more messages and cybersecurity awareness, and I’m happy to report that after two weeks, 95% of everybody knows cybersecurity awareness.” 

So yeah, it’s basically bringing signage into the big world where because of all these PCs out there, added real estate screen, real estate is literally football fields more than the screens you have typically hanging out there if you’re only using big screens. 

Right, and the screens themselves are physically bigger. As I’m chatting with you, I forgot the size of this curved screen thing I have here, but I could have a screensaver on one side and have a big desktop going anyway. 

Frank Hoen: Exactly, and basically, you can imagine how big of a screen it is while you are hammering away on emails, but while you’re still working in the office or environment, you literally can see the screens to the corners of your eyes or colleagues, or when you walk through the canteen, it’s basically, it’s everywhere.

Your messages are omnipresent because you literally use every screen in your organization. 

So if I’m using this solution, is it a license that I buy, do I subscribe, or is it a bit of both? 

Frank Hoen: We have on-premise customers that’s our current form, and that’s preferred by, for example, defense and some of the large organizations, but we also have a new cloud platform, and that’s license-based, so we have all variations of licensing. 

I assume the cloud side is pretty much essential for the work-from-home crowd.

Frank Hoen: Yeah. Although, actually, if they just installed it on their servers, then obviously the organization and the people have access to VPNs, and then it would be available as well. So it’s that flexibility, which is really nice because some current customers don’t need advanced AI integrations and things like that. However, they still want to be able to convey messages on their PC and rhe desktop digital signage, the alerts, that’s all in there, and if they want the more advanced integrations with SharePoint, AI, and learning through signage screens, then they need to move to the Netpresenter Cloud.

Workplace has become a very hot vertical in digital signage. What was your reaction during the COVID era when all kinds of digital signage CMS software companies added some variation on corporate screensavers, desktops, and digital signage to their product suite? 

Frank Hoen: We saw plenty of them, and most of them were just one of them. “We have those kinds of features-ish” types of companies.

There have been no further developments. Some have been limited to an announcement or very basic functionality. It’s very easy to hack a browser module, display something on it, and wrap it in there. Still, it’s much more difficult to have a full-blown, reliable system that integrates with all back offices and middleware applications.

So, basically, it brings back vibes from the shareware days of some competitors. Unless you’re committed to developing, keeping it secure, adding new features, making sure it’s not an island, it’s not something I would advise big organizations to invest in because, basically, it’s just a side note for those organizations, 

Yeah. When you’re talking, I was thinking it’s the difference between a company saying, yeah, we can do that versus another company like you’re saying, this is what we do. 

Frank Hoen: Exactly. It’s the same with signage. Everybody can connect a big screen to PowerPoint. That’s not signage. That’s like the Nike network and USB sticks. That’s not signage. Well, I don’t consider that signage, and it still is a thing. If organizations would simply calculate the total cost of ownership of the applications, which includes support, which includes messy things with drivers or special PC configurations and things like that, you don’t have that when that with Netpresenter, you know, it has for 25 years, it had to run on anything out there, anything, and while being elegant in terms of PC resources and a network resource. With that much experience, no other competitor comes even close there. 

Sometimes, when a solution is focused on one thing, the other stuff it does isn’t as robust as a pure-play digital signage CMS. How would you answer that?

Frank Hoen: We have an extremely robust CMS. Technically, it doesn’t matter whether our signage is running on the desktop or big screen. It’s even more difficult to run on a computer with dozens of applications open, and then we need to run reliably. Being able to run on those computer environments is so extreme, which means that Netpresenter software needs to be incredibly robust. So, I would argue that in terms of CMS, nobody can teach us lessons there. 

Again, whole countries use our software—the original Netpresenter software—and you would use it in your organization. They literally run it too; for example, we had a system a couple of years ago in the Netherlands that was addressing 50,000 public screens and millions of apps, and if you’re able to do emergency public broadcast on such a massive scale and reliably run every day on millions of desktop computers abused by users every day, basically, that says something. 

Tell me about the company. How big are you? 

Frank Hoen: Truth be told, we’re a relatively small organization. There was a very deliberate strategy never to go to the stock exchange or attract investor’s money, it was never necessary. We kept growing and have been profitable for 25 years in a row. We’re very comfortable financially, very secure, and very robust. 

But yeah, I have a lot of friends. They did try to go to the stock exchange in the US, and some made it, but most didn’t. So there are many organizations we see in our area that are just going bust trying to collect the big check on the stock exchange or investors becoming impatient and are downscaling. It’s terrible, and it’s killing the industry, and again, what kind of organization would you prefer?

Are you entirely self-funded, then? 

Frank Hoen: Oh yeah. 

So it’s your company?

Frank Hoen: It’s my company. 

And how do you sell? Do you go through channel or direct? 

Frank Hoen: Both, and there’s a big opportunity for any of your listeners in the SharePoint or corporate world to connect with us for free. There’s a big opportunity because how are you going to distinguish yourself from all these other internet integrators? 

So there’s that. So we work through these integrators and there’s direct sales as well for, if organizations are of such a scale that it becomes more comfortable to do so.

So, last question, what might we see over the next year or so from Netpresenter? 

Frank Hoen: Every new technology brings new capabilities, including the omnipresent AI and smart learning through signage, and that is our big focus right now. We want to be able to literally prove to management that through signage on your desktop and on the big screens, you can guarantee that your employees have seen and understood it. That’s going to be our year. 

Yeah. I mean, that’s made a big difference to the digital out of home community, the analytics and proof of view, and so on. So it makes sense that if you’re going to make that investment in the enterprise, in the workplace, it’d be great if you actually knew it was working.

Frank Hoen: It’s not just about counting views. That’s not it. Imagine a piece of information comes on and is conveyed on signage, and a small part of the organization receives polls to answer a pop-up, for example, very small, as little as possible, and they’re actually being asked if they understood the question. So it’s not about counting views. It’s much more than that. 

Gotcha. All right, Frank, thank you so much for your time. 

Frank Hoen: Thank you, Dave. It’s been very nice. 

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