Guest Post: Luis Villafane, Maler Digital Signage
Some 16 years spent running corporate networks of all sizes has taught me a few things about content management software and the people behind those products.
I’ve learned there’s some good stuff. Not perfect, but good.
And I’ve learned there’s a lot of crap. I mean A LOT.
There are hundreds of CMS software options that are capable of every single thing you can think of when you are getting the vendor’s software demo. But almost all of them fall short when they get put into real-world use – when they’re outside the controlled conditions of a demo and trying to schedule a complex network, with a few thousand systems.
The people I work with are smart and experienced. We can figure it out. But the real issue is not scheduling those systems. It’s getting on top of the clients’ Digital Scheduling Desires, or what we call DSDs.
When we are presented with a new network, or a new project, we must first understand the core CMS software. Basically, understanding how long it will take us to translate the clients´ DSDs to something the CMS is capable of doing (or not).
Once we do that, we can associate a cost to running the first part of the network, the Scheduling side. We may have a large network with hundreds of players we can manage for relatively little in the way of a monthly fee. But we may have another job with only dozens of players, that we charge $1000s a month to run, because their scheduling demands are almost mind-boggling.
Every software out there has a different configuration, different naming conventions, different ways of understanding scheduling. We move from players to canvases, from playlists to materials, mix playlists with schedules, drag and drop content, drop it into groups that are not logical but physical, all of them arranged into weird looking calendars that overlap on each other. I get dizzy just thinking about it.
So, if it takes me more than 15 minutes to figure out the basic concept of a CMS platform, it’s garbage to me. Pure and simple garbage. It’s not worth those 15 minutes that I could have spent writing invitations to my twins’ birthday party.
Like I said, I’ve seen a lot of platforms and heard a lot of sales pitches. And that’s helped me form some conclusions and offer some tips. Remember David Letterman? Here is my TOP TEN of what I don’t like or want to see pitched for a corporate CMS system.
1 – A non-creative interface. If it looks like Scala or BroadSign, forget it. Those are quite nice, so why copy them? Think. Innovate. Make your own.
2 – Anything that contains the word “canvas.” I always say “pretty pictures on the wall,” but calling a screen rectangle a “canvas” is too much. I don’t like it and I am entitled to not like it. It sounds to me like an old English lady drinking tea, with a pinky finger extended.
3 – The word or concept of “Playlist.” This should be prohibited by some International Digital Signage Law. A playlist is what a USB solution does. A playlist is what my children do when listening to music. It is the end-result of “minimal programming effort.” It is Samsung’s or LG’s way of selling smart screens.
A CMS must create unique schedules for each of your players/canvases/squares … yes, for each one of them, for each day of the week, for each day of the year, so that your system knows what it is supposed to do every second of every day. Telling it play a,b,c,a,b,c is just a great disappointment, no matter how complex you make it.
Also, if it contains as a name the day of the week (Monday, Tuesday …) it’s also crap.
4 – That a player/canvas cannot be part of multiple logical groups. This I see on “light” versions of a software. It’s fundamental stuff. So if that’s what you offer, don’t call me, I will call you … not.
5 – A calendar window. Dropping your schedule on a calendar is like my assistant doing my appointments for the week, or for a dentist office. Be original and delete it from your CMS. A calendar is used for selecting start and end dates or for exclusion dates. That is it.
If you try and view a calendar for a 5,000 screen network, you will need a one billion pixel monitor to fit it in, or spend five hours looking and reviewing calendars. Just get rid of it as fast as you can.
6 – One host only. When I got started in this business 16 years ago, I never heard the concept of SaaS. You were “forced” then to buy from a software supplier a full enterprise CMS system, and then offer a player rental to your clients. So you needed a CMS that could support several clients under one CMS instance. But a proper CMS must be able to run multiple corporate clients independently. Multiple instances of the application is not the same. Sorry. I don’t want to have to configure 50 different applications and twelve different domain names. CRAP!
7 – Bad returns from the database. Yes guys, we put sniffers when testing your systems. 80% of the software we test wastes 45% of the returns from the database query on crap code. Clean your code, or go away.
I hear sales and support guys say: “I don’t understand why it’s so slow …” Well, I do. Your app is only using 60% of the return from the database. The rest is crap, your memory usage is huge, and I am just only asking for a login. Now, let me try and load the 5000 screen calendar for the next year and watch things melt!!!
8 – Content creation tools & templates. Those things are the justification for having a bad CMS system. It is like those people that look really sharp and elegant to justify their lack of experience and knowledge. Yes, you know who you are. :-]
Here’s something you never hear: “Thank GOD I have a content creation tool to create content for my 8,000 players/canvases.” Or, “This tool is really nice, I’ve just created 150 different menus in 15 minutes for my 150 restaurants, good thing I have a content creation tool.”
Doesn’t happen. Toss it. Same goes for Templates. I just have to see one that fits every player on the network. And if does, it is not a corporate network, just a large one, where all of the systems play the same thing. (I wish, sigh, I could manage one of those).
9 – Monitoring from the CMS application. Just the concept makes me laugh. Even the so-called big gus in the CMS business don’t have the tools to do what’s really needed for large networks.
Consider this: Let’s take one of the large networks I manage right now: 16,000+ player/canvas/instances, plus an 8,000 tier 3 distribution monitoring system. They all report every 15 seconds, 46 columns of information (yes, all important).
If my current software could not manage and divide those connections and place them correctly on different monitoring systems, there would be no way in hell I could do anything on the CMS.
There is not enough CPU on all your blade servers to manage that; and if the CMS provider says it can handle that, they’re smoking something. If they say they can, the cost of the hardware would be so high that it would not be worth buying the software.
10 – Finally, and not least important, I don’t want to see a CMS that drops off reports and logs at intervals. What? You have to be kidding me. See No. 9 above. Differentiate a true digital signage monitoring system from a keep-alive system. If that is all you can do, at least don’t call it DS monitoring.
A digital signage monitoring system reports on digital signage. What it’s playing right now, as it is happening, not what it played for the last hour. I want to see current Booking IDs, schedule IDs, start and end times, next material to play, internal sync, process memory, disk usage, CPU usage, last download, next schedule download, or even download error codes … as they happen guys!
I don’t care it was at 90% CPU and with no memory this morning. That doesn’t help, at all.
There. I said it. I feel better. Please don’t feel offended if your CMS does one of these 10, or all of them. I am sure the system is great for someone out there.
Please don’t email me saying I should see So and So, or call me if you want to see this software, because it’s awesome. Or things like that.
I do this for a living, so my time is not free. If you want me to review your Digital Signage CMS and tell you everything that is wrong with it, do let me know. But remember I charge quite a bit for it, as I have to pay for my twins’ birthday party.
Luis R. Villafane graduated from UConn with a double major in International Relations and Spanish Literature, but always worked in IT security and administration. After a few years as a systems admin and audit agent in the US Dept of Defense, Luis moved back to Spain in 2000 were he started MALER Digital Signage Operations. He carries on his back more than 15 years experience in DS, with some of the largest and iconic networks in Europe, such as the London Underground, KFC, Danish Rail, O2 Arena. He loves pointing out crappyDigital Signage Software, and considers himself a DS puritan … whatever that means.