The Born-in-the-Cloud Digital Signage Software Platform
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While the retail sector currently makes up the largest part of the digital signage industry, it’s widely adopted in food service, transportation, financial services and education.
You’ve also been seeing some promising statistics on the success of digital signage, and the fact that the industry has a CAGR of nearly 9% is encouraging as well.
You might be considering rolling out digital signage. After all, it seems to be bringing great results for others, and since prices for digital signage systems have been steadily dropping, it seems like the time is right and it’s an easy way to get a return on your investment.
However, you can’t just get any old screen, slap it up at random, and expect to rake in the dough. They aren’t a magical revenue-generating charm.
Even if your aim isn’t advertisement, you still have information you want to communicate.
If the screens aren’t doing the best job to communicate that information that they possibly can, they may not offer much advantage over traditional signage in getting your point across. That said, studies still show that up to 43% of traditional paper-based signage used in campaigns or for promotions is never installed, so at least the digital signage has a 100% compliance advantage when it comes to installation.
You must put serious thought into your strategy for installing digital signage in order to maximize its usefulness and accessibility to your audience.
Case in point: You need to choose the right digital display to install based on the placement and environment in your store. A retail sign near a window may require a semi-outdoor display that will have higher brightness to counter the direct sun light?
Of course, the problems can start long before your digital signage is even fully installed. Without a fully planned strategy, costly trial and error can make your expenses quickly balloon above your budget.
In this chapter, we’ll walk you through the digital signage rollout planning process and give you an idea of what to expect along the way.
In order to form a smooth rollout strategy, you’ll need to take a big-picture look at your intentions for your digital signage, decide who you’re going to work with, and plan each aspect of your signage.
Then you can start working on figuring out how to get it into place.
Your purpose in installing digital signage will inform all of your other decisions about it. So it’s important to clearly define it, right from the start.
The more familiar you are with your digital signage needs, the better your partners will be able to collaborate with you and realize them.
Who is going to see the signs? Are they outward-facing and primarily intended for paying customers or students? Are they inward-facing and meant to communicate with employees?
What are the signs intended to communicate? Is the primary purpose advertisement? Is it something highly specific, like the aforementioned price tags? Are they a wayfinding resource? Will they be presenting data, displaying schedules, or sharing internal memos?
Where will they be located—inside or outside?
How do you define success? What does a healthy ROI look like for you, and how will you be evaluating it? (Turn back to Chapter 2 for help planning this.)
You should be able to sum up your purpose and goals for the signage in a few short sentences. This will help your partner determine the best placement of the signage during the site survey which will ultimately make installation a much easier process.
Don’t worry, you’re not on your own. For all but the most basic digital signage, it’s wise to work with system integrator, VAR, or reseller to assist in defining the best possible rollout strategy based on your individual needs. Some digital signage companies may offer these services via a third party as part of a holistic solution.
Your partner should have experience with the type of signage you plan on deploying, and be able to answer your questions to your satisfaction.
They should be able to connect you with past clients, to discuss their overall experience and talk about their deployment. They should also have a robust network of expert partners, such as installation partners and OEMs, who can work together and with you to make the best decisions about your signage.
If you’re bringing in any additional partners of your own, for example, you may be working directly with a designer. Based on your deployment you may want the content creators to have conversation with the CMS provider directly and the system integrator to ensure everyone is on the same page.
Let’s have an example of how a healthy network of partners can contribute to a better digital signage experience for all.
When a tourism center in Montreal, Canada wanted to deploy a digital signage system that would bring an immersive, interactive, video-based experience to its visitors, they brought several partners on right from the beginning.
Displaying the video in a way that would maximize its impact was key. After the video producers had created the concept, they shared it with the integrator.
Based on the nature of the content, and the angle and location the tourism central wanted to mount the screens at, the integrator was able to recommend the exact screen that would best show the content off.
Haste makes waste! You’re not ready to deploy your digital signage until you’ve planned each aspect.
This planning will also help as you budget for the project.
Most of the items in this section are covered more comprehensively in other sections, so we’ll touch lightly on each. Think of it more as a checklist and a reminder of what to consider as you plan each.
Of course, you’ll have to select all the components of your digital signage system in advance.
Your partners may be able to recommend components that will fit your needs and budget.
How do you intend to update the content on your screens?
Gone are the days when you had to plug in a VHS player.
Something like an electronic price tag is probably RF-equipped. There are wired options as well.
Also recall that there are all-in-one choices, which integrate a media player and a screen into a single device.
For deep looks at media player options, check out chapters 5 and 7.
For a professional installation at an enterprise, or even SMB, you will want commercial-grade display.
Advantages of a commercial display include
And much more. When choosing a screen, make sure to consider the amount of ambient light in the room and what sort of environmental factors (high heat? rain?) it’ll have to endure.
Turn back to Chapter 5 for much more information about types of screens, and ask your partners for advice in choosing the screen (and to see if they can get you a good deal).
