Blog: Frank Kenna 

Frank Kenna (bio)
President and CEO
The Marlin Company

Tuesday, 03 March 2015

I’ll start by saying right off that there is no single solution to this question.  But it deserves attention, because the fact that most (or all) of your employees carry a smartphone or tablet gives you unprecedented access to them.

The first issue to examine is the BYOD one, which stands for “bring your own device.”  That is, is it fair that you should use their personal property to communicate business issues with them?  I think it is, with one caveat which I’ll get to in a second.

The reason it’s ok is because it’s the employee’s choice as to whether or not to install the communication app and use it. And they’re probably already using their device to check company email, at least occasionally.  Conversely, they’re likely using company equipment to check personal email and social sites.  So the boundary is blurring and with that comes an implied understanding that it’s a two-way street.  Of course some companies have strict policies about these things, but I’m addressing the issue from a high, social-understanding level.

The caveat: with employees allowing you to use their device for company purposes, you can’t draw too tight boundaries on its use, for example requiring them to check in X times per day or to respond to every piece of content. But for most companies, getting 80% of the way there is worth it, especially considering the alternative of sporadic communication and the fact that the equipment is free to the company.

The second issue is to decide what app to use.  There are many available, or you may decide to do it yourself, which I wouldn’t recommend unless you are just using email. To decide which app to get, you first should start with your objectives.  What do you want to do?  Send them messages?  Collaborate with them?  Get feedback?  Gather field information?  Based on what you want will dictate what you should be looking for.  And because a certain amount of company communications and information will be flowing through the channel, it’s important to buy it from a reputable company with experience in corporate communications.

We are currently beta testing an app based on what our field research with customers tells us the market is looking for.  If you’re interested, let us know.


Posted by: Admin AT 04:10 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 13 January 2015

First, let's start off with my 2014 predictions and see how I did.

I said:

  •     New embedded computers and 4k displays would be insignificant. Check.
  •     Many more companies would realize they need digital workplace communications. OK, that was a no-brainer, but check.
  •     More c-suite execs would start the search for workplace digital signage, as opposed to operational folks instituting it and trying to get the concept to bubble up. We certainly saw that — check.
  •     There would be a continued evolution of digital signage to mobile, e.g., iPads and smartphones. I was a little ahead on that one I think, but still believe it, so I'll make that a push to my 2015 predictions.

That was pretty much it for specific predictions, so giving myself partial credit for that last one, I get an 85-percent correct rating.  I love being able to grade my own tests…

Now on to the 2015 predictions:

1. Connection of company data to their digital signage will become very important. Yes, this could just be KPIs, financial data and the like, but I think it'll go deeper than that. Simple stuff like work schedules, price lists and cafeteria menus exist in company databases today, but most digital signage systems require the user to go find it, convert it, then send to the digital signage. There's got to be an easier way, and companies will start looking for that way in 2015.

2. Communications will have to be instant, or at least much faster. The schedule-driven metaphor that most digital signage systems use takes too long to get the message in circulation and too long to take it down. In an age of more than 5,000 tweets per second, waiting to get a piece of content on the digital signage and then having it drone on for days is getting old.

3. Hyper-local messaging will start to happen. I don't think anyone other than industry geeks like me will call it that, but managers will want their messaging to get to their employees wherever they are, whether they have email, smartphones, desktops computers – or not. This is a real challenge, but those managers are experiencing advertising everywhere. If national brands can do it with their sodas and sneakers, managers will want to know why they can't do it with their safety and teamwork messaging.

4. Managers will look for ways to get more and faster feedback from their employees. With all the smartphone and tablet apps floating around, and online discussion forums and interactive TV becoming commonplace, it makes sense that managers will want to get information from their people in real time. This means that employees will need a way to get the requests and respond to them digitally, and whatever system is being used will need to summarize the findings as they arrive.

5. This last item is what we won't see: The list includes 4K TVs, beacons, NFC, and 3D and curved displays. If you don't know what some of those items are, you're proving my point.  Most other people don't either, meaning the technology is still too early for the workplace.

