Wow. It took three attempts to write this post. Considering that I have been thinking about the topic for quite a while, that is unusual. The challenge was that each of the first two times, the tone felt negative to me, and there is no need for that. These days, it seems that going negative has become the cultural norm, whether it is in politics, in business, or daily life. Snarky is always easy, often funny, but not always productive. So I am going to try to make a simple decision and explain it in a positive way.
I wrote a number of posts in the past year about industry leadership and suggested solutions for the DSA–DSF standoff. I truly thought that the posts would spark conversation, negotiation and eventually unity. Hardly any of the three ensued. I pretty much swore off the topic as a subject of blog posts in April after a snarky vent on the latest development that pissed off some people and bored others. While it was amusing, it was not terribly effective. In the time since then, I have learned a few things:
- Many people are confused by the alphabet soup of associations to the point of apathy
- Some people aren’t even sure we are an industry, never mind one in need of an association
- There are clear, unmet needs within the industry
- Some people are quietly passionate about the need for industry leadership in the form of a single association
- Few people agree upon how to get there.
I was moved to break my pledge to not write about the whole mess when my company’s bill to renew our DSA membership arrived via Federally-supported analog communications media courier. Last year the decision to join was easy, but this year the decision to renew presented a dilemma. You see, back in February, I agreed to join the Interim Board of the fledgling Digital Signage Federation. I was torn at the time, but felt that I had the best chance of being part of a solution by being inside the DSF. I secretly and arrogantly thought that I could orchestrate a meeting of the minds and a merger of the groups to everyone’s benefit. Let’s just say that did not work out. No need to point fingers. Life goes on.
I was not sure what to expect from this new group. I clearly told the organizers that if their pledge to allow the Federation to be absolutely independent in its dealings were a sham, I’d walk, and I’d talk about it. I am here to say that I’m not walking, and I want to talk about why. The Digital Signage Federation was created to be an independent voice and resource for the industry. It was conceived and financially backed by Exponation, the owners of the largest digital signage trade show in North America. My sense was that Angelo Varrone, the CEO of Exponation, was on the right track when he did two things right off the bat. First, he hired an experienced association professional to advise the new organization in John Johnson. Brilliant. Second, he refused to sit on the DSF Board, have a vote on its affairs, or otherwise drive agenda. Wise. To me, those were huge steps because in my prior experience with industry associations, I learned there is a process and a science to getting it right. Further, the agenda to drive the industry forward had to come from the industry itself, not a sponsor. Angelo is smart enough to know that DSE will grow along with the industry, so any investment made in accelerating growth and adoption would have real ROI.
Given the circumstances of its origin, it was clear that DSF was not created with the intent of forcing a merger with DSA, even though that may have been my fantasy outcome. Once it became obvious that a DSA-DSF mashup was not in the cards, I looked around, listened and learned that things were being done right. I am most pleased that the Executive Committee of the DSF does not include a single technology vendor. The Chairman is a network operator, the very capable Rich Cooley of Visser Digital Media. While we have our share of technoids on the Interim Board, myself included, we are doing committee work as I believe is appropriate. Neither the Board nor the rapidly growing membership reflects a software-centric view of the industry. It feels right. Board business has been undertaken with a great deal of buy-in and focus, led by Rich and with John’s very constructive guidance. We’ll have a member-elected Board by year end. The number of members volunteering for committee work from outside the Board has been amazingly high. I am chairing the Standards Committee, and I can tell you that the folks who have agreed to work on this committee are terrific and their perspective spans three countries and two continents. I think we have a chance to do some good work. I know I will learn a lot. We’ll get started soon. Want in? Let me know.
Back to our renewal dilemma. Given what has transpired as well as what has not transpired, it seems appropriate to ride just one horse in this race. The diligence is done, and for us that horse will wear the silks of the DSF. I am impressed by how its early days have been handled, excited by the composition and focus of its Board, heartened by the enthusiasm of its members, and very confident of its staying power. The folks at DSA, in particular David Drain, have been kind to me, and I wish them well. But now the horse has left the barn, and it is time to saddle up and start riding.