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Making Digital Signage Work for Specific Clients, Part 2

Jun 9, 2010 12:01 PM

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Yeah, I guess if they wanted to get a quick start, you could use a template and work into something more customized. And of course there are a lot of elements that you can use—probably a lot more than you used on this installation. LED tickers, for instance. What's the first reaction that you normally get when you show this to a client? Are they thinking about the content, or the location—where are they going to put this thing—first? What do you usually hear?
When you look at LED tickers, a lot of it comes down to an architectural atmosphere. Content's interesting, stock quotes, or news or weather—that type of thing. But a lot of the times—whether it's a university or it's a corporate lobby or it's a bank branch, something like that—the reason that they're putting in a ticker is they want that atmosphere and that barber-shop pole so that as people pass by they make the connection with the stock market or the news. And since it's always moving and it's always flowing, it creates that energetic or that vibrant atmosphere. So that's one of the key things people look at when they're gravitating towards a ticker-type technology. Another thing when you're looking at digital signage in general is it's starting to evolve past the passive digital displays into interactive experiences, so are there different ways you can shape these displays or maybe make videowalls out of them or different configurations that encourage people to come up, touch them, interact with them, play with them. And now you've got a two-way conversation going with the client instead of just telling them your message on your display; you're letting them interact with it and learn about what they want. One of the real exciting things is videowalls. The bezels are getting thinner on the screens, computer processing power—the whole ability to build bigger, more unique walls is advancing. And now one of the things we are playing with is bringing interactivity to that level so that instead of just a small kiosk or something personal, you're standing in front of an entire wall of information that you are playing with. So the technology is very exciting, and it's one of the key things we try to consult our clients on as we are speaking with them is, What's the main impression, or what's the atmosphere that they are trying to create, or what's that wow factor that they want to put the display in? And then from there, taking all of these pieces of technology and putting the right solution together for them. [Timestamp: 7:56]

Yeah, you've got to give some prime consideration in most cases to the unique personality of the viewers for this. And in the case of the credit union, who might be more receptive to the message, is there a profile that comes out? Is it typically the younger crowd that gets more into the digital signage message and initiates the interactivity, or is it more unpredictable?
Especially when you look at banks, they definitely track the demographics. And they are very scientific in terms of knowing in the morning if it's a elderly crowd or mothers with small children; the lunch hour, the businesspeople; maybe later in the afternoon is the younger crowd coming in. So they track the demographics. But when you overlay that with interactivity, a couple of years ago, it was probably the younger crowd that was gravitating to it because that Xbox, Twitter, Blog RSS—that type of generation—they were more comfortable with the technology. But as iPhones and Android and Palms and all of these personal communication devices have advanced—everybody is carrying around a small touchscreen in their pocket now, and they're getting very familiar with interacting with different kinds of content, and you're starting to see people expect it. I was passing through an airport here not too long ago that had some LCD screens that were down towards eye level, and they had big stickers on the bottom that said "Please don't touch the screens." Because—just human nature, people were walking up, touching it, trying to interact with it—and I am going to assume they got tired of cleaning the fingerprints off of the screens. So it's really interesting to watch the dynamic of people and how they've gotten very comfortable with the technology, and I really attribute it to the iPhone. I mean that's a device that it's very easy to use—it's very addictive—and people have found a comfort zone with interacting with technology now. [Timestamp: 9:46]

It really gets to be an electronic friend that you can personalize to suit your needs, and it's one of those things—it almost becomes a part of you. Now when you install one of these digital signage systems, what kind of ongoing service and support plan normally goes with it?
It really depends on the client and what they're comfortable with. We'll offer anything from one- to three-year on-site service plans for our client where we're covering the media players, we're covering the software, we're covering the display. So it's as simple as they pick up the phone, they call us, and we take care of everything. In some cases, bigger deployments, clients may be comfortable buying an extra screen or having their facilities people handle that level of service. So really the key is giving the client the power of choice—letting them decide what's best for them. And in a lot of cases—like the credit union here, where you've got five remote branches, you probably don't have an IT or a facilities tech person at each one of those branches—it's a lot easier for them just to contract a full-service program with us so that those branch managers can call in and know that things are going to be taken care of. It's very much like an insurance policy. [Timestamp: 10:53]

And I guess the security aspect of it is handled very much the same way as the security on the existing computer network.
Yeah, there's a couple of parts to security when you look at digital signage. The first is when you look at a person's service or a web service, like us, is what's the back end? And most companies providing software service are doing things very similar to us. When you're partnering with a global data center that's enterprise-grade, tier-one provider, you've got things like SAS 70 certifications and your typical 99.9 percent SLA, so you've got the security and the robustness of the back end of the system. And then the second piece is how are you securing those media players? And in a lot of cases, like at the credit union here, it's within their firewall, so they're controlling it within their network and securing it just as they would any other PC they put on their network. And from a software perspective, we do things like use very long serial keys that are unique to each player and it's got to be combined with the request in a special format, so that everything hitting our server is a known quantity to us, but it's very, very difficult to try to hack in. And even if you did, it's very limited to what you can do because you have to know all the controls and functions that are around it. [Timestamp: 12:08]

Well, you've been into this for a good while now, and I guess the credit union installation wasn't all that unusual. Have you ever had anything really unusual, I mean on a digital signage installation, that really stretched the limits?
Those are the fun ones. When you get into a client that's got an imagination and they want to stretch the limits to really push technology, and they're not afraid to live with a little bit of gremlins in their system while you work it out. One fun one that we did here was a couple of years ago was the ING Direct CafĂ© in Chicago, where they came and said they wanted a LCD ticker. Instead of an LED ticker, they wanted a bunch of LCDs, high-resolution, in their windows facing out. A couple of years ago, it was difficult to get your hands on high-ambient-output LCD screens, let alone tying them all together so that you can run eight, 10 of these from one screen or from one computer. So it was a very exciting project because there was a lot of technology hurdles for us to overcome to figure it out. And the end result has been great; that installation has been written up a number of times, and it is a very cool end result. One that we're working on right now is we've got some corporate environments, financial trading rooms, business schools that want large interactive displays—larger than a lot of the constraints of current interactive technology. So they're asking us to make interactive videowalls, which—it's challenging to take a USB connection or a mouse connection from multiple different screens and have a computer interpret multiple bytes at the same time. So working with the touchscreen integrators and the display manufacturers and media player people to pull all that together so we can build videowall that's interactive. So those are definitely the fun projects, when you get clients that want to test the limits of technology. And that's really what helps us as an industry and as a whole advance the technology to that next level. [Timestamp: 14:07]

Well, Ryan, the possibilities are endless, and I can't even imagine some of the things that are going to be introduced with the third dimensional aspect of interactivity. That's still a fairly new thing, I'm sure we are going to be getting into a very dynamic business with it. Thanks a lot for being here to tell us about the Alabama Teachers Credit Union installation and I hope you'll stay in touch.
Absolutely, I appreciate the time.

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