Guest Post: Luis Villafane, Maler Digital Signage
Here’s some very simple, experienced advice for anyone looking at starting a large digital signage network: get a nerd in the room when you’re talking to the people who sell digital signage software.
That nerd will filter the bullshit. And trust me, there’s a lot of bullshit to filter.
Ideally, you’ve got an engineer at the table – someone who knows what running a large, scaled network is really about, and has managed one. Not a person who has managed 100 systems. Not an engineer who manages 10 networks of 100 systems. You want an engineer who manages one network with 5,000 digital signage players.
You want the obsessive-compulsive engineer who hates automatic updates and gets orgasmic seeing a network running at 99%. The one who stays up all night just checking everything is OK for the next morning, simply out of love for the job. The one who calls networks his or her babies, and talks to them when nobody is looking.
This is not the project manager for that huge network, but the engineer who sits in front of the computer trying to manage those sites.
In those meetings with the software vendors, as the sales people go on and on about the awesomeness of what they offer, watch the engineer. Look at expressions, like if his or her eyes are rolling.
That engineer is trying to vision how all of these features could apply to the planned systems, and how much time and effort is going to be needed to maintain stability.
Look at the engineer’s face again. You will see if the engineer wants that software, or just wants to get back to his or her desk to check on the babies.
Don’t let the engineer ask any questions, because the sales people will spin their tales and make objections go away. Take the engineer for lunch, and get the truth. You’ll get an understanding of what’s really needed and whether what was being sold in the meetings is going to deliver on that.
The core competency of digital signage software is to run a pretty visual on a wall … or on 1,000 walls. Both should be done with about the same effort. That’s it. An operations company’s competency is to receive that pretty visual, test it, transfer it, and make sure it plays … or else.
Shit Happens … Regularly
It probably seems simple, but it’s not.
An engineer knows big networks running on off commercial ADSL internet lines have hiccups. Things stop working. Download speeds can vary, wildly. Shit happens, regularly.
A sales person will tell you what’s possible in a perfect world. An engineer works in the real world.
When you are considering and planning a network, software costs tend to be one of the primary considerations. But software licensing, hardware and installation costs should be among the least important considerations. Yeah, least.
Your operating and maintenance costs are the ones to focus on from the start. Operations and maintenance costs are the recurring fees that never end. It will be there every month of ever year.
At first, these fees will be easy to pay, because you are still high from the “Wow Factor” your signage network is generating on launch. But this cost will be there, month after month after month, even when you are not selling any advertising. Even when you realize that your ROI was not correct after all.
Furthermore, if you made a mistake when creating your signage network (maybe the wrong software, hardware, or even wrong maintenance teams), these costs will hunt you.
And if your operations team find a bug in your hardware … then you will stop sleeping well, eat too much, maybe drink too much, and you’ll start getting your resume around, thinking your job’s now in jeopardy.
The features that software sales people put in front of buyers tend to be the pretty pictures and cool functionality. What really matters is the hidden, arguably boring stuff that never comes up in a sales pitch. The infrastructure stuff. The ability to handle spikes and scale. Security.
If you’re planning a network, get a nerd in the room when the sales people come knocking.
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.