See “The Placement,” below, for more about locating a screen and how that affects screen choice.
As you know by now, content is everything. Your screens aren’t there to hang like empty picture frames, after all.
Your CMS is the software infrastructure that allows you to bring content to those display screens.
Choosing one with the features you need will save you endless headaches in the future and help you use your signage to its full potential.
We cover CMS in-depth in Chapter 4, including features that are important for specific verticals, but here’s a quick reminder of the elements you need in your CMS.
You’ll need to decide between a CMS that “lives” in the cloud or one that runs from your own servers.
We recommend a cloud-based CMS with offline capabilities for most purposes. Why?
First, it’s worry-free.
You aren’t responsible for the cost and trouble of maintaining the servers. Security and software updates are managed by the CMS provider and downloaded automatically. In fact, the provider’s security system is probably far more robust than any you could muster.
Second, it guarantees easy access.
Since it’s on the cloud, you don’t have to be at the site of the servers to add content or modify scheduling. Just like you can log into your Google Drive account from any computer, tablet, or smartphone, you can access cloudbased CMS from anywhere.
Third, it ensures scalability.
You may have to purchase additional server space and software licenses, but you won’t have to worry about physically buying and installing additional servers to accommodate increased resource needs when growing your system.
There are certain situations when hosting your content and managing your devices using on-site server banks might make sense.
For example, Healthcare. Although one can argue that a public cloud may be more secure than that of an On- Prem solution, select industries such as Healthcare have additional steps required of CMS providers working in the cloud to ensure data security.
The mounting positions the screen at a location and angle where it can do its job best.
You may be adding your digital signage to an existing wifi or you may be running new Cat6 cabling. The use case, connectivity quality, content type, etc… are all determining factors for mapping your infrastructure need for digital signage. If you aren’t streaming all your content over wifi, you’ll need a robust cabling infrastructure.
Work closely with your vendors to design a cabling system that you won’t regret later when you want to add additional screens.
For example, in K12 education in the US, most schools have the bandwidth of an average house, but have up to 200 students online. In a scenario such as this, the system integrator would want to select a CMS that could download or code bundle content during offline hours and then store it on the player device for use later to avoid fighting for bandwidth during busy school hours.
Indoor, semi-outdoor, and outdoor screens are very different from one another, each with special technology specific to its intended environment. Commercial indoor screens might have dust-repellent casing, scratch-proof screens, heavy duty components, ability to be on 24/7, a cooling system, and more.
A semi-outdoor screen is indoors, but still exposed to direct/indirect sunlight. The LED semi-outdoor screens usually produce less light because there’s natural light in the room. They’ll usually have many of the same other features as commercial indoor screens.
Outdoor screens have special casing and specifications on how much light is omitted so you can still read it in direct sunlight.
They can continue working in extreme heat, cold, wind, etc… though outdoor screens still have limits to their operational temperature ranges, so make sure to check how much heat and cold it’ll have to endure at your location.
They may have waterproof coatings on their components and extra-tough glass to stand up to vandals and environmental forces.
This is another obvious one, but you still need to think about it, of course: Where will you be putting your displays?
You want to position your screen somewhere it will be seen by the maximum number of people to whom it would be relevant, at a place where it will be relevant. This, of course, ties back to your purpose in installing the displays.
For example, if you had wayfinding kiosks, you wouldn’t bury them deep in the heart of your mall—you’d position one at each entrance, and perhaps a couple at intersections of wings of the mall and the food court.
Watch the paths people take through your building and where their eyes are already glancing to determine highexposure locations. Avoid odd corners and dead ends where people rarely look or wander.
Be sure to take into consideration the ADA height recommendations when placing interactive kiosks within your environment.
Depending on type of screen and location, you may need to angle the screen. LCD screens become less legible when viewed at an angle, so if you have one mounted high on a wall you might want to tilt it downwards.
Angle can also be addressed by selecting the appropriate screen. If you are in a call center and the viewing angle is not height related but side-view, viewability can be addressed by installing a brighter sign with higher contrast levels.
Consider the ambient light at the location the device(s) will be installed. As discussed, different types of displays have different maximum outputs. You should also consider possible sources of glare, like nearby windows or spot lighting.
I know, it’s a pretty basic question, but your partners will want to know, and so should you. Are you looking at three signs in a single location, or 900 signs at 100 locations scattered across the United States?
As you’d expect, rollout for a large number of signs and locations will be more involved than a smaller deployment. Pulling together a heat map by zip code will help to determine logistical planning and rollout partner selection.
Consider one small step: the actual, physical installation of the signs. Just the signs. You may be relying on local contractors to do that. If each of your hundred locations are in different cities, it would be recommended to work with an installation partner that has either staff or contract headcount that can service a project with sites in numerous cities. Keep in mind that rollouts that cross borders into other countries may require procurement within the given countries to ensure that the hardware warranty is covered within the region. It will also cut down in shipping expense and exporting paperwork. The larger the rollout, the more structured your planning must be.
