Guest Post: Gord Phillips
I remember thinking when I first started putting together what turned into Canada’s biggest digital menu board network: “This will be easy. I’m a professional engineer and pretty good at DIY.”
That was 2007, and turns out, it wasn’t that easy.
I joined a very large QSR firm that year to project-manage that rollout. Since then, I rolled out two more digital signage systems – 15,000 digital menu boards in 2012, done in 18 months, and in 2014 a digital advertising network to 2,300 restaurants in a little over six months.
It got easier each time, and I learned some valuable lessons along the way that I’d like to share.
1 – Find Qualified Partners
The most important thing to do is find qualified partners, who understand and are aligned with your goals and expectations.
Digital signage projects are very complex – involving technology, operations, marketing, facilities, design – and unless your vendors know what to expect and have prepared and priced accordingly, you are sure to have delays and cost overruns due to out of scope work.
How do you do this? You determine your requirements first, and share them with vendors via an RFP, because every rollout is different. Brands are different, their strategies are different, technology constantly evolves and in retail, hospitality and restaurant, the physical environments can be wildly different.
Take the time to work with your stakeholders to document their requirements up front. Often, they don’t know what they want – so walk them through the options and MAKE THEM decide. The result is an RFP that closely describes your unique requirements and leads to a much smoother rollout.
The vendors were already selected when I joined in 2007 and there was no RFP or documented requirements. The project was struggling, big-time, to launch, and was moving forward only in fits and starts.
So we stopped the project for about six weeks, documented all the scopes with the vendors and negotiated new pricing. Only once we had tested all the scenarios, and agreed, did we start the rollout and ramp up the volume.
The best vendors show their value and motives at critical junctures like these, and those that work cooperatively and take a long-term view are rewarded with a 2nd and 3rd rollout.
Those that don’t … aren’t invited back.
When conducting an RFP, ask questions you might ask in a job interview to gauge values and motivation.
Like this: “From your portfolio of customers, choose the one you liked working with best and explain why.”
Or like this: “Tell us about a situation where a project rollout was going off the rails, and describe what you and your team did for your customer to get it back on track.”
2 – Focus, Simplify And Think Plan B
For chains that operate across a large geography, and sometimes in the middle of nowhere, a truck roll can be expensive.
The tendency is for IT and ops to try to maximize the value of that truck roll by adding on other projects. The risk of a delayed or failed install of digital signage can be a hit to your brand reputation and profit.
How does it look to have black screens or even “Coming Soon” on a video loop? Really Not Good in the hyper-competitive retail, restaurant and hospitality sectors, where being technologically advanced and innovative are becoming key brand attributes.
How does a QSR sell anything if they’ve torn down static menus boards and replaced them with digital boards that can’t get their content downloaded, because the new DSL network that was supposed to be installed at the same time isn’t working, and the telco can’t get there for four weeks! If you’re going to add complexity, add more back up plans. In the telecoms example, add fully configured LTE Modems to the spares kits.
3 – Negotiate Good Contracts
Put cross-functional people on both sides of the table, who are vested in the project and the ongoing operation of the digital signage network. Don’t leave it to the lawyers and purchasing department.
Make sure you have clear termination clauses that allow you to break the contract for justifiable causes, such as security breaches, prolonged or repeated outages, or anything that negatively affects your brand.
The easiest thing to do is to put your Termination and Service Level Agreement (SLA) requirements into the RFP, and they can be copied and pasted into the contracts. SLA’s should cover implementation milestones, systems (critical and non-critical) up-time, help desk time to respond, first-call resolution, time to resolve or dispatch, and field services arrival times and resolution times.
If you didn’t put SLA’s into the RFP, you may have difficulty negotiating them in, but stick firm to your business requirements. A good vendor will realize if it’s good for your business, it’s good for their business, as well.
If you are being tasked with a large, scaled project that requires a big budget and lots of resources, just assume it’s going to be a lot tougher than it looks. Things like digital menu boards may seem like a relatively walk in the park, in IT terms, when compared to projects like new payment systems and network security. And that’s true, but not entirely.
Invest the time to find the right partners who can share experience, get focused, and exercise discipline when you do your deals.