Creating a digital signage network means choosing hardware or a hardware installer, selecting a digital signage platform, and tailoring the result to meet your needs.
That process of choosing a digital signage software solution is often a challenge. Here, many people are hung up on factors such as price, which prevents them from looking further to determine what will actually meet their needs. Investing in a proper scoping and testing is critical to identify current and future needs, and to making a good decision regarding whay your digital signage network should do now and in the future. Choosing the right digital signage platform is a strategic, long-term decision, and it is a decision you should invest in.
In this article, Bjørn Pieper, Chief Commercial Officer at NDS, focuses on the decision steps for larger installations, such as 20+ screens, distributed across one or multiple locations.
STEP 1: UNDERSTAND DISPLAY CONTENT
Most of us are familiar with the adage “Content is king!”. It’s one of the most repeated phrases in the digital signage industry, but it’s incomplete. In my opinion, the actual question is, “Content is king, but where can I source it?”.
Most organizations think about digital signage content in terms of presentations, graphics, and video. At the same time, data and information in existing company systems like SharePoint, Exchange, or even Facebook and Instagram should be considered as well. Most organizations already have content, they just need a software solution that allows them to integrate that data into graphics for on-screen display.
Yes, content is king, but does your digital signage solution allow you to utilize the content you already own?
STEP 2: CLOUD OR NO CLOUD?
Cloud software is often hyped, to the point of becoming a buzzword. But, what is it? What does it entail? And how does it differ from solutions like hosted software platforms? Cloud software is hosted in servers which are accessible online. It differs from VPS (Virtual Private Server) in that cloud software is accessible from anywhere on the web, because your service is distributed across multiple servers, and VPS is in a dedicated or fixed location on a single, private server.
Cloud servers are easy to deploy, scalable, and accessible from anywhere. VPS offer more in erms of reliability, privacy, and guaranteed performance, which can be an advantage in terms of GDPR.
While there are pros and cons to both, cloud is often just a hype and not really essential for software.
STEP 3: SCALABILITY AND SECURITY
Most organizations adopt digital signage on a small scale and then, as they understand how it’s used, how to connect display content to back-end systems, and how to present information, expand on that scale. This means that scalability and security should be important considerations, even if your initial installation will only be a few screens on a local area network, with no external access. The chances of eventually wanting to expand your network are high, especially as your organization sees value from what you do have.
While you could aim to install a basic solution first and upgrade to a scalable and more-secure solution when needed, and you should have, this will greatly add to the cost and difficulty of that growth.
Professional digital signage software offers numerous functionalities to support both scalability and security, and you should have, at a minimum:
1. Active Directory Management – No matter how secure your connection is, creating a system login and user access management is crucial. This means managing who can access your software, reviewing who needs access and removing it as it is no longer needed, and managing user permissions. This is only achievable if your signage system has a primary active directory or user management system where you can centrally manage users and access. User management is a first step. As you grow, user access must become more granular, especially as you develop geographical spread, support different languages, integrate levels of authority, or have managers with different specialties. Good access control allows you to delegate control based on locations, content and activities. For example, in a hotel, one could delegate locations such as “front office”, “banquet”, “concierge”, “events”, to individuals in charge of those specific areas or items, even when those areas share the same screens.
2. Secure connections – Connections between servers, application / web front-end, and media players are exploitable. They should be secured using TLS, HTTPS, or through a VPN if you have no other options. This is extremely important in instances where sales, pricing, production, or quality data is shared.
3. Multi-Server support – You need support from multiple servers for two primary reasons:
- Failover – System failover protects your network and your investment in case something goes wrong. Failover ensures that if one server goes out, your digital signage is still displaying content. While most systems support offline playback, you cannot make changes to displays while servers are out and you will lose value.
- Content Distribution Optimization – As your digital signage network grows, so will your screens, content resolution (4k, 8k), and content volume. Your central distribution (server) will become your bottleneck. Your digital signage software should support multiple servers so that you can handle growth without replacing the system.
If you’re looking for an enterprise ready digital signage software solution, your solution has to support every item on this list.
