Today, whether you’re buying fast food, filling up your car or registering your arrival at the dentist, the chances are you’re interacting with some form of digital display. We’ve come a long way from the airport information display screens of a decade ago. From retail to leisure, education to finance – there are few sectors where digital signage is not now becoming a core channel in outbound messaging and communications.
Big technology advancements mean digital signage systems are starting to become easier to use, scale and integrate, fuelling a market boom that will see the sector worth almost $30 billion in five years’ time.
For businesses, keeping up can be challenging. Rich, engaging, interactive, environmentally responsive content is easier than ever before to input and manage, with the potential to create powerful, immersive experiences across an almost unlimited number of screens. The opportunities to innovate are increasing greatly, but as rollouts become more ambitious and high profile, the stakes are higher too.
Meanwhile, the quantity of software options tailored to vertical sectors grows ever larger and more confusing. Many of them still do not incorporate the requisite robust application programming interfaces (APIs) to enable easy and effective integration with other digital signage software and hardware – let alone wider business systems. That can make set-up a big headache.
In a market that’s evolving as quickly as this, it’s not always easy to understand the options or stay on top of the latest best practice. So, what are the key landmarks to look out for in this new and rapidly changing terrain?
Out with the old…
Digital signage was traditionally a separate ‘audio visual’ space with a rather anachronistic ecosystem of non-connected screens and media players running on consumer PCs and operating systems or TV-streaming technology. In the early days, most digital signage screens were not even connected to the internet and had no sophisticated content or system management mechanism. Content was often couriered from head office to display locations around the country on USB devices or SD cards.
Those days are all but gone. Today’s complex, global rollouts and real-time interactive, data-driven systems demand a far more holistic and strategic approach. It’s no longer acceptable for digital signage suppliers to cobble together solutions using a hodge-podge of consumer hardware and software which lack good security, network visibility or network management tools. Digital signage is increasingly becoming part of the warp and weft of users’ wider IT networks – with all the opportunities and challenges that entails. Businesses want to be sure that any proposed solution will work in concert with existing systems, as well as being robust, secure and future-proofed.
Happily, some new best practices are emerging. The digital signage market has evolved neither to simpler, short-cut approaches, nor to cumbersome and expensive Windows-based systems. Instead we are seeing more integrated, IT-centric approaches accompanying more ambitious rollouts.
The best of today’s digital signage packages consist of dedicated technologies – media players, content management systems (CMS) and operating systems (OS) – that work well together and integrate seamlessly and securely into other corporate systems.
A reliable media player has always been, and still is, the baseline the whole digital signage solution rests on. But, until fairly recently, the options available were limited and quite problematic. Android-based media players, system on a chip (screens with in-built media players), consumer PCs and TV-streaming technology have all largely now been eclipsed by a gravitation toward cloud-based approaches that leverage the new capabilities of the best and latest software-driven media players.
As in other areas of technology, the march towards more cloud-based services for digital signage content and system management, too, is inexorable – and beneficial. As well as being much quicker and easier to configure, cloud-based systems allow users to see all connected media players more clearly and deeply and manage them in real-time, enabling the more dynamic and interactive installations that are becoming the norm. Logging proof of play for advertisers, sending subscription notifications, providing real-time performance information, updating software and conducting remote reboots are some of the other benefits offered by cloud-based services.
With digital signage now part of wider corporate IT systems, security is key. Fortunately, it’s now also simpler to achieve. Good cloud-based digital signage services offer levels of security that put network managers at ease, while allowing them to leverage features that only a well thought out cloud approach – backed with the right hardware and CMS – can deliver.
Automation, AI and mobile
Increasingly, we are seeing setup processes for large groups of media players becoming simultaneous and automated, greatly increasing the speed and scale of what can be achieved.
Mobile, too, is on the rise, bringing hand-held devices into play, both for corporate users and their customers. Small rollouts will soon be set up using an activation or QR code on a mobile device. That gives an indication of just how much smoother the setup process has become compared to the days of Windows servers, when setting up each installation took a full day, or even days.
New generation digital signage software tools use AI to collect and analyse large quantities of data and automatically display environmentally responsive content in real time. For example, if a particular product is selling better than normal today, displays can switch to highlight that product to shoppers.
AI also enables companies to deliver highly personalised messages through screen-smart device interaction, linking intelligent displays with consumers’ smartphones. In the process, they can capture valuable customer data that can be used both on an individual and aggregate basis to complete a virtuous circle of information and improvement.
The fact that digital signage is increasingly becoming part of the larger, cloud-driven IT space is a very welcome development and a sign of the retail sector’s increasing maturity. For too long it has been straightjacketed by ill-fitting technology and approaches borrowed from other markets which made set up and use difficult and costly. The latest systems are now, more than ever, equal to the current and future ambitions of their users. From hyper-personal to epic-scale, the scope of what is possible is rapidly becoming unlimited.
Ten questions to ask your digital signage supplier
- Is this dedicated digital signage technology? (software, hardware and operating system)
- Is it cloud-based?
- How well do the system components integrate with each other and wider corporate systems?
- Can I choose which content management system I want to use?
- Does it give me the control, management and content functionality I need, now and in the future?
- Will I have to pay extra for this functionality?
- Is it designed or adapted for my industry sector?
- Can I monitor and control the system remotely and in real time?
- How quick and easy is it to set up and configure new displays? Can I do it remotely?
- How robust and scalable is it?
Credit: Jeff Hastings, CEO, BrightSign.