In This Guide
There are many components in a digital signage installation,and a variety of solutions available for each component. Anyone who has done their due diligence for their own organization will tell you that it takes months to research what is available. This includes determining differences in each product, spending time with manufacturer’s representatives, creating an RFP, determining which companies to invite to submit, analyzing the submissions and line products up to be sure the comparisons are “apples to apples.”
Even after a thorough and exhaustive effort to assemble a business case there may be missed questions or mistaken assumptions with unintentional consequences. Because of this, it is no surprise that a litany of common mistakes are made by those new to the process without the years of experience of assembling digital signage installations.
Luckily, there are digital signage solutions professionals that do have the necessary experience for success.
According to the Digital Signage Federation, there are an estimated 400 to 500 professional integrators in North America. These are the professionals who can be called upon to help design and facilitate installation of a digital signage network. These professionals make it their business to be familiar with and understand the pros and cons of the many technologies involved. This includes manufacturer knowledge about who is competitively priced, warranties offered and who is suited for each network’s needs.
These professionals know their stuff because they do it every day.
But…Not All Digital Signage Solutions Providers are Created Equal
The right professional can save you time and money, and help avoid common pitfalls that threaten a project. They will guide you through the entire process from concept to installation. They may also manage your network on an ongoing basis, should you need that kind of assistance and support.
Not all digital signage solution professionals are created equal, though. Each has different practiced expertise and reputation for successful installations or specific experience in your sector. Sector-specific experience can be critical in certain situations, such as coordinating an installation in a highly public and constantly trafficked space. Or consider an airport which may need the capability to be uniquely responsive to its environment in different geographical locations.
Your team may not want to go alone into unchartered territory or might not have time for thorough due diligence. Hiring a digital signage solutions professional in these cases represents an opportunity to move ahead with your project with little to no internal training. It also provides a way for your team to learn from an industry expert and gauge your staff’s skill set to support the network going forward.
The Pros and Cons of Hiring a Professional Integrator v. Handling the Installation In-House
The preparation, planning, design and implementation of a digital signage network requires a significant commitment of time, money, energy and internal resources. Not all organizations have the wherewith all to task employees with such a project. Additionally, not all organizations have employees with the required skill sets to pull off such a project.
The ability to add network functionality, scale it for future growth or ensure that it meets all legal requirements may not be straightforward to in-house professionals with other full-time job obligations. The potential result is more cost later to fix things like software that was not intuitive enough for company-wide buy-in, or players without the required processing power to handle your content strategy.
If the directive is to handle the installation internally, your team should be set up for success. Ensure that management allows in-house staff to train, to properly plan and facilitate an installation along with a firm commitment for the resources required to do so. This can be a catch-22 because it requires someone to champion the project and learn enough to build a compelling use case. This includes an initial set up budget (capital expense) and a maintenance budget (operating expense) that covers hardware replacement as well as ongoing creation and management for refreshed content.
Often, a new digital signage project timeline is driven by a particular business requirement, which does not allow for proper preparation. Part of the internal challenge is sufficiently educating all stakeholders within an organization so they better understand and appreciate what such a commitment requires.
In summary, it may actually cost less to hire a digital signage solutions professional in the long run for the following reasons: budget overages, costly fixes, unforeseen security or legal issues and a higher likelihood the project will go smoothly the first time.
What to Look for in a Digital Signage Solutions Provider
While many AV/Integrator professionals have expertise integrating and installing audio-visual systems, not all have digital signage-specific experience. You want to be sure to work with a professional who not only has digital signage-specific experience but also has successful installation references from previous customers. If your network represents complex challenges, the professional you are considering should have experience in your industry sector or similar experience for clients in other sectors.
Asks the Right Questions
An experienced digital signage solutions provider will ask a number of questions to better understand your business goals. For example, have you established measurable outcomes such as ROI or ROO? What’s the purpose of your network, do you want to communicate with customers, employees or others? What do you want the network to accomplish? What kind of messaging do you want to include—informational, wayfinding, interactive or something else? Who will be responsible for ongoing management? Who will generate the network’s content, and how often should it be refreshed? They may also ask if you’ve done a screen placement study, and with it, have already determined what kind of connectivity the network will require.
