Why Digital Signage At Scale Needs Enterprise Features

Guest Post: Trey Hicks, Visix

Trey Hicks

Even though digital signage can be as simple as a laptop playing a PowerPoint slideshow hooked up to a display, it’s really designed to reach large audiences. Some organizations spread out over multiple floors, multiple buildings or even multiple geographical locations. When you are operating at that scale, the basics just won’t do the job as well as a robust content management system (CMS) with enterprise features can.

The benefits of enterprise features for large organizations can be roughly divided into five categories or “buckets” – scalability, interoperability, extensibility, security and reporting.

Scalability
The goal these days is to create a more consumer-like experience for your audience, which means a more customizable experience. More and more people want and expect to be able to interact with the information around them, and features such as touchscreen kiosking can allow people to decide what to interact with and how. This is the signage trend of the future and represents a kind of scalability. For example, you probably have a weather widget running showing the current weather information for the area. A way to scale that up for the consumer is to allow them to simply tap on the icon and expand out to a five- or seven-day forecast.

Another type of scalability is, of course, the size of your physical network and deployment. But there’s also the number of people who can use the system – people who create and schedule content, develop longtail campaigns, and help create more customizable experiences for your audience. Enterprise features such as integration with Active Directory can help streamline passwords and security as more and more people are given access to the system. User rights and roles can also be clearly defined in advance, so no mishaps occur, and people only see what they need to in order to accomplish their tasks.

Interoperability
This is the ability to connect to multiple data sources, importing information in a hands-off manner. Integration with live data sources like event calendaring software, weather feeds, news headlines, social media and other on-site systems is vital if you want to have accurate information available in real-time for your audience. You can also import data from Excel spreadsheets and XML for dynamic data sets, as well as pull in webpages and other web-based content.

Pulling in data from various sources is a more efficient model than having someone go out, gather the information, create a message and then schedule it. Showing data from auto-updating feeds saves time and keeps your content up-to-the-moment fresh and accurate. You can drastically increase the number of pieces of information you make available without putting undue stress on your content creation and management team.

Extensibility
You want to be able to expand your system in a way that is not disruptive to legacy systems; no one wants to have to start from scratch every year or two. Widgets and apps are a great way to add on what you want without disrupting what you already offer. (Very much like a smartphone or tablet.) The push to create a more consumer-like experience for people includes your own staff as well as your audience.

Apps are single-purpose software items, sometimes created by a third party. You want to try out a new feature on your digital signage, like a Twitter feed? Try an app. An app is a program that runs when you open it. A widget is a software tool that performs a task automatically, all the time. Things like date and time, local weather, and RSS feeds are often handled with widgets. Widgets can also handle data and asset importing for images, video, streaming feeds and webpages.

Publishers are intermediaries that allow you to co-opt existing screens – for example, a message window that pops up on computer desktops, a screensaver publisher that turns any dormant screen into another display for your digital signage messages, an RSS publisher that pushes specified content out to specified end points, and even mobile modules that allow you to publish content right on people’s smartphones.

And things like apps, widgets and publishers are easy to use – anyone can utilize them, regardless of their technical training.

Security and Reporting
Enterprise features are often touted to be more secure. Just make sure what you have is TLS 1.2 compliant. You can also integrate with CAP-compliant triggers that can augment and extend your alert system, even automating many of the steps involved in getting the word out quickly in a crisis.

Features for reporting give you real-time data on how people are using your system, how many of your calls-to-action are being followed, etc. This allows you to see exactly what is working and what isn’t, and gives you the opportunity to improve along the way. Today we want to be constantly improving and adjusting our visual communications to be more and more effective, and for that you need good reporting tools.

You can also solicit feedback from your audience to see what viewers respond to or want to see more of. You just need to make it easy – for example, an onscreen keyboard that let’s people type in comments that are emailed to an administrator, or a quick multiple-choice survey people can access on touchscreens or via a dedicated webpage that you drive them to with a short URL or QR code. And all data, regardless of where it comes from, can also be shared among departments easily, further increasing interdepartmental communications and efficiencies.

Large digital signage deployments can also benefit from tools such as daypart scheduling that lets you better target audiences by showing the right message at the right time. Adding in features such as mobile wayfinding and augmented reality, especially in hospitality or retail environments, also adds a lot to your digital signage deployment. The key at the enterprise level is to focus on communications strategy.

Basically, the bigger your system, the more automated you want it to become. As part of a culture of continuous improvement, your people can spend their time on communications strategy instead of technical tasks. They can concentrate on how to enhance your offering, where and when to display certain types of messages, and which calls-to-action people follow. Then they can create beautiful, effective signage that attracts the eye and reinforces your message. Let the software do the grunt work.

It’s no longer just about pushing PowerPoint-looking messages out to people, hoping they’ll read them. Digital signage is a constantly-evolving method of communication that is perfectly suited to large organizations with an eye to engaging their viewers for measurable results. Make sure your CMS has the features you need to streamline the day-to-day tasks, so you can focus on what matters – your audience.

Dave Haynes

Dave Haynes

Editor/Founder at Sixteen:Nine
Dave Haynes is the founder and editor of Sixteen:Nine, an online publication that has followed the digital signage industry for more than a decade. Dave does strategic advisory consulting work for many end-users and vendors, and also writes for many of them. He's based near Toronto.
Dave Haynes

@sixteennine

11+ year-old blog (and now podcast) about digital signage and related tech, written by industry consultant, analyst and bullshit filter Dave Haynes.
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