Digital Signage, News

The Bigger Picture

The recent Digital Signage Expo provided a showcase for the latest messaging display and distribution technologies, and a window into what’s trending in the industry. Although mobile integration and data analytics have been talked about at other industry events, the difficulty of implementing these in real-world deployments was brought to the forefront during this year’s DSE educational sessions. The integration of data across silos and cross-platform content delivery were also identified as major challenges to rapid expansion of digital signage.

At a pre-show keynote session hosted by the Digital Signage Federation (DSF), these and other trends were identified and discussed by panelists. Prior to the show, I requested that two of the panelists share their insights on the current issues impacting integration in signage.

Ken Goldberg, DSF 2015 Chairman, and CEO of Real Digital Media, noted changes in the selection of display sizes for signage. “For quite some time, digital signage has been focused on LFD (large format displays), and this made sense because most of the early adopters of digital signage wanted highly visible displays in public and private areas to get the most bang for their buck. It also made sense because the cost of media players was high enough to make it difficult to justify driving a small screen with them. Now, with media player prices down, and user applications changing rapidly, big is being redefined. Small is the new big, and what was once big is now huge,” he observed.

“Deployment of small screens implies a greater number of devices in a given area and, therefore, networking, device management and placement are all critical for getting the desired impact,” Goldberg explained. “It also implies a greater variety of content because each screen is likely targeted to its immediate environment, not just playing generalized content. Smaller devices also imply less storage, and often lower power chipsets, so content and content management systems must adapt to the capabilities and limitations of such devices.”

A mix of screen sizes also impacts content creation and display, especially in environments with mobile interactivity. That’s where the silos become more obvious. Add the much-desired automated personalized messaging, and integration becomes even more complex. Randy Dearborn, DSF 2015 Vice Chairman and Vice President of Multimedia & Guest Technologies at MGM Resorts International, has firsthand experience with this challenge. The digital signage ecosystem he oversees has more than 52,000 screens in public areas and in-room TVs. “We have signage on marquees and videowalls, as well as in restaurants, casinos, retail stores and convention centers. We use iPads to display wine menus and at table games, concierge and front desks, limo services, spas, catering services and ticket offices. Additionally, we have to support interactivity with a range of guest mobile devices. That’s one of the areas where we experience silos; the other is across our properties, such as hotel, restaurant, entertainment, conventions and events, which operate in different industries,” Dearborn explained.

“We have standardized on the iOS platform, but use four different software programs [Tangerine Global’s CITRUS on Cisco set-top box, Adobe AEM, Four Winds Interactive and Incentient]. The only way to integrate across silos is to custom program the software. Toward that goal, we established Hospitality Analytics, a department of programmers dedicated to data integration across silos,” Dearborn said, noting, “Data capture and analytics, which involves acquiring, disseminating and distilling the data is only half the battle; reacting quickly is a bigger challenge.”

Frequently, stakeholders inadvertently create silos. The marketing department may be the key stakeholder, but other departments, such as sales, IT or security often exert significant influence. At MGM Resorts, for instance, F&B (food and beverage), hotel ops and retail are among the stakeholders with specific demands.

Often, data integration with POS systems is complicated if it involves cash registers. Some AV integrators and end users with in-house programming resources have created custom solutions for specific POS or kiosk signage projects. Dearborn cited complexities even within a silo, such as tiered pricing on wine menus. He recommends an open architecture platform but said that most CMS providers of large enterprise systems are reluctant to provide it because it may limit a potential revenue stream for them. He also recommends segmenting real estate on all screens and establishing open fields where dynamic text can be customized easily and quickly.

One way to minimize inter-silo difficulties is to adopt a common platform across multiple applications. For example, the Cisco Digital Media System is an integrated suite of digital signage, desktop video and IP TV applications that can be centrally managed. Users in a variety of industries can start with digital signage and add additional applications as the need arises: in a scalable and manageable way.

Omnivex Moxie Enterprise is another ecosystem designed for organizations with multiple locations, and a variety of networked devices. Moxie Enterprise encompasses all of the components of Moxie Commercial, with the added availability of versatile data linking and management tools.

There were more than 60 first-time exhibitors at DSE, and many of them offer innovative or custom solutions. Although it is not uncommon for software vendors to offer customization services, hardware customization has been costly and only practical for large orders. New at the show this year, Sherlock Systems (sher locksystems.com) said it could custom manufacture media players speedily with minimum orders as low as 25 units. Check out the new solutions available today to see how best they meet your clients’ needs and offer you the maximum growth potential.

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