A highly regarded pioneer of digital signage technology during his Minicom years, Ronni Guggenheim is now spearheading its convergence with audio as the CEO of Barix AG. David Davies spoke to him about the IP specialist’s groundbreaking new Audio Signage range
Last year marked a distinct departure in your career, when after many years in leading digital signage roles you went to work for audio over IP specialist Barix. But what would you identify as the milestones of previous career?
The previous 15 or so years of my career were spent helping to pioneer the digital signage scene. It’s a process that really began in the late ’90s when I was running Minicom Digital Signage and it started to become clear quite how much potential there was in this market. The momentum picked up even further when Minicom merged with another leading digital signage specialist, EnQii, forming ComQi in 2011.
I was closely involved with making that deal happen. Not long afterwards, I decided that it was time for a change so I opted to go it alone and became an independent management consultant. That period lasted approximately two-and-a-half years, during which time I advised a variety of different technology companies about how to drive their growth. It’s in that area, of driving expansion, that I think I have my greatest strengths. Then, last year, I decided that I had had enough of consultancy and really wanted to go back to building up one brand again. Fortunately, at around the same time, I happened to have a conversation with my old friend, [Barix founder and then-CEO] Johannes Rietschel...
It was a conversation that ultimately led to you taking over as CEO in September last year. But did the move from digital signage into audio constitute a big culture shock?
I am a firm believer that there is no such thing as coincidence in life! For me, it was great timing as I was keen to identify another challenge, while Johannes [who is still closely involved with Barix as its active chairman] wanted to push the company to the next stage.
As for culture shock, well, not really as it has been my observation for some time that the two worlds of audio and digital signage are getting closer together. It was apparent to me that a convergence between these two segments was on the cards, but that it needed a driving force to help make it happen. This is something that Barix has helped to encourage over the last year-and-a-half and which has now resulted in the Barix Audio Signage range.
For the uninitiated, in a nutshell, what is the USP of Barix Audio Signage?
By synchronising very high-quality audio with video signage content, it’s designed to give screens a ‘voice’ in retail shops and everywhere else you might encounter one. Using our embedded audio streaming technology, a Barix Instreamer encodes and delivers high-quality, low-latency audio streams to WiFi access points. Consumers can then access the stream using the Barix Audio Point smartphone app, while there is also the option for consumers to scan a QR code to activate the streaming app on the smart phone.
Another newly announced solution is Soundscape, an audio-centric CMS system driving Instore-radio and background music networks. Soundscape is a Cloud-based software solution that allows the user to direct the audio stream to the right place, at the right time and in the right quality. The Cloud-based platform makes it easy to monitor and manage devices across multiple locations, handling everything from troubleshooting to device configuration and software updates. It also makes it very easy to achieve seamless switching between live streams and stored playlists, which gives users more flexibility in managing network bandwidth and/or special content.
It is my view that historically the industry of digital signage has in many ways pulled back from audio; not because it did not ‘make sense’, but because it did not know how to deal with it. Now with solutions like Soundscape and Audio Signage, I think we are really starting to make progress.
In an increasingly standards-oriented market, presumably some formal recognition would also help to encourage this new area of the market?
Absolutely – and in fact, developments there are ramping up very rapidly at the moment. I am again closely involved with OVAB Europe [the pan-European digital signage association that was co-founded by Guggenheim in 2008] and we are in the process of setting up an audio chapter that will help to handle this convergence. We held the first workshop in June, then there will also be conversations at the OVAB Digital Signage conference in Munich in September. By then we should have a working group in place to define the standards, which I hope will be ready a year or so from now.
Barix remains a leading player in IP paging and intercom systems, but how do you see the audio over IP landscape developing in general terms over the next few years?
I think as audio over IP becomes more standardised, and we have a situation where every smart device can stream high-quality audio, the challenge will be to add value on top of the standards. In professional install, this will mean that rather than providing components which are then patched together by systems integrators, different individual vendors will have to come up with more harmonised end-to-end solutions providing added value – not just in terms of audio, but also in building whole surrounding ecosystems involving functions such as scheduling, quality of service, insertion of adverts and so on.
In terms of Barix and its own developments, we are investing significantly in a roadmap for paging and intercom that will see us taking a lot of the functionality into the Cloud. Alongside the audio signage interests, it’s something that we now look forward to developing quite aggressively.
Will the skills required by increased convergence necessitate an even greater emphasis on training?
Yes – and indeed, this is an area that we are investing in significantly at present. This is really getting underway with a series of webinars, some of which are geared towards addressing the challenges facing systems integrators. We see ourselves as a thought leader in this segment, so it’s just one aspect of what we have planned. Plus we always encourage systems integrators who work with Barix to undergo our training and certification procedures.
From your long career in digital signage and now audio, have you identified any universal principles that you think can be applied to achieve growth in all areas of professional AV?
Three points immediately spring to mind. The first, and absolutely key element, is to know who you are [as a company] and what your core strengths are in terms of technology and market positioning. If you have this clear identity of yourself then you can also portray this successfully to the market.
The second aspect is diligence – hard work and making sure that your partners are kept happy. Finally, you have to keep your own team happy. I have always been in family-oriented companies, by which I don’t mean ‘family’ in the original sense, but rather in terms of maintaining a family spirit in which you can truly rely on your personnel. It’s an atmosphere that is highly conducive to ensuring that companies continue to develop; rather than people being there to make money, they want to take the company to the next level. n