STEP4: SUPPORT FOR RELEVANT CONTENT
Content is king. It’s easy to make data look good, but is it relevant? How many times have you seen an advertisement for something only to discover it wasn’t availabe at the location? How many times have you seen advertisements for events that have already occured? Smart digital signage software allows you to prevent these and other issues using rules and variables to determine what is and is not relevant.
Your digital signage software should be able to automatically utilize data connectors, rules, property bindings, and global variables to sort content, display relevant content, and update content as factors change. For example, typing an advertisement to data connectors so that the system can read product stock and display ads when a product is on sale and the stock level is more than 0, to ensure that you will never advertise a sold-out product.
This kind of relevance previously required manual updates and a great deal of time investment. Today, with the right software, it’s automatic.
STEP 5: IS A WEB-BASED SOLUTION THE (ONLY) WAY FORWARD?
Well, yes! Web-based applications make management simple. But, do all roles have to be web-based? No!
In my opinion, all day-to-day activities should be web-based or manageable. For example, uploading new pictures to existing presentations, changing text, planning a different presentation or channel, or simply checking overviews of your installation. Managing these activities from any computer, your smartphone, or tablet will save a great deal of time.
On the other hand, other activities such as creating templates, connecting definitions to data sources, and other setup activities are often better performed on a computer. Here, you can access more functionality, more resources, and typically have better security.
My advice? Choose a digital signage platform offering web-based access for content updates and management but keep in mind that web-based solutions aren’t applicable for every aspect of your software.
STEP 6: INTEGRATION
Communication is not new! Intranet, internet, and extranet exist, include valuable content, and should be able to connect to your signage. You can also benefit from accessing third-party applications such as “car configurators”, “paint selectors”, and “access control systems”. Most importantly, the goal should be that these applications are an integral part of your digital signage solution, not simply hosted separately.
Choosing a digital signage platform that offers integration and centralization will allow you to achieve more at a lower cost as you grow.
STEP 7: FUTUREPROOF
Your goal should be to select a digital signage solution that will grow to meet future communication and technology demand. For example, many display manufacturers are beginning to implement System on Chip (SoC), which integrate media players into the display. Yet, many digital signage solutions currently only offer browser support, which isn’t as reliable. You should always look for software offering Native Players for any solution you want to implement.
Choosing digital signage software is a complex process, but I often see new clients making the same mistakes.
People are often concerned with costs, which can be considerable. As a result, many decide to build solutions themselves, which almost always backfires. It’s a common thought that you only have to hire 2-3 engineers and go from there. However, most organizations only take the initial display demand and current hardware and infrastructure scope into consideration. The initial build is not a problem, it’s maintenance, monitoring, and control, as well as future demands on hardware and operating systems, that becomes a challenge. The result is that developing your own digital signage software can cost several hundred thousand. A professional digital signage platform is not cheap, and for good reason. It’s difficult to impossible to create and maintain the same levels of quality, scalability, and support without specializing in that software.
B. DEPENDING ON A SINGLE VENDOR
Organizations often prefer to select a single vendor offering both hardware and software with the hope that they will receive optimal results. After all, if one company provides everything, it simplifies your contract, right? Unfortunately, no organizations can maintain core products including hardware and software at the same levels of quality. Secondly, no single vendor offers a full range of products.
My advice? Source a software platform that supports a large range of hardware and choose a hardware supplier who can supply solutions that meet your needs.
These considerations are just some of what you should keep in mind when choosing a digital signage platform. You also have to review actual needs, cost, hardware support, functionality, and data integrations, but these will vary depending on your organization, your content, and your hardware vendor.
This article has been written by Bjørn Pieper, Chief Commercial Officer at NDS. NDS is proud developer of the PADS4 digital signage software platform. Based on connected data sources in combined with rules, PADS4 makes a digital signage network truly smart. Interested in how PADS4 can make your digital signage network smart? Contact our sales department via mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone +31 88 266 11 66 and they will be happy to help to find the right digital signage solutions for you!