There is a fast casual restaurant on the departures level at Oliver Tambo airport in Johannesburg, South Africa that I have walked past at least a half dozen times in the last three months. The menu boards, any time I looked, never showed more than floating screen savers.
On a video wall I was just looking at yesterday in T5 at London Heathrow, on a too long layover, I think four of the nine panels were out at one of the splashy post-security restaurants.
It doesn’t matter whether it is chaotic Africa or ultra-modern England, there are screens out everywhere. I have been traveling way too much this year, and everywhere I’ve looked, I’ve seen stuff that’s been down or showing errors.
Sometimes the screens are just black. Sometimes the playback is messed up. There are times when all is fine except for the Windows error and activate license messages, and task bars, on the screen.
‘This is not new. There are photo galleries and Pinterest halls of shame out there about the dreaded Blue Screen Of Death, and something that seems almost like glee when the latest problems are found and posted by people. But this is not something to treat as amusing. It’s a massive credibility issue for the industry.
How do you get your technology taken seriously when there are examples everywhere of it not working?
Every few weeks somebody thinks they are being profound by writing the latest version of the tired “Content Is King” maxim for a trade publication or blog. Great content is a must, sure. But if the content is not even making it to the displays properly, or at all, it doesn’t matter how good it is.
I only rarely read or hear any “thought leadership” about remote monitoring and management – the boring technology that actually makes or breaks most networks. It’s that designed-in technology to easily monitor and manage PCs and screens, located anywhere, from a desktop, that is in many ways THE most important consideration in choosing a “platform.”
Having done this stuff for a bunch of years now, I don’t care all that much about a software vendor’s pretty WYSIWYG user interface or simple layout and scheduling tools. Lots or most vendors have that stuff.
I always ask, as should anyone making software selection decisions, to see the breadth and granularity of the device management tools. What can the software tell me about the state of all the deployed devices in the field, and what can that software – combined with the right cables, connectors and bandwidth at the deployed sites – do to remedy problems from a desktop?
Michael Willems – the former CTO at EnQii (Now ComQi) and now a full-time photographer – often used the analogy of Mars Exploration Rovers. You design something to work very far from home, and have all the tools and processes to manage and fix things from a far. You can’t “roll a truck” to Mars, and if your digital signage network is managed in Seattle and there’s a problem even just down the road in Portland, you really don’t want to incur the time and cost of rolling a truck there. Service calls are going to cost at least $150, and that tab can run up quickly. On a network of 100 devices, one service call for each site in a year is $15,000 … MINIMUM. Got that budgeted?
Good device management will give you:
- A dashboard that tells you what’s going on across the deployed network, and visual cues (like red lights) to indicate problems;
- The ability to click your way down, easily, to individual devices and real-time, or close, analytics on things like connectivity, device heat, CPU demands, and on and on. It should have all the cues a network manager or monitoring team needs to figure out a problem, and fix it remotely;
- Tools to resolve the common things, like forcing the power back on to a display that’s been turned off at the site;
- Reports you can get and customize, on demand.
Tools that maximize a network’s uptime are not just an operations and budget-control issue. Screen outages affect everyone in this space.
One of the biggest reasons that the so-called digital out of home network aggregators like SeeSaw and Adcentricity failed to really make a go of it was the crap state of their member networks. Ad buyers would go to venues and see screens that were out or NOT see the ads that were supposed to be booked there, or running in the wrong resolution, or this, or that. It was and in many ways still is, a mess.
If you are an end-user considering the launch of a network, or someone that has a network but is unhappy with the existing vendor, make sure you put a lot of focus on asking questions in your RFP or meetings about remote device management. NOT just “Do you have it?” But “What all does it do?”
In digital signage, content may well be king, but uptime rules.
Dave Haynes is the founder and editor of Sixteen:Nine, an online publication that has followed the digital signage industry for some 14 years. Dave does strategic advisory consulting work for many end-users and vendors, and also writes for many of them. He’s based near Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Canada’s east coast.