Over the past 25 years, NDS evolved from a simple hardware company to a leader in a global digital signage software market. With a brand presence in 75+ countries, partnerships across the globe, and a list of features that continues to grow, we look forward to a bright future.
As NDS passes our 25th year, we take a moment to reflect, and review where we are and where we’ve come from. Naturally, this leads us to the people who have made NDS what it is today. In particular, Arthur Damen, who masterminded the original PADS product, developed software and strategy, and today, serves as our CFO. Arthur joined us for an interview to discuss his role in the last 25 years with NDS.
Q: How did it all start? When did you join NDS?
A: 25 years ago, in 1994, I was approached by Louis van Geldrop, a manager from my previous job. He and Ruud van der Linden, two people with broad experience in Flight Information Display Software (FIDS) market, had decided to start their own business. They asked for my help. Initially, the company intended to manufacture and sell its own hardware under the name Cotep Systems B.V. My role was to develop display software to be bundled with monitors. It sounded like a challenge and I, of course, joined the mission.
It wasn’t long before we realized software was our passion. The company changed direction and rebranded as Net Display Systems B.V.. Our new mission was to develop software for airport display (FIDS), with the goal of eventually expanding to other markets if we could make the technology accessible and easy-to-use.
Of course, we never imagined the digital signage industry would become what it is today.
Q: What was it like working at NDS in those early days?
A: We had a small team of four people. I was the only software developer. As software developer, it was my role to develop the best-possible software product for digital signage. This became PADS 1.0 (Public Area Display System), which I developed alone. After 2 years, NDS hired on a second software developer, my former schoolmate and our current CEO, Willie Jan Bons.
Q: What was PADS 1.0 like?
A: It’s an amazing revelation to look back and see that our base concepts still form the core of our PADS4 product. We’ve introduced a lot of changes along the way, but the core principles remain the same.
For example, our Designer application. When we started, existing digital signage software systems were all text-oriented and it was exceptional to display something as simple as a logo. Changing a display layout meant two weeks of programming. NDS was the first to introduce a WYSIWYG-editor, so the end-user could update the layout themselves.
Another example is data-connectivity. We initially focused on airport industry, so it was natural that data-integration be a key part of our software. We introduced a wizard, enabling the end-user to link on-screen fields to a data-source to pull real-time data. We were the first to enable this with a few mouse clicks and without requiring a programming interface. Many competitors still don’t offer this functionality today, despite the fact that data-driven signage is now common.
Q: What were your primary challenges?
A: One of our biggest challenges was the lack of technology. When we started, Internet was not yet widely available and Microsoft had just introduced their first network-supporting Windows version. Network communication was a challenge. Later, we faced challenges relating to bandwidth issues preventing large-file transfers like video. It was dramatically different from today, where technology no longer seems to be a limiting factor. Of course, we also faced the same challenges as every other starting company. We had to grow, we had to mature our product, and we needed a customer base.
Today’s affordable data prices, Internet, network communication, and new technologies like System-on-chip have definitely helped us overcome challenges to be where we are today.
I am proud of what we have achieved with all the people at NDS . Grateful to be part of this company and I’m looking forward to our future.
Q: 3 years after joining NDS, you moved into the role of product manager. How did this change your experience with the company?
A: As demand grew, the development team expanded as well. I was moved into the role of product manager. As someone who is passionate about turning complex technology into easy-to-understand product features and simple user interfaces, I have always loved my time in this role. I also worked to predict markets, balance development direction between meeting short-term requests and long-term evolution, and moving the product in a direction that delivered value then and for the future.
Q: How much had changed at NDS?
A: The digital signage market was growing and becoming a mature market. At the same time, it was difficult to position, because it’s a market that combines Audio-visual, communication, and IT. My role expanded into marketing, training, installation/support, and even some sales. Most importantly, I focused on trying to understand customers and their needs, incorporating customer feedback into faster and shorter Scrum sprints, and improving quickly. To meet those needs, we started delivering updates on a continuous basis. By PADS 3.1 Professional, we had reached the stage of a very stable and mature product, with activity and customers around the world.
Q: Between 2013 and 2016, you worked in marketing. What sort of changes and growth did you see in that time?
A: Marketing was a logical next-step for me at the time. Here, my role gave me a different perspective of the digital signage market. I learned to see not just product features and requests, but also the full customer journey, from awareness to satisfied customer. During this time, we introduced Smart Airport Signage. This concept brings FIDS, advertising, menu boards, and other airport displays together in one digital signage solution. This was a first and it made a huge difference for many airports. Smart Airport Signage was later introduced in other verticals with PADS4 as a Platform.
With PADS4 as a Platform we offer solutions for most-types of display communication, which still gives us a unique proposition.
Q: How has NDS remained a global leader in the Digital Signage market?
A: I feel that PADS4 has always been a unique product, especially in terms of data connectivity. We’ve also maintained that value with features like rules, property bindings, and viewer variables. We offer features for simple as well as complex and often-mission-critical digital signage projects. And, PADS4 as a Platform means we offer solutions for most-types of display communication, which still gives us a unique proposition.
Q: How does NDS look now? How do you think your next few years will go?
A: In the last few years, we’ve been able to invest in growth. This shows in terms of employees, revenue, and global presence. Our branch office and staff in Dubai means we now have a strong presence in the Middle East. Our new business in India is showing results. We also have strong relationships with major display manufacturers like Samsung and LG. We’re also on the verge of releasing a brand new web-based PADS4 CTRL center, which I believe is a welcome addition to PADS4.
It’s my belief that the current digital signage market is an intermediate phase. Everything around us is entering an era of digitization. Signage will be no different. Technologies like big data, IoT, facial recognition, and AI are coming to the forefront. With existing capabilities for smart real-time data application, PADS4 can play a crucial role in this and I look forward to our future.