The answers to these and other key questions should also lead to a discussion on software platforms, display and player choices. The point is that people who know what they’re doing ask a whole lot of questions first, and offer to demonstrate a variety of options so your team has every opportunity to make well-informed purchase decisions.
The Role of a Digital Signage Solutions Provider
A seasoned digital signage solutions professional should not be a “salesperson,” but a guide who knows the digital signage ecosystem. They should make the effort to stay updated on the newest technologies and have the ability to lead you and your team through your decision-making process with confidence. This professional should also present you with a clear and concise Statement of Work. The Statement of Work describes exactly what you can expect at all critical path points during the project so you and your team have a full understanding of every step in the process, which should include…
Objectives of the Digital Signage Network
The first question to answer clearly is: why do you want to build a digital signage network? Every project should have a clearly laid-out plan that explains the objective(s). Because of the moving parts in planning a digital signage network, a plan will help secure company-wide buy-in and force everyone involved to fully think the project through. It will also keep the project on track by providing clearly defined roles for all involved and keeping everyone focused on that goal by specifying what the organization wishes to accomplish.
What is the primary network objective? Are you trying to solve a problem, create an opportunity, or both? Are there secondary or future objectives to be considered? Creating specific and measurable goals will be able to help you to think through this process. Objectives are very important. Outside of the obvious, they will direct many other network purchase decisions.
Identify and Understand Your Target Audience
Another key consideration is who you want to address. If you are contemplating a customer-facing network, it would be helpful to know who your viewing audience will be at different times of day. You’ll want to know where they are positioned relative to being able to act on an offer, or via what channels they can be invited to respond. Will your screen placement allow them to act on this purchase decision or do they need the ability to respond to the display via their smartphones?
You might be planning for an installation that will be viewed by visitors, staff, faculty. If so, will your message direct them throughout your campus or facility, or provide organization information and history? Maybe it will show services and benefits available, additional information links, or incorporate emergency notifications?
Perhaps you are envisioning a corporate communications network meant to bolster employee engagement and morale. Providing dialogue between employees and management, or giving recognition to teams and individual contributions, can accomplish this and increase productivity.
As you can see, having a firm target audience definition advises both screen placement strategy and content strategy decisions and allows your solutions provider to help you develop both.
A content strategy means translating network objectives. It forces you to define those goals in terms of marketing priorities such as cross-selling, growing new product sales, improving customer service and differentiating your products. This is the exercise you use to define key messaging or talking points that will be meaningful, engaging and resonate with your defined audience(s).
A content strategy articulates your strategic vision and messaging. The purpose is to provide how messaging will be used and organized, and identify required components. The strategy may also detail if and how content should vary by day-part,and how often it needs to be refreshed.
A key issue in any content strategy is defining the workflow. Who will be responsible for the content creation, management, replacement and on what schedule should it be regularly refreshed?
It is helpful for a professional digital signage solutions provider to help ensure this discourse is thorough and can surface issues you may not have anticipated. If you will be developing in-house content, your provider can recommend content aggregators who offer a variety of choices of licensed content and infotainment. They may also facilitate a relationship with one or more custom digital signage content providers. These providers understand it as a communications medium and can provide you with original ongoing content, or for specific product promotions or to extend traditional media campaigns.
If you would like to take a deeper dive into content strategy, download our full guide here:
Screen Placement Survey/Connectivity
Yes, there should be a strategy behind screen placement! A screen placement survey is an opportunity for your professional digital signage solutions provider to shine. These professionals know to look for and identify locations that expose your messaging to your desired target audience(s) regularly for the greatest length of time. If your content strategy calls for viewer interactivity, they will recommend screen placement that is easily reachable and invites involvement. It should also be ADA compliant and will likely require both interactive touch and touch-less solutions. If part of your content strategy calls for the use of sound, they should recommend screen placement that has a minimum of ambient noise or directional speakers that curtail sound in the immediate vicinity of the viewer.
