By Alan C. Brawn, CTS, DSCE, ISF-C

February 11, 2019

Depending on who you ask (factor in how long they have been around), digital signage as we know it came on the scene just after the turn of the century. For some of us, that seems like last week… but I digress. It began as an advertising medium, and this focus is easily demonstrated by the first iteration of the digital signage trade show, the Digital Retail Expo. A new vision of advertising opportunities was coincident with the development of flat panel displays and compact video projection. From the beginning, it just made sense to change out the time-honored static signs with something more dynamic and more noticeable, that would draw attention from the shoppers passing by. One of my favorite phrases is appropriate in this situation… “when applications, technology, and prices converge, an opportunity is created”. And so, it has been from the beginning with digital signage.

As it has evolved, digital signage has broken free of the limitations of being used primarily as a vehicle for advertising.   As early adopters experienced the proverbial “arrows in their backs,” it has now become mainstream, and a central focus of the converged commercial AV, IT, and content creator communities. It crosses over the boundaries of retail, food service, corporate communication, education, healthcare, entertainment and transportation to name just a few areas of concentration. It has become a very effective and pervasive multi-purpose communication methodology.

Alan Brawn

Digital signage continues to be one of the most exciting and fastest-growing industries with a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) tripling that of the U.S. economy. It has far-reaching implications and opens expansive new opportunities and markets for consultants, systems designers, resellers/integrators, content creators, and end users alike. From the obvious “explosion” of the retail signage market, to the unique applications for venues such as corporate communication and wayfinding, to education and transportation and healthcare, digital signage cannot be ignored. In short, the opportunities within digital signage are very significant and simply waiting for further discoveries and developments.

The problem we have faced from the very beginning is that, on the surface, digital signage appears quite simple… but therein lays the set of challenges. As our Brawn Consulting Director of Business Development Dave Haar opines, “Unlike any other application of technology, the answer to any question in digital signage that you or your customers may ask is that ‘it depends.’” He goes on to explain that it depends on where you’re placing the screens, where the players are located, how many screens you will have, what the content is on the screens, what you want your messaging to do, how big the screens need to be, how often they need to be updated and who is doing the updating, how many content streams you have, how long the loops need to be, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera…

He rightfully points out (to all willing to listen) that having a fundamental knowledge of what is involved in creating a digital signage network is imperative to intelligently and accurately ask and respond to these questions.  This applies whether you are putting one screen in a lobby or 10,000 screens enterprise wide into a QSR chain, nationwide financial institution, or large corporation. Of course, this begs the question of what to do and how to gain the knowledge necessary to answer and expand on that simple statement of “it all depends.”

Many companies understand certain parts of the equation from a technology perspective, be it displays, networks, or content. But even today, few understand the totality of what digital signage encompasses. To truly participate and succeed in the vision of this space, a company must understand all the disparate parts that make up the scale and scope of a digital signage network, from hardware and software to content and analytics. They must also understand how to properly convey the value (ROI and ROO) in those networks to the constituency of the industry, and most of all, to end users.

Everyone needs to begin with the fundamentals. This prevents overlooking any of the critical elements along the way that are common to every digital signage project. The obvious is just that, obvious… but this single word becomes a limitation and an enabler of the misconception that digital signage is simple. It will come as no surprise that I am not a believer in the plug and play, digital signage-in-a-box dream. What comes to mind is a product that is supposed to be a universal fit that, in use, never seems to fit what you need it to fit. Consider that a Swiss Army Knife may contain many tools, but are they the best version of that tool? It is always much more complex than this, and without a fundamental knowledge and understanding of how it all works together, the dream can become a nightmare.

To address the growing need in the industry for knowledge that would encompass the fundamentals in an impartial, agnostic, and vendor-neutral manner, the Digital Signage Experts Group (DSEG) was formed almost 10 years ago. The goal was (and still is) to provide industry-recognized education and certifications, ultimately establishing professional credentials for the constituencies who ply the craft.  The search for, and attainment of, knowledge had to begin with proven and agreed-upon elements that affect all that we do, and hopefully provide those in an ordered manner.

In concert with the Digital Signage Expo (DSE) and the Digital Signage Federation (DSF), DSEG introduced the 7 Key Elements of Digital Signage as a set of fundamental truths. To explain the concept and objectives, compare it to the laws of physics in science. These fundamental laws permeate scientific thinking as a point of reference and are used as a stepping stone for further advances and developments. The 7 Key Elements is an easy-to-use reference tool intended as an umbrella of categories and concepts that are necessary to consider in every digital signage project, whether it is a single display application in a local school or a multi-thousand screen rollout for a major fast food chain.

This begs the question as to the status of the 7 Key Elements, since the industry has evolved and expanded over the years since inception. Does it follow the correlation to the scientific laws of physics concept? The answer is yes, but….

It did not take long to understand that the original order of the 7 Key Elements was, shall we say, out of order. We originally began with hardware, then software, etc. Refer to the earlier comment on the pitfalls of simplicity and stating the obvious. Credit here goes to the DSF and the past Chairman Phil Cohen. In his iconic, gravelly voice, he pointed out that the original model was wrong… it all starts and ends with business. He would warn us that “If we don’t have a good business model, then we have nothing … and will not survive”. He spoke with a lot of credibility as the CEO of what was then the largest healthcare digital signage network.


 

About the Author:

Alan Brawn is a former Chairman of the DSF and is currently Principal of Brawn Consulting and a director of the Digital Signage Experts Group.