Managed services providers (MSPs) and value-added resellers (VARs) have adapted their businesses to the demands created by the coronavirus pandemic, business shutdowns, and changes in the economy. As Tom Jones, Pro AV/Digital Signage technology consultant for Ingram Micro’s partner technical enablement team, points out, however, “It has sprouted new areas of opportunity for all of us.”
Jones shares his insights on how the events of 2020 have created challenges and opportunities for MSPs and VARs providing digital signage solutions.
How has the pandemic impacted the digital signage solution market?
Jones: To what extent COVID-19 has impacted the market varies in degrees, depending on what perspective you have. Overall, most larger projects had stopped dead in their tracks, as no one was able to get to sites to install hardware. Interestingly enough, 90 percent of those projects were on hold and not canceled. Now, we are starting to get back to work and see larger projects to start again from the end of August through October.
Other businesses saw the opposite effect. One of our customers who services pharmacies was not only expected to continue working through the pandemic on installs and management of devices or content; they were also expected to accelerate installs somehow because, in the eyes of the end-user, “business was booming.”
Still, others have been impacted far more severely. For example, one former large multi-million-dollar digital signage company all but closed up shop as the verticals they focused on were all closed (i.e., stadiums, movie theaters, large arena venues, etc.). To add insult to injury, they attempted to do a 180 pivot and provide hardware and services outside of their traditional core to take advantage of the opportunity and provide temperature sensing digital signage solutions. In the end, they encountered all sorts of struggles getting to market. This ranged from the availability of components as a whole to ridiculously long periods — over 16 weeks — for product to get to the USA since most items were being sourced from China.
Where are current opportunities for MSPs and VARs to sell digital signage solutions?
Jones: The most significant area of opportunity is something we have been preaching for a while — it’s making digital signage more of a business tool than just a communication device. For example. I see some major brands integrating thermal cameras alongside LFD’s (large format displays) and turning traditional signage into a visitor management system. This is also happening with SMF (small format displays) and tablets functioning the same way: A camera is placed with the displays/tablet and is ultimately managed and tied into some other level of access control and record-keeping such as meeting attendance. The goal is to have a sign display and a variety of messaging based on preset parameters, and data is kept per whatever laws govern the location.
Along with hardware sales goes management of the platform, education, and support, which are the biggest areas of opportunity. These are new areas for all of us, and end-users are willing to invest in total support to make sure they get it right. This includes managed services to smooth out the transition period from initial install to full service.
Also, there is a growing need for “touchless” digital signage solutions, so anything integrated with AI, camera integration or voice commands is in demand.
Are there are areas in which you would recommend MSPs and VARs pull back at this time?
Jones: Now is not a great time to focus 100 percent on installs. It’s taken the most massive hit. Also, if you were considering getting into rental and staging in any aspect, you may want to hold off.
Are monitors and hardware available now? Do you foresee shortages or bottlenecks?
Jones: Large and small format displays are coming back to semi-normal levels since this became a worldwide issue. We noticed some initial dips in availability where product was manufactured in hard-hit areas. The upside was we were able to forecast with partners to get ample supplies in the warehouses before everything hit the fan. Several manufactures had more than one facility for manufacturing, so they were able to offload to other locations when necessary, such as when a particular geographic was hit harder than another.
With that being said, I wish I could tell you what the future holds! Coronavirus preparation is fluid — it can change daily. My gut feeling is as long as we keep an eye on widespread contagions in areas where product is manufactured and manage pipeline properly, we should be okay.
What are the top three things to communicate to end-users at this time?
Jones: I would recommend driving three messages:
- “We are here for you.” I would advocate the availability of services and the ability to support individuals and business through this challenging time
- “We are in this together.” Demonstrate your willingness to partner with your customers, exploring new opportunities to help them. Some may have never considered MSPs for digital signage solutions — now is the time to call it out.
- “When this passes, we will be here with you.” As an extension of the previous point and a tool to get people thinking and planning, ask them what the next 6 to 9 months hold.
What additional advice can you offer VARs and MSPs?
Jones: I would tell you there is a call to action by many institutions that will need a “hands-off,” touchless approach to digital signage. As an MSP, you have the opportunity, unlike others in the past.
Also, messaging will be increasingly vital as we cross “back to work” and “back to school” thresholds, and many institutions will not have the bandwidth to handle the management of digital signage solutions. It’s a time to shine!