While technology gallops along, the typical corporate communicator is behind the technology curve, and really, always has been. And that's as it should be. The bleeding edge of technology is fine for the early adopters and gadget geeks, but shouldn't be designed into workplace products until they are well understood and technologically rock solid. The iPad is a good example of this. Last year was when we first saw our customers asking for tablet-based communications products; the iPad was announced almost exactly five years ago, in January 2010.

Posted by: Admin AT 03:09 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 15 December 2014

None of them.  Well… all of them.  Actually, it’s the wrong question to start with. Digital signage, iPads, smartphones and social media are not the answer to workplace communications. They are just tools and processes that can help you.

There are dozens of products popping up based on one or more of these new products, all claiming to be the answer to your communications problems. For a while they may be popular since they can be very cool and fun. But do they move the needle? Not really.

You can build a house with a hammer, screwdriver and handsaw. You can also go to the hardware store and buy the latest multi-tool band saw /circular saw/drill press. But if you don’t have the right plans in the first place, you’ll end up with a mess either way. New tools can help you do it faster, but not necessarily better.

Workplace communication is like that. Managers who need to communicate do so to build consensus and accomplish objectives. Having the latest app or some new gadget or web service doesn’t matter. Using them to address your particular problems does.

A strong, well thought-out communications strategy is way more important than the latest new thing.  Remember, the gadget is just a tool; it’s your master plan that really matters.

Posted by: Admin AT 04:12 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Wednesday, 01 October 2014

More and more of our customers are uploading video into their digital signage systems, because they're discovering it's a great way to communicate with employees. They're also discovering that some videos work better than others, and are wondering what the difference is.

To help figure this out, here are some tips for making great videos culled from my personal experience and a good article on the subject quoting editors from The Times (of London) and The Wall Street Journal.

1. Shorter is better. Just because you have a 15-minute video of your CEO talking doesn't mean you have to use all of it, or even most of it. For typical workplace digital signage, you've got your viewers' attention for about a minute or less, so you want to heavily edit that video down to the key points.

2. Tell a story. You want to include emotion, humor, action or insight. For example, compare a typical PowerPoint about a charitable company event to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge videos we've all seen. They have suspense, humor and action, all in less than a minute. Those are big reasons why they went viral so quickly.

3. Let your employees be the videographers. After all, most of them are wearing a video camera (a.k.a. a smartphone). Let them know you want their videos, and then use them. You'll be pleasantly surprised by their ideas and creativity. Of course their videos won't be professional or polished, which leads to my next point…

4. Don't worry if it's rough around the edges. In fact, you'll probably get better readership with videos that are a little shaky since they're perceived to be more real and authentic. Again, think of how many of those Ice Bucket Videos were taken with wobbly smartphones.

 And in my next blog I'll cover some of the technical things (editing, titles, sharing) you can do to make your videos even better!

Posted by: Admin AT 09:13 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 08 July 2014

That title is from a June 9th article in The Wall Street Journal, which examined the trend of employees going off on their own – around corporate IT – to get their jobs done. It’s an important development because of the way it’s transforming the software industry, companies’ IT departments, and the companies’ financial results.

A typical scenario is this: A group of employees is working on a document that resides on the company network behind the corporate firewall.  The problem arises when those employees are on the road or working from home where they may not have access to the network. So they go around the firewall by saving the document on Dropbox – problem solved. Or is it?

The obvious issue is that the firewall is there for a reason, to protect the company and the integrity of its information. But if that protection prevents employees from doing their jobs, it becomes counter-productive. Which begs the question: Which is more important, data security or productivity?

There isn’t a clear answer. Both sides of the argument are important. But new research  from PricewaterhouseCoopers adds credence to the need for companies to embrace these new mobile technologies one way or the other.

Their 5th Annual Digital IQ Survey of more than 1,100 business and technology executives found that companies that embrace new technologies were more prevalent in their “Top Performers” (TPs) group. For example, nearly twice as many TPs (32%) say they have everything [their employees] need on their mobile platforms compared to 17% of other respondents. And TPs are much more likely to invest in public cloud applications than non-TPs, by a margin of 69% to 47%.

