By Lori Shridhare
As a sign professional, you want to partner with trustworthy, affordable digital signage companies. With so many options on the market today, what should you be looking for and in what areas will you need help? Before making any decisions, you should first consider the challenges.
“It’s important to single-source or at least reliably source system components, so your engineers can design the systems and your installers can cost-effectively complete the installation,” says Mike Strand, founder and CEO of StrandVision (www.strandvision.com) in Menomomie, Wisconsin.
As a supplier, Strand has recognized that component specification has been a problem for their systems integrators. “Regardless of the supplier, your ability to specify complete digital signage systems gives you the information that you need to eliminate uncertainty in order to confidently estimate costs, profits, and margins, just as you do with the other systems that you sell,” he says.
For content updating, the sign company should rely on the digital signage provider. “The customer’s authorized system administrator—often a secretary or content provider such as a marketer or human resources staff person—simply logs on to the host server to update the signage,” says Strand. “As a group, digital signage providers have worked hard to make it easy using icon-based selection menus and lots of preformatted content.
Strand adds that there are common templates many clients choose to utilize, including text animation and split screens; photo, video, and database options; and even pre-set emergency and application-specific notifications (such as school-related announcements).
“We recently introduced licensed content, including a specialized feed for banks and credit unions offering bank product advertising and promotions,” says Strand. “Some of us also offer PowerPoint, photo, and video conversion services, as well as custom page design services.”
The sign company involved in a digital display project may also decide to work on content creation and manage content updates for the client. For this, Strand advises you to charge a monthly retainer or per update.
Finally Strand recommends doing your homework in choosing a supplier. “Find suppliers who are responsive to you and your customer’s needs,” he says. “As you work with your existing and new customer base, opportunities will arise that require small (and sometimes large) adjustments to the system.
“Having responsive partners allows you to close the sale quickly and make the customer a very happy repeat buyer.”
When it comes to installation, putting up one digital signage installation is a snap. Add two or more connected screens and things can get complicated.
However, with the aid of the Internet, digital signage companies are finding it’s much easier to install multi-screen projects for large facilities such as universities, corporations, and healthcare campuses.
Employing a patented process, StrandVision allows businesses to set up digital systems through their computers, televisions, plasma, LCD, and LED displays, often at a much lower cost than large corporate programs.
With this setup, administrators use personal computers and an Internet connection to manage content, including distributing text messages and graphics, and displaying advertisements and video content as well as weather and news. For example, the screens may display content on merchandising for banks, retailers and industrial distributors, or for corporations, be set up in employee break rooms to display company events and HR benefits.
As the Internet becomes the catalyst for easier and more efficient digital signage applications, it is also unifying many of the devices that support these systems. “As handheld devices, computers, and screens continue to morph together with more power and lower prices, there are many opportunities for profitable digital signage solutions,” says Strand. “That, combined with the power, flexibility, and ease of use of digital signage software makes exciting and dynamic digital signage displays fast and easy to install.”
These days, Strand is finding that the biggest growth market segment is employee communication signage. “With the increased pressure put on companies due to economic concerns over the past few years, employees are often overworked and very insecure,” he says. “Companies are beginning to invest in their growth again, and digital signage is a consistent, effective, and low-cost way to improve employee morale, efficiency, and confidence, thus gaining productivity without the long-term commitment of new hires.”
Strand notes that there are some digital signage features which are currently gaining popularity, including proof of playback for those customers selling a portion of their signage time to advertisers, automatically updated content (such as weather and news), automatic selection of information from customer databases, and emergency messaging capabilities.
StrandVision recently provided a hotel company client with multiple screens set up in each separately owned and managed location. To facilitate this system, the company used StrandVision’s PC-2-TV.net device to distribute the audio and video over standard network wiring.
The content provided by StrandVision was the standard weather and news, along with a stock feed to provide the hotel’s real-time stock price. Additional content is updated by the hotel’s corporate headquarters, which is then distributed to all participating properties. This content includes high-priority communications, company videos, employee/franchisee award recognition, and news, as well as global mission, vision, and employee benefits information. Each franchisee can enhance the signage content with their own site-specific internal communications which often include PowerPoint presentations, customer testimonials, event notices and photos, and birthday/anniversary announcements.
The installation on this project was fairly straightforward. The client purchased StrandVision’s Streaming Video package and each property bought a package through a system that allows them to view the signage of other locations so they can obtain ideas and create their own account directly. “When hardware was needed, the hotel would contact StrandVision,” says Strand. “We asked a series of questions and gave a quote for StrandVision provided-hardware and software, and a list of other items that would be obtained by the hotel.
“Within a few hours to a couple weeks (which often varies, depending on the IT work load), the system was active.”
Strand adds that one of the challenges of this project was that since hotels tend to use their guest network (free wi-fi for hotel guests) for the signage Internet connection, some firewall adjustments were necessary to keep the system communicating properly and at a reasonable speed.
Asked if he could make any improvements in the installation of digital signage, Strand says that the ideal setup is one that a client can handle independently, “Since small companies are getting involved with digital signage, simplifying wall-mounting capability so it can be managed by an average user would be beneficial,” he says. “Another major improvement would be a device that would safely allow one person to mount a large flat screen. This would eliminate the cost of having two technicians available for the lifting.”