We sat down with Stephen Minning, CEO of PAM Wayfinding, to talk about controlling navigation information, and rethinking public space in a post-COVID world.
Hi Stephen. What was the driving force behind your establishing PAM Wayfinding?
The idea of creating digital products has been in my thoughts since the 90s when very crude games appeared on mobile phones. It’s only in these past five years that technology and the environment have evolved. Now we can connect customer and operational data points, to create a unified customer experience.
People understand how to use QR codes to connect with online services – this new world of mixed reality is primed for success. It feels good to embrace technology to create efficient and effective digital products that redesign business processes and job roles. I’ve had some challenges, mainly communicating the vision across multiple teams, all with different motivators and interests.
For the uninitiated, what is ‘wayfinding’ in a business context?
Essentially, it is finding your way. A wayfarer in old nautical terms would read the position of the sun and stars to keep on course between islands. Then came innovations, the compass, sextant, radar, and so on. Let’s put some meat on the bones here, there are a number of factors involved in how we help visitors find their way around a complex precinct.
The solutions vary depending on the scale of the precinct, the type of people who reside there, and the demographic profile of visitors. Wayfinding takes into account the user types, their abilities (age, mobility, interest, etc), the cultural influences, and the brand and marketing communications in play (theme park, sports arena, hospital, naval base, etc). Then there are the geographic areas to strategise for.
Finally, with all these factors in mind, the wayfinding designer considers the possible methods of controlling navigation information. A great solution reduces stress, saves time, and improves brand engagement. The motivation is that wayfinding makes for happy visitors while also ensuring ROI for investors, in a way that builds brand equity.
Can you give us a bit of background on your career prior to this?
I’ve worked in advertising, branding, and graphic design for 20 years. This past decade I focussed on developing digital products for customers. It was only when I started working on an innovative wayfinding system for a large education precinct that it all came together.
Over my career, I’ve worked with blue-chip and government organisations. It’s clear to me that the vision and values of those businesses, compared to the technology they endure to run the business, are a chasm apart. Business ideas today need to be agile and responsive, but corporate technology is notoriously slow and cumbersome. The good news is that’s changing, thanks to significant disruption to outdated business models and new technology.
Could you share some insights into the Pam Wayfinding revenue model and the thought process behind it, how was it determined, and if it changed since the company was launched?
Working with blue-chip organisations and leadership teams for two decades, it’s clear to me that the ideals by which they run and the technology they endure, are polar opposites.
This was particularly evident in the built environment, where digital screen technologies are really taking off. Smart TVs and LED screens with significantly lower costs and easy(ish) to network have enabled a host of opportunities, but the software that underpins those opportunities hasn’t kept pace.
I’ll start by asking, What’s the value to a business? How will your environment help retain staff?
If you work back from the outcome then you’re solving a real problem, so that’s where I try to start, at the end. I worked with several precinct owners and operators to land on a tiered pricing model for the PAM platform. The ideal time to get involved is when the ground is broken, the investors and developers are in partnership and the technical specifications are being confirmed by the service integrators and channel partners.
What characteristics do you think a great leader or CEO has?
Know what you need to achieve and how to motivate people. Listen to those who surround you and be strong enough to make decisions, but also be humble enough to change them if you are wrong.
What’s your personal leadership style?
‘Be cool and be kind’ is my mantra. I tell my son that every day on his way to school, and I like to think that’s how I operate. I get involved and learn where I need to, butt out when I’m in the way and be compassionate. Everyone has a cross to bear.
How do you keep up with industry news?
Twitter, blogs, and newsletters from government, technology and design sectors. I love chasing butterflies and seeing the world’s new delights. I try to do that about 10% of my time. Another 10% is reading industry articles and reports, and 20% is social networking. The latter is where you find out so much more than what’s being officially published.
What has been Pam Wayfinding’s biggest hurdle so far and how are you overcoming it?
I would say the number one hurdle is keeping people on the roller coaster! A start-up has many hurdles that come in various forms. It’s the people who make up any business, particularly when it’s small.
The challenge is that as a business is ramping up, every person that leaves takes a bunch of IP with them, and I don’t just mean the brains trust IP, I mean the everyday operational stuff that eats into our days, but is so necessary to oil the wheels.
With all the best-laid strategies and plans, you have to be agile and pivot if that’s what’s needed, which we did in 2019.
It was a bumpy ride for a while, but we got there in the end.
How is technology helping the business (and/or the solutions you offer customers) to evolve?
There are lots of tech point solutions that work exceptionally well, and then there are the Microsoft, Salesforce, AWS, Google mega ecosystems. Managing our tech stack to run our business (and that of our customers) is highly specialised and complex.
It takes a lot to de-risk it to the point we can operate confidently. There are unexpected challenges and quite often they provide the insights we need, to build resilience, simplify and evolve our products and procedures then finally streamline our operations, which benefits everyone.
How is PAM adapting to the fast-changing landscape following the outbreak of COVID-19?
I was waiting for that question, and I’m glad you asked it. The built environment is changing the people from being anonymous and a minor consideration, towards spaces where we feel welcome and connected. It’s critical that public spaces engage us, if they want to draw people back.
As a result, precinct owners are working to connect better with their customers, fans, residents, visitors – we’re becoming more informed, and this information helps us make personal decisions to keep us and those around us safe. Platforms like PAM Wayfinding and the technologies we connect with will be key to providing information to people so they can make informed decisions.
We are working with several start-ups that focus on the built environment, plus R&D projects with the government and scientific sector. All industry stakeholders understand technological innovation is essential to the next age of public, built environments. Watch this space.
Stephen Minning is the CEO of PAM Wayfinding
Vital Addition presents this ‘Meet a CEO’ series.
Vital Addition is a fast-growing Australian tax and accounting company providing fresh, honest, and reliable accounting, financial, and tax advice. CEO Lachlan Grant believes in ‘strength in numbers’, empowering SMEs to make business decisions with confidence, and face the challenges associated with growth with informed optimism.