Digital Signage Goes Service-Based
If last month's Digital Signage Expo in Las Vegas is any indication, 2009 may be the year of managed services in this exploding AV category. Sifting through the show's major pre-announcements, it was clear Software as a Service (SaaS)?by which client and integrator need not worry about enterprise software licenses, servers, setup, and management?is becoming a popular way to roll out signage systems quickly and cost-effectively.
If last month's Digital Signage Expo in Las Vegas is any indication, 2009 may be the year of managed services in this exploding AV category. Sifting through the show's major pre-announcements, it was clear Software as a Service (SaaS)–by which client and integrator need not worry about enterprise software licenses, servers, setup, and management–is becoming a popular way to roll out signage systems quickly and cost-effectively.
"The model is intriguing," says Pro AV columnist and digital signage expert Kris Vollrath. "The main difference is in who owns the core platform–the client on their infrastructure or the solution provider on theirs."
Vollrath, who is vice president and general manager of integrator Advanced AV's Advanced Technology Group, says his firm has explored digital signage SaaS to clients, but there hasn't been enough demand–yet. "My feeling it that will change with the current economic conditions," he says.
Depending on the installation, a SaaS solution might be ideal. A hosted platform doesn't usually require as much capital expense, which could appeal to clients with tight budgets. Long-term operating costs often come out of another cost center. Moreover, a SaaS solution would appeal to a client that doesn't have a dedicated IT staff–or at least not a large one.
But SaaS isn't without potential stumbling blocks. "Since the hosting solution doesn't reside on the secure, internal network of the client, there is a major issue of data security and integrity," says Vollrath. Moreover, if a client starts out on a SaaS platform and decides it wants to bring the system in-house, you'll need to know how easy it is to migrate the content.
Scala Adopts A Managed Service
Just prior to Digital Signage Expo, Scala, a leading developer of digital signage software, debuted its own SaaS. Dubbed Scala as a Service, the new product is a Web-based version of the company's Content Manager that provides online digital signage management for a monthly subscription fee. The client doesn't need any installed software or servers, but the hosted solution could still be scaled to a network of any size.
The user gets the added benefit of all software upgrades whenever Scala rolls them out. The company recently came out with version 4 of its platform (see "Timed Released," January/February 2009, page 45). In the SaaS model, the management and distribution portions of the Scala solution–namely the Content Manager and Transmission Server–reside on Scala's infrastructure, while the players and, via a client computer, the design and publishing modules are the client's responsibility.
Keep in mind, even a hosted Scala solution can be granule based on the needs of the end-user. Scala offers its SaaS in shared and dedicated hosting models. The former is the quickest way to roll out the solution, but it only supports up to 100 players (more than enough in most situations), restricts content distribution to 10 Mbps of shared bandwidth, and doesn't support certain network security features. The dedicated hosting model allows much more flexibility and would be priced on a case-by-case basis.
Similarly, digital signage company X2O Media is readying what it calls Software Plus Services, a managed offering based on its Xpresenter technology.
X2O's Software Plus Services system includes a new X2O Web portal, which comprises a collection of tools for managing all aspects of network operation from a standard Web browser. According to the company, the portal includes tools for updating and scheduling content, distributing content to specific screens or groups of screens, and building advertising campaigns based on business rules and something X2O is calling "smart template" technology.
Like the Scala SaaS offering, X2O's new system includes subscription-based network hosting at X2O's data center, content management services, and system monitoring, troubleshooting, and remote problem resolution.
Other SaaS news from Vegas: Visix now has a hosted version of its AxisTV platform; MediaTile rolled out version 4 of its Mediacast cellular SaaS system; and Rise Vision has new features for its Rise Display Network. Since it began the program last fall, many AV dealers, such as Advanced AV and Electrograph, have signed onto the Rise Private Network Program to resell its managed services.
At the end of the day, digital signage addresses many of your clients' initiatives, from efficient communication to sustainability. As more recognize the need to adopt signage but shy from the cost, SaaS from these and other providers will be important to your designs.