By Alan C. Brawn CTS, ISF-C, DSCE, DSDE, DSNE, DCME, DSSP
Over the last several years I have participated in several discussions (some might say heated debates) as to whether digital signage is a standalone medium. Jonathan Brawn, Principal at Brawn Consulting and DSF Board of Directors Member best translates my personal position… he has noted, “In AV the technology drives the experience but in digital signage the experience drives the technology”. Philosophically (and in some cases, in practice) they are different. Not better, nor worse… but different.
On the AV purist side, they would claim that digital signage is just “part” of AV since it uses AV technologies for their installations. At a cursory level, no one can deny that digital signage uses displays, mounts, media players, cables, and connectors, and in some cases specialized hardware such as kiosks in their systems. But as the TV advertising pitchmen like to say, “Wait! There’s more!” and this applies to digital signage. In truth digital signage is a business unto itself, and embraces AV, IT, content creation, and content management to reach its objectives. It is the objectives (or better said the applications) that have evolved. This is where the “more” resides. I will explain.
The original applications for digital signage were in retail, with some in banking and transportation. It was primarily an ad-based medium that fit within a tight (predetermined) set of parameters and applications. The common denominators were, and still are, a display and mount, media player, connectivity, content, and a way to manage and distribute said content (aka. the CMS).
The validation and positive ROI of digital signage as an ad-based tool is well documented, but communication experts now consider it a “mainstream communication medium”. They say that technology helps address the next frontier of digital communications. As I recently opined in an article, “For those still tied to their original digital signage assumptions consider what is beyond that paradigm. Think about the burgeoning desire and demand for all types of information by all categories of people and nearly every application imaginable.”
Today we have access to information as never before, and this is growing exponentially each year. We have the internet of things (or IoT) where devices have chips built in to communicate with one another. The demand for information is extended far beyond retail to anyone desiring or needing information at anytime, anywhere, and on any device. This directly plays into the core strength of digital signage. Think availability and access of information at your beck and call at the appropriate location.
Digital signage is rapidly becoming an essential part of communications to customers, employees, and attendees at any type of event. It allows a company or organization to put desired information on a screen where it connects directly with the intended viewers. The display may be in a fixed location or on a mobile device. It may be a huge videowall, large flat panel display, or a smaller wall mounted display outside a room or in a kiosk as a status and room scheduling device. Mobile devices like tablets or a smartphone (even a smartwatch) allows the digital signage content to be received and then taken along with you. Speaking of essential parts of communication (think demand, thanks in part to smartphones) displays are increasingly becoming interactive adding a layer of direct two-way sharing of communication into the mix.
Stop for a minute and think about all the places where information is needed. It goes far beyond that original retail application sending content to stores. The fastest growing (not yet the largest) area of digital signage is the dissemination of information related to corporate, healthcare, education, financial, or institutional applications. In each of these areas the content requirements are application specific. Yes, content is still the “King or Queen” of digital signage, but the unsung or unseen hero of the medium is the CMS.
Think about the challenge faced by the CMS platform. It must be capable of addressing any application, at anytime, anywhere, and on any device considering both current and future needs. It is all about connecting the content to the intended views wherever they are and on any device. Think location-based content distribution capabilities and the variables this entails. Once content is selected it boils down to where to send it, to whom, at what time, to what device, and most importantly how to manage all of that. The variables are almost mind boggling. This is where an expanded CMS comes into play.
A basic CMS takes content, manages it, and then distributes the information where and when it is directed, but this does not address where the industry is headed. To address mass communication and sending and receiving content to a wide variety of applications with unique needs, it requires an expanded approach and capabilities. A truly robust CMS goes beyond the core strengths and adds features/benefits in the form of advanced sensors, triggers, and APIs connected to other elements to ensure right information, time, and place presented to the intended person. These advanced tools make the digital signage truly a mainstream communication medium. Let’s take a cursory look a few of these advanced features/benefit.
There are times that you want a digital display to come to life as a viewer comes into proximity to the screen. This what a sensor provides. There are other times time information is needed when a certain condition occurs. The trigger defines and determines the conditions. Beacons send a message to a mobile device in real time through a notification in the app installed on their smartphone. Application performance interfaces (APIs) are written to allow unrelated software products to integrate and interoperate with other software. There are times you want to create a virtual perimeter on a map. This is where what is known as a geofence uses telephone cells or Wi-Fi positioning, to detect when a person with an activated enabled device, enters, or exits an area of interest. File these as just some of the key CMS features/benefits needed to address the variables in modern communication.
Sending and receiving information efficiently and effectively to intended viewers is not just desirable but in many instances it is critical. The recipient may be a customer, an employee, or an attendee at a location or event. Digital signage addresses mainstream communication in a unique manner no matter the application and my favorite unsung hero is a robust CMS that offers the options (features and benefits) to ensure your message arrives where and to whom it is intended. Digital signee is not a one trick pony… It embraces all digital technologies with the ability to handle the tsunami of big data and IoT to keep us (whoever and wherever we are) informed.