Rather than leaving it up to the IT department in each location (which will lead to slight differences between locations and overwhelmed departments), you’ll want project supervisors at the regional and national level, some kind of centralized planning team, and possibly more.
Plus, there needs to be a clear line of communication between the individual locations and the planning team. Floor plans and internet availability might vary between locations, for example.
Develop a timeline for deploying your digital signage, based on your own needs, but also information gathered from your potential partners and others in your industry about the timeline of similar projects.
Make sure to factor in time needed to choose components, make a plan for maintaining content, and create the first batch of content. Get regular reports from the team or teams involved in deploying the signage to make sure the project is on track.
You know the adage about how, out of good, fast, and cheap, you can pick two?
That’s also true when installing digital signage. While rushing through planning and installation is possible, it’s costly. Not just in money needed to pay those designing and installing your system, but in mistakes and oversights that will need to be corrected later.
You need to be able to power your signs and players.
Will your locations require significant rewiring in order to accomplish that? Are you likely to overload your circuit breakers? What kind of surge protection is in place?
According to a recent study of major banks using digital signage (typically in retail banking), 16 percent had difficulties providing sufficient bandwidth for their systems.
If you’re using the Internet or local VPN to stream your content, you may run into issues with your ISP, who often limit the amount of bandwidth each customer can use.
Learn your required bandwidth in advance, and get in contact with your ISP to see if your current plan can handle it.
Larger files require more bandwidth to stream.
Standard resolution video takes about 40 MB/minute, whereas high resolution footage (1080i) requires a whopping 140 MB/minute. Your content type the media player selected is key to support the highest quality content for your audience. For example: a media player with 16 gigs will be able to hold the equivalent to about 4 full length movies.
You may wish to invest in a private leased line connection which will allow you to monitor data flow and allocate bandwidth as necessary to highdemand links. This may also increase your data transfer rate, meaning smoother streaming.
Good news! If you’re using local playback, bandwidth will be less of an issue.
Local playback means that instead of the media player receiving a constant stream of content, the content is received only once and then cached on the media player for playback.
Most enterprise-level CMS will be able to schedule these content downloads for off-hours when the demand for bandwidth is low.
Unless you’re a true one-person show, you won’t be the only one responsible for your digital signage.
Get your team excited about the new opportunities digital signage provides. You’ll want total buy-in and participation at every level to ensure success.
And I really mean at every level.
If the person at the customer service desk in one location decides that your advertising is too obnoxious to put up with for a whole shift, they might covertly mute or turn off the screen. That’s potentially ad revenue lost, or customer confusion generated.
Additionally, recognize that while installing a digital signage network can bring benefits, requires support in the strategy, design, deployment, maintenance and so on.
If you don’t have enough manpower resources to allocate you’ll end up with stressed employees and subpar content.
Providing sufficient training for those involved in the project and investing in user-friendly CMS will cut down on the difficulties in this area.
You may wish to allocate part of your budget for paying an experienced person to manage your digital signage.
Depending on the size of your network this may be a Content Champion/ Manager, a graphic designer, and an IT support member for each location if running an on-premise network. Staffing models will vary by size of network, content requirements, and number of screens.
If it saves untrained and overworked employees from spending frustrating and fruitless hours troubleshooting simple problems, it may be worth it.
As you work out your plan, make sure to assemble all of the information in one place.
You should have a master list that includes:
Aside from that, you should also record the rollout schedule, an itemized budget, your plan for maintaining the signs, and your strategy for producing their content.
The answer is probably “it depends.”
For large, multi-location deployments, it’s wise to do a trial run in a select number of locations. You should also pre-define what the definition of a successful pilot is. Once the trial period is over, how is success going to be measured? The number of smiles? Sales? No downtime? You decide, but know the answer prior to the test or it’s not worth doing the test.
Any flaws in your planning should show themselves quickly when the project goes from paper to real life.
Plus, it’s a great opportunity to get feedback:
And the above bullets might be your measurement of success! Make sure to apply the definition of success you designed as part of your purpose statement. You may have to adjust your goals.
Try to pick locations where the audience is representative of your average customer.
Are you reeling a little from the many things to consider?
I’d encourage you to think about your purpose in installing a digital signage system. As we’ve seen, it’ll inform your strategy and decisions in most of the other areas.
With a solid purpose in mind, and good information about your options (found here in this guide, gathered from your provider, or read elsewhere on one of the many Internet resources), the rest should fall into line.
Enjoy your effective signage!
142. 3 Keys to a Successful Digital Signage and Kiosk Rollout, Digital Signage Today
143. How to Deploy Digital Signage Nationally by Bill Roberts, Datatrends Technology
144. Behind the Scenes of Burger King’s Nationwide Digital Menu Board Rollout by Christopher Hall, Digital Signage Today