Practice Makes Perfect – Why You Need To Pilot Digital Signage Projects

Guest Post: Ellyce Kelly, Visix

“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” – Alexander Graham Bell

After spending a significant amount of time and money planning and choosing your digital signage system – hardware, software, subscriptions, content strategy, staff to manage it, etc. – you want to make sure that your launch creates excitement and buzz, and goes as smoothly as possible. Sure, you’ll end up making adjustments over time, but why not start things off in the best position possible?

Ellyce Kelly

A well-known saying in the military is “No plan survives contact with enemy”, and the “enemy” in this context is unforeseen real-world problems and limitations. That’s why military leaders run wargame scenarios before committing troops and matériel to a battle. And that’s why you need to run a digital signage pilot.

A pilot lets you test everything out in the real world but on a small scale in a controlled setting, giving you a chance to evaluate your resources and goals before making a public commitment. It also increases buy-in from stakeholders. Everyone on the team gets to see what the system is like on the ground, as it were, and make adjustments before the launch. This can make them champions for not only their own part in the system, but the entire digital signage deployment. And their direct experience will provide valuable feedback for improving the system as a whole in your specific environment.

Some questions to ask yourself at the outset:

  • What are you hoping to get out of this evaluation?
  • What key features and capabilities do you need to see?
  • What content do you want on your displays?
  • Will you need to use audio with any screens?
  • Are any screens interactive?
  • Do any screens need internet access?
  • Who should be involved in the pilot (marketing, IT, HR, etc.)?
  • Who is configuring, implementing and maintaining the system?
  • Who will be creating, approving and managing content?

Although individuals and teams will be involved in the day-to-day running of the system, someone has to take ownership of the pilot itself. This may be your IT expert, but will more likely be a communications professional (or both working together). Remember, this isn’t just about the technology, it’s about audience engagement. Whoever leads the project will need to be available to guide people and processes, and monitor and implement feedback throughout the entire pilot.

Goals First
In order to determine if a pilot is successful, you first need to define what “success” looks like. Outline the purpose and goals of the pilot, and be as specific as possible (something vague like “make sure all the screens work” is not going to be very helpful).

Some ideas for digital signage pilot goals might be:

  • Test all system components on the network
  • Configure all third-party applications on the digital signage system
  • Ensure all data-mapping connections work
  • Examine layouts and layout schedules for all displays
  • Define which types of content work best on specific displays
  • Assess content creation, management and scheduling processes
  • Evaluate teams, and assign user roles and privileges
  • Determine effective methods to measure audience engagement

Parameters and Priorities
You’ll need to prioritize the test environments you use, and run things in a setting that mimics the real-world conditions as closely as possible. And make sure your pilot runs long enough for you to thoroughly evaluate it. If adjustments are made in the middle of the pilot (like new or different hardware or software is added), you’ll need to extend the pilot timeline, so everything is as close to how it will really be when you launch across your organization.

You really need to answer the classic questions – who, what, where, when, why and how? Items you will need to clearly define could include:

  • Where the pilot will run
  • Timeline for pilot, evaluation and adjustment
  • List of action items with task owners and deadlines
  • Methods and tools for measuring pilot goals
  • Techniques to collect stakeholder feedback
  • Project management, tracking and collaboration tools
  • Documentation methods, storage and access
  • Budget and resources
  • Contingency plans

You should seriously consider using collaboration software like SharePoint during the pilot, so everyone involved can manage tasks and communicate with everyone else in real time.

Include Your Vendor
Don’t forget to include your digital signage provider in the early stages of your pilot – they can help set you up for success. Remember that they have a lot more experience with digital signage systems than you do.

Get your leading IT specialist to ask them for information on requirements for the CMS and players, and make sure everything will actually work in your network environment. And make sure you plan in enough time to get all the information you need.

Some things to consider:

  • Hardware
  • Software
  • Network
  • Firewalls, ports
  • Security policies
  • Credentials
  • Data Gathering (calendar systems, etc.)
  • Proxy (if required)
  • User Accounts
  • Display resolutions
  • Matching screens and players

If you’re running a pilot for a system you already have in place because of an update or upgrade, you’ll probably focus more on streamlining and improving processes and content. This means you must have specific, measurable data points.

Get Everyone Up to Speed
Make sure every single person who’ll be using the system gets the training they need before the pilot. And also talk to your vendor about all the features the system includes – there may be updates to the software since you bought it, or tips and tricks they can share, that will open up possibilities.

Some questions to ask before setting up your training sessions:

  • Who will need training during the pilot phase?
  • What features will you want to be trained on?
  • What types of content will you want to use in the future?
  • Do you have some real-world content prepared?
  • Do you need technical or design training, or both?

Put together a list of all of the types of content you might want to create or import into your system before training, so the vendor can provide you with clear guidance. Prepare some real content to load and play with during training, including any curated content subscriptions, so your experience is as real-world as possible. You should also have an idea of the number and types of displays, and what you might want your screens to look like, so the trainer can walk you through
setting up your layouts.

Time for Take Off
Now you can run the pilot. Let it run for the allotted time before making any changes. If you’re looking to merely run a technical evaluation of system tools, you can run a pilot for three to four weeks. But if you’re looking at engagement techniques, or running a pilot before an enterprise launch of the system, it should be 60-90 days.

If something is clearly, horribly wrong midway through, then obviously you’re going to want to correct it. But make sure to extend the pilot time to factor in those changes. And if you change things too often, you won’t get any useable data to help you evaluate the system components and see if you’ve met your success criteria.

Evaluate and Adjust
The pilot has finished, and now it’s time to collect all the data and stakeholder feedback available. This lets you see which processes worked and which goals were met, and which ones might need a little tweaking. You may even see some areas that, though they technically worked during the pilot run, could still be improved.

Organize the results and share them with your digital signage vendor. Again, this isn’t their first rodeo, and they’ll probably have some valuable insights based on your data and their experience.

To evaluate the pilot, you’ll want to:

  • Collect stakeholder feedback
  • Analyze the pilot goals and plan
  • Compare actual to predicted performance
  • Solve gaps in actual vs. predicted
  • Fix gaps through adjustments in resources or processes
  • Adjust expectations and goals based on results
  • Communicate pilot results to vendors and stakeholders
  • Decide to continue the pilot or launch across the organization

And just because all the goals in your plan weren’t met doesn’t mean the pilot was a failure. Most of the time, just a single pilot reveals enough information that an organization can feel confident in launching the system.

And just because the pilot is over, that doesn’t mean that evaluation and adjustment stop. Some things will be more easily identified during day-to-day operations.

Always be evaluating and streamlining every aspect of your digital signage processes. You could say that the pilot’s work is never done – there is always room for improvement. If everything technical is working smoothly, you can start looking at raising audience engagement and truly tapping into the full potential of this powerful communications tool.

2 thoughts on “Practice Makes Perfect – Why You Need To Pilot Digital Signage Projects”

  1. It is true. If you have the best machine gun and you don’t know how to operate it then is nothing but just a waste. Just like that if you purchase a perfect signage system with all the features but don’t know how to make use of the features then it is of no use to you.

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