Note: As Chairman of the Digital Signage Federation, I was torn when the news of dramatic change at the Digital Screenmedia Association was announced last week. I wrote thousands of words criticizing DSA back in 2010, but have been quieter about it since joining the DSF Board when it was formed. Would it seem self-serving to write about this? Widespread reaction to DSA’s changes was that DSF had “won”. But I do not see it as a victory for DSF, or even as an opportunity to gloat. Instead, I view it as the clearing of an obstacle to DSF’s singular goal of advancing this industry, and as a reminder that focus and passion resonate. I expressed that in an email to the DSF Board members last week. 

Replacing my Chairman’s hat with my industry observer hat, I think it is important to try to surmise, if not understand how this all came about. I write about the industry, so this turn of events deserves a post.

Last week began with a warning of changes at the Digital Screenmedia Association (nee Digital Signage Association, prior to absorbing the Self Service Kiosk Association). That warning came from Paul Flanigan, when the rumor of his departure as DSA’s Executive Director became reality. Paul wrote, “In the coming days and weeks, the DSA will change.” Of course, he knew what was imminent, but perhaps we all should have been able to read the tea leaves. We should have seen it coming because the DSA, in all of its iterations, existed primarily to further the core business of its creator, Networld Media Group. Any good work done by DSA’s volunteers, members and staff were incidental to the objective of promoting Networld’s media businesses. The changes are a clear sign that the ground appears more fertile elsewhere, and that Networld plans to till a new plantation. Face it folks, Digital Signage just got written off like an ugly bonnet after Derby Day in Louisville.

The decision for DSA to become the unpronounceable and stillborn ICXA was foretold by two events. The first was in November 2013, when Networld simultaneously named David Drain as SVP of its Events business and hired Paul Flanigan as Executive Director of the DSA. Drain had served as Executive Director of the SSKA and then the DSA since 2006. David is a very good and very capable person, who no doubt leaped at the chance to take on his current job, leaving behind the somewhat besieged DSA and its 36-member Advisory Board. That Networld would move him into the Events side of the business was both a promotion for David and a signal that they wanted to invest in Events, a reasonable business decision. The hiring of the experienced, articulate and passionate Paul Flanigan to head up DSA was a bit of a surprise in that Paul is a digital signage industry insider, not an association professional by trade. He was immediately tasked with “expanding (DSA’s) influence in the digital omnichannel industry”. Sadly, that phrase summarizes DSA’s never ending omni-identity crisis, since a Google search of same returns only the press release in which that hackneyed and faux wording is used.  Nevertheless, Paul took on the role and its tasks with vigor: traveling worldwide, speaking frequently and reaching out to DSA’s members to try to understand not just what DSA was, but what its members needed it to be. It is a safe bet that no one begged for more emphasis on the non-existent digital omnichannel industry. I can report that Paul’s efforts included reaching out to the Digital Signage Federation to discuss the creation of a unified industry body. Those sincere efforts were not met with enthusiasm by the overlords at Networld. Paul also expressed interest in joint efforts on matters of critical interest to the digital signage trade. That idea was also scotched when it came time to write a check. (More on that at a later date.) It became clear that he was fighting an uphill battle on multiple fronts.

As all of that was taking place, in December, 2014, JD Events announced the termination of its Customer Engagement World trade show. CEW, formerly KioskCom and The Digital Signage Show, became the official trade show of DSA in 2011, a year after representatives of DSA’s Executive Committee failed to strong arm Exponation, the owners of the Digital Signage Expo. That in turn begat the DSF. CEW’s omni-ambitions mirrored DSA in its attempt to bring disparate businesses together as an interest group, rather than an industry. The results were not good. Not at all coincidentally, two weeks prior to the announcement of CEW’s demise, Networld announced its inaugural ICX Summit would be held in June, 2015. The new summit would be run by, you guessed it, David Drain. In typical Networld fashion, a new business must be propped up by a sham association. Conveniently, the DSA immediately found itself too constrained by digital signage, interactive kiosks and mobile. It renamed itself ICXA, and focused itself on “CRM, POS, digital display, self-service, e- and m-commerce, mobile payment, and much more”.  Perhaps focus was the wrong word choice. Steve Gurley, once a proud DSA member and supporter, put it brilliantly in a comment on Sixteen:Nine, also echoed on DailyDOOH: “The DSA’s problem can be summarized in one statement: “They’re trying to boil the ocean.” In essence, their mandate is so broad that they are of little use to anyone.” It should not be lost on anyone that ICXA’s own description of its areas of omni-interest does not include digital signage, only digital displays.

Apparently, Networld never cared much about the digital signage industry beyond its potential to offer a base of advertisers and buyers of hyperlinks on the Digital Signage Today site; as buyers of pay-to-play compendiums of pseudo-research; and as dues paying rubes in the DSA itself. The DSA’s members, advisors and board members, however pure their intent and worthwhile their work may have been, were pawns to be sacrificed to advance the queen’s plans. The classic rock band Yes put it lyrically in the 1970’s:

” ‘Cause it’s time, it’s time in time with your time
and its news is captured
for the queen to use!
Move me on to any black square
Use me anytime you want
Just remember that the goal
Is for us all to capture all we want”

DSA’s members have been graciously grandfathered in to the nascent ICXA, roughly the equivalent of being offered a used Derby Day bonnet for free. Some will no doubt stay on to boil the ocean and commiserate with their peers from CRM and POS companies. Some, who were given free memberships in an effort to prop up numbers, may not even be aware that they are part of DSA/ICXA. Still others will nod their heads at Steve Gurley’s concise analysis, dismayed by the change. They are all good people, influenced and arguably duped by an entity with an agenda separate from and less pure than their own.

I think the ICX Summit may have merit as an event, and I am sure David will do an excellent job of organizing it. However, to think that it has enough gravitas to spawn an industry association where no industry exists is an epic reach. You would think that they might have learned about dilution of purpose from the SSKA-DSA experience. The truth is that they did, as long as you understand that the real purpose was never diluted.

And so here we are, a week away from DSE, the largest trade show dedicated to digital signage. A time and place where an industry comes together, at a point in time when we should. See you there.