Founded in Sydney, Australia and now a fully-fledged international operation, PAM is pushing to become a leader of deploying new technologies to modernise built environments across a range of industries.
PAM’s solutions are split between operators of built spaces looking for smart navigation and those looking to digitise facility management.
With a philosophy in making built environments more intelligent with smarter communications, PAM’s solutions are varied. Depending on the client, the needs are varied. They can be a tool for the planning and maintenance of signage, both physical and digital, or it can be a solution with the patron in mind, where PAM is primarily used for digital communications through digital signage, apps and kiosks.
Their client bases run the gamut of large-scale capital works such as airports, stadiums, universities, convention centres and casinos.
In this comprehensive interview we spoke to PAM’s VP Sales & Marketing Jason Hutty.
Take me through a particular implementation of PAM’s platform into a stadium’s infrastructure.
Jason Hutty: “For a large stadium district, the story begins pre-construction. The facility tends to be decentralised, so parking is shared between fans going to the game, shoppers visiting stores, workers going to offices, people attending events on site.
“The facility uses PAM to achieve a couple of initial goals: First, they plan their physical signage across the property. This includes planning the location of signs and the messaging on each sign. It’s a big job. PAM also helps them plan their digital signage in much the same way. The difference is that digital signage tends to have all kinds of different uses, so PAM helps facilitate these. For instance, the stadium might use digital directional signage to help vehicles get around the whole district during the day, but then switch to drive traffic specifically to gameday parking when a sporting event is on. Digital signage gives the stadium managers much more power to control traffic and guide visitors around the district in a dynamic way. This is all planned in advance using PAM and then executed and managed using PAM.
“During that initial planning phase, all the documentation that’s required to purchase the physical signage is produced and ready for tendering to fabricators. This saves a great deal of time. The winning fabricator then uses PAM to manage implementation of the signage, again a huge timesaver.
“Once the signage is installed and the property opens, PAM is used by several facets of the business. Facility Managers use PAM to keep physical signs accurate and in good condition. Event Management uses PAM to control digital wayfinding and make sure people find their parking and pedestrian ways easily and quickly. Marketing uses PAM to manage other digital assets, like signage for advertising, promotions or general communications. Management uses the metrics from all these departments to refine the operational efficiency of the environment.”
Can it be retroactively applied to existing venues or precincts?
JH: “PAM can be used on new or existing facilities. It tends to be the case that there’s a trigger for using PAM on an existing property though. It could be the development of a new building or wing. It could be a wide-ranging refurbishment, or a major brand overhaul. There tends to be one of these elements and the capital that goes with such a project present when PAM is implemented. It needn’t be the case though; any property looking to future-proof their facilities or upgrade towards a smarter facility will benefit greatly by using PAM and digitising their facilities.”
How will the business cope during this shutdown time, because of the long term nature of the projects that PAM’s solutions is added to, it appears that it’s business as usual.
JH: “It’s a good question. We’re usually involved in long term projects and so what this does to the stadium business or indeed government business time will tell. For now things are proceeding as normal, construction is generally exempt from stay-at-home orders as it’s an essential service.
“The thing that is going to suffer in the short term is supply chain. Longer term, we’re seeing that the largest strategic projects such as a new stadium and the tendering out of various phases of the construction is continuing.
“We work a fair bit in the casino resort business and they’re all closed up now, and they will remain that way for at least another six months in my opinion.
“Though this is no doubt a huge event, in the 10-year cycle of a major project I still think it will be a relatively minimal impact against hitting deadlines for major projects.”
The one thing that has been discussed is the potential psychological impact of people who associate big groups and gatherings with danger to their health. That might be an impactful thing on built spaces, congregation spaces like a stadium, a university or city centre where people start to question their safety.
JH: “Absolutely, so in that way, it’s not hugely different to 9/11 where people weren’t going to live games for a while.
“But it only takes a few weeks of proving the model and people overcome that. How long until we can prove the model? It will be a transition we’ll hopefully start soon.
“On the flip side, when we’re talking to people now, they are more focussed on things like smart navigation; looking at solutions to help easily direct people. As an example, a large outdoor concert venue wants to be able to make sure that people are equally dispersed rather than have everybody pushed to the front. Airports need dynamic gate management to stop bottlenecks at security. Venues need a dynamic wayfinding solution to help them transition back to full service over time.
“The other thing that’s happening from our point-of-view that’s encouraging is that now is a good time for people to start thinking strategically. We often hear, ‘I’m too busy right now.’ Well no-one is too busy right now. So a lot of people are asking a lot of big picture questions they have wanted to ask for many years but weren’t able to do so.
“Longer term, it’s a chance for us as a leading edge, new phase of technology to get a foothold in other industries because they’re finding themselves thinking strategically.”
I was leading to the next question, how does this pandemic spur innovation?