To me, the future is clear.  Using the new mobile and cloud technologies is a trend that’s gaining momentum quickly, creating excellent outcomes for work groups and their companies. Organizations that don’t adapt are being left behind as illustrated by PwC’s study.  But even managers who agree with this may be in a quandary due to concerns about controlling company information. What those managers need to realize is that the information is out of their control anyway, and really has been for years. After all, employees have been emailing documents outside of the company to their home computers, associates and personal email accounts for over 20 years.  

Clear policies on sharing and moving company information are a big part of the solution, for example as outlined in this Huffington Post article. Managers have been through all of this all before, as the introductions of the telephone, fax machine, personal computer and email all presented similar concerns. But the important thing to remember is they also created huge productivity gains and are now part of our workplace fabric.  

Posted by: Admin AT 09:15 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 01 July 2014

I’ve often written about the ROI of using digital signage for effective workplace communications and how it’s dripping with cost savings, but today I want to focus on an issue that concerns most of our customers: Safety.

Safety ROI can be broken down into two primary segments, visible and non visible. The graphic above, based on DuPont’s efforts as written about here, uses an iceberg to illustrate those segments. The list above the water’s surface represent the immediate ramifications and related costs of poor safety. The items below are the ones often overlooked, but nonetheless very real.

One way of monetizing these differences is by looking at how the National Safety Council does it. They break down the costs into "economic" and "comprehensive" costs, similar to the iceberg concept, with the economic costs including the direct costs and the comprehensive ones including what people would actually pay for better safety (beyond the direct costs). The NSC says that these are what people actually pay to reduce their safety and health risks. According to their 2012 report, the cost difference of a non-fatal disabling injury between the two methods is $78,000 versus $230,000. 

The visible — or tip-of-the-iceberg — cost savings include medical costs, wage indemnity (lost wages paid to injured workers) and claims fees. The ones lurking beneath the surface include litigation, schedule delays, reputation damage, lost productivity and replacement labor.

But regardless of how you figure it, the cost savings associated with safer work environments are huge. Repetitive and engaging communications about safe practices are key. 

Like I said at the top, safety is just one of many cost-savings areas for calculating workplace communications ROI. I truly believe, through decades of experience, testimonials and observation that the overall ROI is in the 100’s or 1000’s of percents. Here’s a tidbit of information that may drive the point home: According to the NSC report, even a reported injury that turns out to be no injury has an average cost of $2,500. 

Whether it’s the $2,500 figure on the low end, or the cost of a workplace death of $4.5 million on the high end, the cost savings of better safety communications alone would easily justify any reasonable communications system expenditure. When adding in the other big issues such as productivity, quality, engagement, morale and teamwork, it’s a total no-brainier.

Posted by: Admin AT 09:43 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 10 June 2014

What's the difference?

If you’re a manager looking to improve communications within your company, you may think that pretty much any digital signage (DS) will get the job done. And it probably will work.  

Sort of.

That’s because DS can be used – very effectively – for workplace communications, but it can also be used for many other things. For example, these days DS is widely used in restaurants for menu boards, in airports for flight schedules, and in retail stores to display sales and special promotions. You might think that one well-designed DS system would be effective at all of these applications, but you’d be wrong.

Think about it: don’t you want the product you buy to be designed for your particlular application? Take vehicles as an example. Let’s say you run a health care company and you need to transport patients from one facility to another on a regular basis. Would you buy a panel, or maybe a pickup truck? They would work… but of course you wouldn’t do that. You’d buy an ambulance. In other words, you’d get a product that was specifically designed for the task at hand.

Or take something as prosaic as tape. We all have a roll of Scotch tape hanging around, and it works great for wrapping birthday presents, sealing envelopes and the like. But if you were painting you kitchen you wouldn’t use it to keep paint off the molding. Or if you cut your finger, you wouldn’t use it for holding on a bandage. While it would technically work in either case, masking and adhesive tape work much, much better.  

A workplace communication DS requirement is no different; you should find a system that is specifically designed for your task. Yes, you could get a system designed for retail advertising to work eventually, but why do that when there are products specifically designed for exactly what you’re trying to do?

It’s all about the software and content, not the hardware. It’s a common mistake to go out shopping for the hardware first and think about the actual functioning part later. If you’re in the market for workplace DS, do yourself a favor and find a product that was designed from the ground up to help you achieve your communication objectives.

