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Monday, 3 August 2009

Interview with Hugh Coghill-Smith by InfoAVChina


Who is ONELAN?
ONELAN was founded in 2000. Since then, it had focussed its development on digital signage, bringing to the market appliances with increasing capabilities. ONELAN is based in UK, near London, where its R&D team has a strong record of product development. ONELAN was awarded AV Digital Signage Company of the Year 2008 and ranked in the Deloitte Technology Fast 500 EMEA 2008, demonstrating its position among the leading companies in this sector in Europe.

What is the plan for ONELAN In the Chinese market?
ONELAN started with the UK market where it has been very successful. Expansion into European and US markets followed. ONELAN is also now making inroads into other territories, with different languages and cultural habits. ONELAN is already well accepted in the Arab world and operations are now being concentrated on Asia. Our system is already working with a Chinese language user interface, which is a key advantage; as we want all our users to feel that the ONELAN system is very user friendly, we need to adopt the local language and working habits. We now have our own team based in Shanghai to support our resellers and customers.

What are the key features of ONELAN Net-Top-Boxes?
ONELAN engineers have spent a lot of time in developing the product to make it easy to use by the end-user, including people who are not IT specialists. The team in charge of the overall management of the digital system network has access to powerful tools enabling them to create the layouts they want, to easily program the schedules they need for all occasions, and to manage the play list of contents that will be displayed in each area of the screen. In addition other individuals can also have rights to update certain content directly from their own computer.

Can you explain how it works?
Let’s take an example: the receptionist in an organisation has to update greeting messages for visitors which are displayed in a zone of a screen in the lobby. The ONELAN user interface allows the receptionist to do just this in just a few clicks directly from her computer, almost like sending a message via email. Another example: a business manager can share key information or statistics (sales, production, quality records, corporate news) with his team by creating a PowerPoint file and uploading it by a click-and-drag action on his own computer. Access to a digital signage display becomes a very natural part of daily work for many people.

Is it different from other Digital signage solutions?
Yes. Most digital signage architecture is based on a centralized server and operated through complex software. The access to the software is generally restricted to the IT team, as it requires intensive training. Therefore, update of any information often requires that an individual sends their request for an update to the network’s centralized management team and waits for it to be done by those specialists. Our experience is that customers are much happier when they have the feeling that they ‘own’ the system: they can interact with it directly and see it as a useful tool to achieve their own duties by communicating information they want, when they want.

Do you consider Digital Signage as a tool for productivity?
Yes, our customers in Europe think this way. And I am sure it will be the same in China. Maybe, at the starting phase of Digital Signage, it is first considered as a ‘nice to have’ option, giving a modern image. But now screens are everywhere, visitors and passers-by will not notice them if the content is not attractive or never changes. The key thing about digital signage is that you combine several pieces of information in a display: some will attract attention because they are useful (direction info in a public space, message info, time, news feed, weather), some because they are visually attractive (video, animations, or scheduled changes in the layout that bring something new on the screen), and some are messages you want to pass to the viewer: advertising messages, info on new products in a retail or bank, or corporate messages to staff. The return on investment comes from the fact that when the digital signage system is well managed and designed, messages will indeed be noticed by the viewer and generate positive actions like increasing sales, creating better customer or visitor satisfaction and therefore better loyalty, improving productivity and safety in industrial environments, etc. We saw end-users such as banks for example experiencing an increase in business: by using efficient and smart digital signage that answered customers’ questions while they wait, creating more opportunities for them to sign up for new banking products.

But the cost of developing new content is high, isn’t it?
Yes you are right. Developing new advertising video or new flash animation is not cheap. And to continuously attract attention, you need to renew them frequently. This is where efficient digital signage management software like the one we have developed is a key productivity tool: you can create efficient signage at a lower running cost by allowing the local team to upload practical and relevant information on the display, make frequent updates in very short time and renew the design of the content with minimal workload for the internal marketing team. You can see that some signage systems become obsolete after a few months of use; the customer has no budget to get external marketing agencies to renew the video or flash animation, and the system itself cannot be easily updated by the customer. So the display continues with same content, in a never changing format and visitors or passers-by will soon ignore it, making it a commercial and investment failure.

How Is ONELAN different?
What ONELAN customers value is that they all feel comfortable making full use of their system, and they can easily renew and adapt the content themselves whenever they want, just as they would with any standard electronic document.

What are the key sectors using ONELAN systems?
Corporate communication to employees and visitors sited in foyers, next to the lifts and in factories is a mainstay of our business. Clients include leading companies such as PWC, Airbus and IBM. A recent key trend has been companies using signage in their factories to promote Health and Safety and give production and safety feedback to factory workers.
Universities and education institutions have always been a strong market for Digital signage and many have chosen ONELAN. One simple reason is that in a school, many different individuals want to be able to own part of the display (teachers, groups of student communicating their activities, special events eg competitions, tournaments, concerts).
Banking institutions are also important customers in several countries. You can imagine that banks are very cautious when it comes to appliances connected to their networks as they are very sensitive to security. ONELAN systems offer a high level of security to the user: the banks have validated this fact and we are proud to see them adopting our system.
But we have also users in many other applications, like hospitals for information boards, and queue management. Or industries such as retail outlets, hotels and conference centers.

Do you think the Chinese market is different?
Yes and No. Yes the Chinese market is different because of the language, but we have addressed that already: a Chinese ONELAN user operates a system with a Chinese interface. There are also different types of layout content, just as a website in China has a different look to a European one. We let our resellers in China demonstrate to their customers how ONELAN NTBs can fulfill what the Chinese customer wants. The total flexibility in the design and management function of our systems makes it perfectly adaptable. We had the same situation with Arabic countries and it works perfectly well.

On the other hand, I think digital signage in China has to face the same situation as everywhere: screens are ubiquitous and expenditure on more screens is a sound investment only if the content can be continuously attractive with content that creates value. Digital signage is much more than just splitting a display into a few zones, it is about making use of this tool to achieve something with strategic value for the enterprise. This is what ONELAN has always kept in mind when developing our products and we can already see that Chinese customers and resellers recognize this value. The reasons why our customers are happy with ONELAN in many countries will also apply in China.

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