JH: “It’s interesting, it’s slightly different for us in that I think most startups and technologies are built in a way that can leverage staying at home. We’re in a slightly challenging position in that our focus is still the external, built environment. Properties must still be built, improved and managed during a crisis like we’re facing now. PAM is a cloud system and so our customers are able to keep their projects moving from home, where traditionally they’d be totally disabled right now.
“Like most crises people can be quite innovative and ingenious in the way that they can leverage technologies. A slightly different example is the bushfires, it caused mass devastation, but things like parks can use this as an opportunity to change from an environment where most signs are made out of wood that were just stuck in the ground, to an integrated physical and digital wayfinding system. The next time this happens, and it will happen in Australia, everything is online.”
Something like geofenced messaging for one, you can go town to town and shire to shire for specific messaging and warnings. It’s technology that exists but it tends to be unlocked out of necessity.
JH: “It only takes a few things, like Australia getting hammered with bushfires for one. The bushfires highlight that physical signage is critical, but if you don’t have a digital backup plan that people can leverage in terms of wayfinding mapping, then you’re on the back foot.
“The other thing with state governments is that they don’t have a good record of where all their signs are, what they say and their messaging. So when they need to replace ten thousand signs, it’s a real slog. Using something like PAM and keeping a digital content and asset management record would probably halve the labour required to replace all these signs. It makes logical and financial sense, which has been good for us.”
What should be considered essential for a wayfinding system?
JH: “Overall, I think we’ve reached an age of personalisation. Physical signage will always be the backbone of wayfinding – it’s cheap, it’s fast and it’s easy. The challenge for the operators of large facilities though is that there’s way more pressure to maximise revenue, so the facility tends to have many more uses than it used to. This means more kinds of people, doing completely different things and looking for different locations. Physical signage can’t help as much there. If a stadium is hosting an outdoor concert tomorrow and a game in the stadium the day after, everything needs to change and change quickly. Marketing changes, the destination changes. The messaging needs to change across the entire district, in a flash.
“On top of the targeted wayfinding and brand communications, people like to navigate differently. One person might be happy winging it using physical signage. Another will want specific direction from signage to their event. Another won’t use any of those things, they’ll stick to their phone – and Google Maps doesn’t know where the bathroom on level four is.
“The stadium needs to provide specific information, in real time, personalised to that person’s needs. People don’t like jumping from app to app, so the perfect solution provides one experience all the way from the person’s home, to parking, then on to the stadium, or class, or flight. It’s ultimately about improving a person’s experience, if you can retain the attention of a visitor or patron you can leverage that into more sales and happier customers.”
What kinds of technologies you think may provide a tailwind to the business? One example could be the impact of 5G.
JH: “There’s technologies that will make a big difference to our whole industry, and most are driven by 5G. For instance, indoor location services is still pretty archaic. It currently uses massive amounts of fast-burn hardware, like beacons and routers, that cost a bomb, don’t last and don’t really work. 5G is changing that, which will make the visitors experience much better. The visitor will have indoor navigation at the same quality as we currently enjoy outdoors via GPS. Likewise, the ability to implement digital touch points across a property in the form of screens or IoT tech will further immerse visitors into the environment.
“Going to a game in five-year’s time is going to look quite a bit different than it does now. It will be easier of course, but more importantly, most of those friction points – finding a parking spot, lining up for food, trying to find your seat – they’ll all be removed by technology. People can spend more time watching the game and hanging out with their friends, which is what it’s all about right?”
Where have you been getting a lot of interest for PAM’s solutions? What are some insights about where the interest is around the regions.
JH: “We find ourselves being asked most often to help in the Middle East, a lot of interest in countries like Qatar and United Arab Emirates. In one respect it’s driven by budget but it’s also driven by their incredible interest in how to leverage technology. Places like Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Doha their whole play is around building the next generation commercial environment, they’re trying to become the big city of the future. So there’s a great deal of interest in smart city technology.
“On the flip side, there’s places like Bristol in England, they’re also trying to differentiate themselves by making that same play. They’re often what you might call ‘second tier’ cities in countries around the world. Bristol is a good example and another one is Columbus, Ohio. They’re trying to become America’s smartest city and they’re doing a pretty good job of it.
“Europe is generally doing a very good job. The business over there is very forward looking but they have some geographic challenges. For instance the stadium business, they’re very technologically advanced but there tends to be lots of medium sized clubs who don’t have access to a lot of land.
“A place like Doha is trying to use technology, and their capability in purchasing that technology, to try and catch Dubai because they know they’re a little behind the eight ball. By having the World Cup and instituting a whole heap of technologies around that, that’s their play.
“The US marketing is always strong, they’re very customer-focused and must deliver a premium experience to compete for premium dollars. It’s a very competitive market and results in advances in technology that start in the US and spread globally.
“From our point of view it’s really exciting because everybody talks about smart cities, but everybody struggles to get budget and community buy in. Those are the big challenges for anybody involved in smart city technologies.”