Posted by: Admin AT 10:54 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 25 March 2014

There’s a lot of disruption going on these days… have you noticed? Here are some examples.

The Amazon online model has got brick and mortar retailers on the run. According to this Forbes article, 34% of Americans say they do 50% of their shopping online, a 99% increase from 2006. Meanwhile, J.C. Penny’s, Sears and Target are closing stores.  

Uber is transforming the taxi industry by connecting drivers and passengers through smartphones – without any need for Uber to own cars or buildings or employ drivers. This has the taxi companies in defensive mode trying to outlaw this disruptive model, but that’s a losing battle in the long run.

Tesla has come out of nowhere with a top-rated and exciting car and has changed the rules of automobile sales. So far three states have outlawed that approach to “protect the consumer,” but this more efficient method will win out eventually.

The latest disrupter in the news is Airbnb, a company founded 5 years ago that matches up empty rooms in peoples’ houses and apartments with others looking for a place to stay. A recent valuation pegs the company at $10 billion, just behind Hilton, Marriott and Starwood.

I mention these examples because they caught their competitors by surprise. And they’re not even true competitors – they do compete with the older companies for business, but are in the process of replacing them and are in turn spawning their own competitors.  

Are one of these disrupters coming at your company… maybe just out of your eyesight at the moment? Or will a disrupter from another industry lure some of you employees away? Are any of your employees thinking of ideas to disrupt your company?  

These are good questions to ponder, as being prepared is much preferable to getting blindsided. One way to prepare is to make sure you’re truly engaged with your workforce. Do they know what you’re thinking and, perhaps more importantly, do you know what they are? Do they know you’re interested in their ideas – disruptive or not?  

With radical, new business models sprouting up everywhere, an engaged workforce is more important than ever. Put engagement on your 2nd quarter to-do list and disrupt yourself before someone else does.  

Posted by: Admin AT 02:52 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 25 February 2014

I hope so, because according to the website, the Olympics’ closing ceremonies “received an 8.7/13 household rating with 15.1 million viewers. That is the lowest household rating for a Winter Olympic Games Closing Ceremony ever – dipping just below previous record holder of Torino 2006.”

The author didn’t mention the reason why the ratings were lousy, but I think I know why. With the average home having over 100 cable channels to choose from, DVR-recorded shows, access to Netflix, Hulu, HBO GO and similar services, smartphones, tablets and state of the art video games, I’m actually surprised the ratings weren’t worse.  

Your workplace digital signage has similar competition. Maybe not so much from cable TV and games, but think about what’s available on your employees tablets and smartphones. Anything and everything, and I’ll bet it’s more engaging than what’s on your screens. When you see them walking around, are they looking at your digital signage – or looking down at their phones?   

So what do you do about it? Start thinking about getting your workplace communications on the screens they’re looking at; their tablets and smartphones. While digital signage is still a viable communications medium, you need to be thinking about a strategy to get your content on their screens.  

In future blogs I’ll explore ways to do this and cover some of the issues involved.  

Posted by: Admin AT 10:29 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Thursday, 06 February 2014

Let me tell you about what you won’t read in this blog: numbered or bulleted lists breathlessly exclaiming about the newest embedded computer or 4k screen.  Sure, I guess both of those will be factors this year, but insignificant ones.  They’re evolutionary at best.  

The biggest trend I see is companies finally realizing that they need to have some sort of digital communications strategy and that in many cases it includes workplace digital signage.(DS).  Why?  Because “billboards” – whether corkboards or LCD screens – are  still a great way to get information in front of employees walking around the premises.  Probably always will be.  

In 2013 we saw a lot of larger companies finally getting some direction from the C-suite that a digital workplace communication strategy was needed.  This trend will accelerate throughout 2014 and into 2015.  Really, how can it not?  As the cost of hardware continues to decrease, the value proposition for digital signage is getting better and better.

Another trend in 2014 is the what I’ll call the ‘normalization’ of DS.  By this I mean two things; the decline of gimmicks and the increase of true value.  3-D & 4k screens, gesture control, video projection onto unusual surfaces are all pretty cool the first time you see them, but is there any added value in using them?  Not really.  In fact, the content generation costs involved with any of them are prohibitive.  What companies really want is to get their important messages spread throughout the organization.  Period.  It’s all about ease of use, content and reach.  

