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Expert Roundtable: The Future of Digital Signage

Jun 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Bennett Liles

Three insiders weigh in on the state of the industry.

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Cahoy: I think certain markets are open to the opportunity to get technology, but many others — such as banks, hotels, and businesses — want to have control of the display and all of the content to reinforce their brands and products and don't want to open themselves up to ads for other products. As the displays and all the supporting pieces such as mounts, software, and computers continue to drop in price, the technology is now very affordable, so organizations are looking to make the investment to control the message.

Does the market want to purchase software and build their own inhouse infrastructure to support digital signage, or are they buying into the benefits of an ASP (application service provider)-hosted model?

Chow: To purchase software and build your own inhouse infrastructure to support digital signage would enable you to keep more of the profits. However, only large-enterprise customers have the wherewithal to manage this operation internally. Thus, a hosted ASP model would be a cost-effective delivery method for digital signage — especially those customers who don't manage digital-signage content as a core business.

Weber: I'm not sure that the market necessarily wants to build their own inhouse infrastructure, but they still appear to prefer a box of software that they own to the ASP model. We provide both solutions, and even in situations where the ASP model clearly makes more sense, quite a bit of persuading is required to get the customer to accept that the ASP model is preferred for their application. One market that we have not been able to convince is the corporate-communication segment, especially when proprietary company information is being displayed. The fear is that the data will be captured by the competition when it ventures across the World Wide Web.

That said, we have been reasonably successful at convincing clients that there are significant benefits to an ASP product — including little/no upfront investment, a maintenance-free product for the end-user, and access to content administration from virtually anywhere.

Cahoy: At Rise, we feel the majority of the market wants to simplify their life by going to a hosted solution. Aside from the complexity of setting up your own server, you also have the cost to maintain the system, and most organizations' IT departments are already overburdened. By using an ASP model, a company or university can deploy a system much more quickly without having to worry about the servers, redundancy, sourcing data, and regular system maintenance. The other advantage of the ASP model is it leverages the Web, allowing a company to delegate control to multiple users so you don't have a bottleneck for contributing content to keep the displays fresh. The key to a successful digital-signage deployment is keeping it simple and not overcomplicating the system. The best way to do that is by leveraging a company that has the proper infrastructure already in place.

Are there too many options for displays, software, mounts, etc. Are users overwhelmed with the different variations and jargon to the point they just do nothing?

Chow: People like to have options, and many do have brand preferences — even if they won't admit it. I don't think there is an issue with having too many options in the market. Ultimately, the market will dictate which manufacturers come out as winners. The real market need is helping resellers and end-user customers tailor a true end-to-end solution (and provide options) for ultimately what digital signage is supposed to do — incite brand loyalty, promote specials, and drive sales, inform, etc. That is the value of Ingram Micro. As a distributor and enabler, we can provide resellers with multiple product solutions, integration partners, installation partners, financing options, leasing options, pre- and post-technical support, and additional training. Since Ingram Micro does not sell directly to end-user customers, the company has created internally a unique ecosystem to enable its resellers and vendor partners in addressing many different digital-signage opportunities.

Weber: There aren't too many options for mounts or displays, but there definitely seem to be too many options for software and controllers. In the last 18 months, we have evaluated 44 different software options, which does not include some of the more recognizable products nor those solutions targeted toward major networks. I do think that there are too many options, but this is common at this stage of the product lifecycle. What is remarkable is that there are two-person companies creating software and divisions of major corporations all in the same software space. That said, I don't believe that this is the reason end-users are necessarily holding back.

The major issue in end-users not moving forward is the lack of enough solution providers. Everyone seems fixated on the large corporate roll-outs or the single player/monitor applications. What is needed to advance the market is the education and interest of more integrators to become educated, and then build broad awareness among the masses of the potential of digital signage. The problem is that most traditional integrators don't currently understand the point-of-purchase advertising model and how to sell into it. Furthermore, the major bottleneck we have experienced — and why we now provide it free — is the lack of content creation. Most of our target customers, small-to-medium-sized businesses, do not have inhouse graphic-design capabilities and are reluctant to pay agency rates. Offering it free removes that barrier.

Cahoy: As digital signage moves from the early adopters to the majority of the market, the industry is growing at a staggering pace. With this growth come lots of new companies adapting their technology to fit the market and innovating new ways of doing things. Some ideas help move the market to the next level and some are experiments that don't fit. The challenge for organizations looking to deploy a system is to wade through all the new options and choices that show up daily, and in the process, not get overwhelmed. It is always best if you can find a reputable organization to consult on the design and set up. It may cost a little more, but ensuring you get a quality system without exhausting tons of man-hours is priceless.

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