At the very beginning of the process your provider will want to work closely with your IT team. They should ensure sufficient bandwidth to power your digital signage network and identify any upgrades that will be required to support it. They should also determine if the digital signage software you prefer will integrate seamlessly with your present platforms.
Your provider’s survey should also identify sites where cabling via PoE (connection via Ethernet) may not be possible and suggest alternate placement if needed to insure uninterrupted network function. They should also determine the pros and cons of recommending WiFi-connectivity for screen locations that cannot be substituted as long as there is an unobstructed WiFi signal. Having your solutions provider perform the screen placement survey is important because, when overlooked, it is most often connectivity issues that create budget overages.
Software and Hardware Considerations
Digital signage software is the content management platform (CMS) that runs the network and allows network operators to create and publish or import content to the network. Then, the hardware includes the display (screen size, type and format), media player, mounts and, depending upon screen placement, enclosures.
A huge benefit of working with a professional digital signage solution provider is they are familiar with a wide variety of software and hardware solutions. They make it a point of maintaining excellent working relationships with key manufacturers who they know are well established. An established manufacturer should sell quality products with a reputation for reliability and provide product warranty. They should also have a proven track record and provide quick turn-around if a problem occurs and may offer onsite training for company-wide adoption for internal network administrators.
An experienced solutions professional will assess the needs and goals of your network, evaluate the options, then provide recommendations and alternatives for your consideration.
They will also know to steer you away from some purchases. For instance, a manufacturer might be offering a “special” price on a particular line of screens because they will shortly discontinue them. However, this would potentially create an expensive problem later when looking for replacements. They can also advise you on how much hardware to keep in reserve to deal with unexpected maintenance issues to keep the network operating at 100 percent.
Professional digital signage solutions providers have to be knowledgeable about both AV and IT best practices. Digital signage players must be able to reside on the network but also be able to navigate to the web. Since most of today’s digital signage management software is cloud-based, there is always some level of threat to network security.
Your solutions professional should work closely with your IT team to reduce any exposure. Connecting the digital signage players on a VLan is one way to isolate the players from their main network. Your IT team’s domain requirements also have to be considered and testing must be done, prior to deployment to ensure domain requirements do not hinder digital signage players from working properly.
Screenfeed Integrator Partners
For a list of integrators, check out our partner pages! Screenfeed is partnered with Red Dot Digital Media, OpenEye Global and Freshwater Digital.
What to Look for in a Digital Signage Solutions Provider Checklist
Once you’ve determined that you wish to hire an experienced professional to guide you through the design and installation process for your proposed installation, you’ll want to consider the following:
1. Have the professionals you are considering performed work in your industry sector and can they provide references?
You may wish to speak with a few to get a better understanding of how those relationships worked and if there was sufficient communication during the process.
2. Does your installation represent any unique challenge? If so, is the challenge something with which the professionals under consideration are familiar?
3. Speaking of challenges, consider asking what some of the biggest obstacles your professional candidates have run into and how they solved them.
It’s helpful to understand what issues might come up, but importantly how they were expertly dealt with.
4. Make sure each delineates exactly what will be required of you and your team and exactly what aspects the professional will be responsible for.
Request a “Statement of Work” that addresses all critical path points. The statement should include a line item that requires delivery of an ADA-compliant “Screen Placement Strategy.”
5. Will you need help managing the network once the installation is complete? If so, do the firms in consideration provide ongoing management services, and if so, what do they include and are the costs competitive?
6. Make sure that your digital signage professional works with your IT Team to determine the best cybersecurity solution for your network.
What You Need to do to Prepare
Do yourself and your digital signage professional a favor. Provide the professional of your choice with:
1. A written document that specifies what you want to accomplish now and what you may wish to do in the future.
2. Spell out goals of the network and how you plan to measure its success. Be specific about what you want to accomplish. The better direction you provide, the more likely a better outcome.
3. Make sure you have all organizational stakeholders represented at the first meeting so the professional has the opportunity to get all of the answers he or she needs initially.