The last trend I’ll mention is the continued evolution of DS to mobile.  This one is really tricky for several reasons.  First is that DS systems are paid for by a company, but many/most mobile devices are paid for by the user.  That limits the amount of software that a company can reasonable expect a user to download.  It also causes the issue of supporting numerous versions of iOS, Android and Windows Phone.  And data security on non-corporate devices is problematic.

Second is the completely different user interface between DS and mobile.  Finding a DS system that also works well on mobile is a real challenge.  In fact, I haven’t seen a good one so far.  So will 2014 be the year that we see this happen?  Maybe, but one thing I know is that everyone is trying to figure it out.  

With all this technology available to our industry, change is the one certain prediction for 2014.  And I’ll reiterate is this: if you’re looking for a workplace DS system for your organization, don’t try to figure it out yourself.  Find a reputable company that knows what it’s doing and leave the heavy lifting to them.  

Posted by: Admin AT 09:06 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 29 April 2013

"It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see."

The headline above, a favorite of Warren Buffett, is a quote from Henry David Thoreau, American author, poet and philosopher.  Buffet refers to it when talking about reading annual reports but not realizing what they say at first.   I think it's also a good one to consider when thinking about what your employees "see" when they read your workplace communications.

Think about it: when employees look at your digital signage what do they see?  More importantly, what do they remember?  Because it's all about information absorption and the resultant change of behavior.  With that in mind, here are some points to consider in your communications:

* Does your digital signage have content that changes on a regular basis?  And by that I mean fresh content each day.  If it doesn't, your employees won't even see it after a while, no less remember anything.  If you had a TV in your house playing the same commercial over and over again day after day, would you pay any attention to it?  Of course not.  In fact, you'd probably want to throw a brick through it.  Don't alienate the people you're trying to educate.

* What are you posting in your digital signage that employees actually want to see?  Let's say your most important recurring issue is getting corporate announcements in front of employees.  Keep in mind that they won’t pay much attention if that's all you post, even if it does change daily.  There's got to be something in it for them.  So spice it up with some fun and interesting stuff like sports or entertainment news that will attract attention.  Then they'll read your announcements.

* Repeat your message in fresh formats.  For example, if your company has a change of direction that you need to communicate, one memo or PowerPoint won't do it.  You need to repeat the message using different methods and timing, such as a memo this week, a photo of the CEO along with an article next week, and projected sales figures the next.  

* Consider your communication strategy prior to actually starting to communicate.  How important is this particular subject? How much time do you have to communicate it? What methods will you use, how often will the message change, and what's the actual schedule?

Just a little thought and planning will make your employees really "see" your message, not just look at it and instantly forget.

Posted by: Admin AT 04:08 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 18 September 2012

In my last blog I wrote about how the "social" in the social-mobile-local trilogy works in today's workplace. I emphasize the word "today" as this is changing rapidly and six months from now will probably be out of date.

Today I'm discussing "mobile" and where it fits into the workplace.

Embracing the smart device reality

Maybe you've heard the term BYOD, which stands for "Bring Your Own Device." It refers to the trend of employees bringing their smartphone, tablets and other mobile devices to work and using them throughout the day for both work and personal use.

This can carry a positive or negative connotation depending on your point of view. Mine is that it's going to happen whether we like it or not, so we might as well embrace and use it to our advantage. So what are the advantages? There are a couple.

Mobile network advantages

First, you have a communications network set up that costs nothing. Your employees have paid for and sourced the equipment and are actively using it for workplace data access. While there are employees using a tablet security concerns, this new network gives you the ability to communicate with your employees in a way never possible until now.

For example, you can use QR codes on digital signage content that, when scanned by employees using smart devices, will allow them to download the content, answer a survey about it, send an email associated with it or other actions. This means your employees can now consider and respond to your content, instead of just reading it. That's a huge difference, and it's possible right now.

Soon, using near-field communications, or NFC, you'll be able to "grab" employees walking by and prompt them to respond to your content or take other actions.

Mobile devices are becoming an extension of our employees, one that makes interaction easier than ever before. This is a significant new communication opportunity that every manager should consider.
Posted by: Frank Kenna AT 05:11 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
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