Exton-based Scala names Tom Nix new CEO; big opportunities in large global market

Tom Paine

Exton-based Scala, a pioneer and leader in the digital signage market, announced earlier this month that Tom Nix would be its new CEO as of November 1, succeeding Gerard Bucas, who is retiring but will remain on Scala's Board of Directors. Nix, who joined the company in 2010, was previously Vice President, Americas and Oceania, where he was responsible for Scala’s sales, services and support operations in those regions.

Scala was founded in Norway in 1987 and migrated to the US, establishing its headquarters in Exton. This was in large part because its original platform was the Commodore Amiga, and Commodore International was based just down the road in West Chester. When Commodore went under in the mid-1990's, Scala had to make a quick transition to the Windows platform. Some of Scala's top executives are still Commodore veterans. Although it is now US-based, Scala remains very global in its orientation (it says its top ten markets this year in order are the U.S., Japan, Norway, Germany, U.K., Sweden, United Arab Emirates, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Canada). Norwegians remain key investors.

Although still a relatively small company with 120 employees overall (40 in Exton), Scala is a leading player in a large, growing global market. Reliable market size and share estimates are difficult to come by (and vary depending on one's definition), though it appears to be at least a billion dollar market, counting both hardware and software. Scala only provides software and some services; it relies heavily on its global partner network for sales, support and installation. Many of the big tech players are in the market, including Cisco, Intel, NCR, and Microsoft. Google is working on various out of home display technologies. Late last year, Scala entered into a partnership with HP in which HP's entry-level digital signage offering comes pre-installed with Scala's QuickStart software.

There are many other smaller competitors, an example on the software side being Montreal-based SaaS vendor BroadSign. And of course, many of the large Asian electronics companies have digital signage offerings. Although market growth may have slumped some during the recession, future projections are for strong growth. Hardware has accounted for high percentage of the total spend historically, but it has become much more inexpensive while the capabilities of digital display technologies have advanced dramatically; think of the video wall at the Comcast Center (though not a Scala production) as one example. Digital signage is being deployed in many different market segments, including retail, education, healthcare, financial services, outdoor advertising, and general public information.

Scala can do both small, one-off displays and large complex installations like the recently announced 400+ screens network in Terminal 3 at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi. Scala has been criticized at times for being behind the technology curve in some ways, but Nix said in phone interview with Philly Tech News that Scala emphasizes putting stable, proven technology in the customer's environment, and is making measured moves into SaaS and other newer delivery systems. Last year it invested a reported $2 million in Thinking Screen Media, taking an equity stake in the company and acquiring Thinking Screen's SignChannel product line, giving Scala an entry into the self-service SaaS market for small and medium-sized enterprises. Thinking Screen Media apparently shut down this past summer, but Scala says it signed its first large SignChannel deal this year.

A new area of emphasis under Nix will be the Enterprise market, as Scala looks to develop display applications that connect to CRM and ERP applications such as Salesforce and SAP. Scala plans to introduce what it calls CXO Board, a dynamic performance management dashboard for enterprise managers, later this year. Nix says Scala will also be placing more emphasis on mobile applications.

Nix is a native of Piscataway, and early in his career built an independent record label he later sold. Prior to joining Scala, he was he was Vice President and General Manager at Dynamax Technologies, another digital signage competitor.

As he starts his tenure, Nix faces the challenges of leveraging Scala's global ecosystem and implementing the new technologies it will need to keep up with this large, rapidly changing, market. Scala is experiencing strong growth this year, outgoing CEO Bucas said at a recent Scala conference in Amsterdam. Nix says he has made no determination in regard to headcount growth over the next year.


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