The Swiss Army Knife Protocol

The other day I was listening to a podcast about software design and one of the guests described what he called, “The Swiss Army Knife Protocol.” He used the term to describe software that has very broad applications and can do many things, like the Swiss Army knives that have a dozen or more blades.

For example, banking software that can process checks, take deposits, originate loans, and transfer funds, as opposed to doing just one or two of those items. The good thing about products like that is they can do many things, so you only need that one app. The bad things are that they’re very large, not focused on any particular task, and complex to use. Like a Swiss Army knife, if you HAVE to have only one tool or app, then it’s a good thing to have, but if you have the choice, it’s much better to have the right app for the particular problem you’re trying to solve.

I wrote a blog post on this very subject a few years ago, and I think the subject’s worth revisiting because digital signage for the workplace can also suffer from The Swiss Army Knife Protocol.

Most digital signage (DS) systems are designed for wide-ranging applications such as QSR menu boards… and retail signage, wayfinding, airline flight status boards, sports stadiums, billboards, Times Square, etc. Yes, they can do it all. But if you’re in the market for DS to help you communicate your important issues and ideas to your employees, you don’t want one of those systems. Sure, they can let you post a PowerPoint to a display, but it’ll be about as easy as assembling an Ikea desk with a giant Swiss Army Knife. Possible? Yes. Pleasant? No.

If you’re serious about communicating to your employees in a fast, easy way with software that is designed ONLY for that purpose, be sure to choose carefully. Otherwise you’ll end up with DS software that’s a jack of all trades and master of none.

P.S. The 141-function knife in the photo above, from the Amazon website, is an actual product. While currently out of stock, the user reviews and comments are very funny if you’re looking for a quick laugh.

Frank Kenna III
August 30, 2016

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