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More and more managers are realizing that there must be a good way of communicating to all employees across their enterprise using visual digital technology. And they’re right, there is. Over the last 5-6 years the use of flat display screens attached to computers and company networks has emerged as a class of products commonly referred to as Digital Signage (DS). "Buying DS can be confusing", especially if it’s your first system. Here are the important factors to consider, based on our 10 years in the digital business, thousands of customers across North America and 7 foreign countries.
Experience – On the surface, DS looks simple – connect a computer to a few screens, add some PowerPoint and routing management software, and off you go. But in reality the items that you actually need to consider include creating your project plan, spec’ing out the displays, spec’ing out the type of media player/computer, working with procurement to source those items, choosing the content management software, figuring out who’s going to do the installations, who will do the inevitable field service, and who will be in charge of content creation? In particular, content creation can be deceiving because most people vastly underestimate the amount they’ll need for a professional approach that actually achieves their objectives. Content is the lifeblood of any DS system and must be a top priority in the planning stages.
Technical Expertise and Do-It-Yourself – The learning curve for the do-it-yourselfer is long and steep. I know – our company has lived it for the last 10 years, resulting in bulletproof, enterprise-class products. Like they say in the commercials, ‘Don’t try this at home.’ If you do outsource, make sure the vendors you’re working with have the technical chops needed. Questions to ask include, Are you vertically integrated or do you buy parts of your solution from other companies? Do you run your own software development, customer support and technical support? How long have you been in the business? Do you own your IP or are you reliant on others? Can you support enterprise configurations with multi-layered access controls and if so, are they easily managed? Can you provide a true turnkey solution including hardware? Do you fully warrantee your product including hardware (if supplied)?
Ongoing Development – Like smartphones and tablet computers, DS is changing at a rapid pace. The system you buy today will be obsolete in 2 years – or less. So your vendor needs to be committed to continual development as technology improves.
Vendor Focus – Make sure you find a vendor that specializes in what you're looking for. The majority of DS systems out there are designed for multiple purposes, like cafeteria menu boards, retail promotion and way finding. While that may seem like a good thing, it’s not, because the complexity increases as the functionality does. Another phrase, “Jack of all trades, master of none” comes to mind here.If you’re looking for workplace communication DS, then find a company who does that – and only that. Which leads to my next point.
Ease of Use – DS is only valuable if it helps you communicate quickly and easily. And while you may be technically savvy, it’s likely that many of your administrative users aren’t. You don’t want to have to spend much time or money training them, and then retraining as new users come on board. The way to avoid that is to pick DS that’s easy for the average person to use.
ROI – Odds are that you, or someone in the decision chain, wants to know what the ROI on your DS is going to be. But that’s really the wrong question. ROI is derived from achievement of objectives of a company. DS is used to 'sell' those objectives, to help the manager get the objectives done by engaging employees and changing their behavior in some way. The behavior change accomplishes the objectives, and that's where the ROI should be measured.
DS has no intrinsic ROI, any more than a billboard on a highway does. A billboard is simply a large structure next to a road. It's the message that's displayed on it, that causes the buying of a product or service, that determines its ROI. If it sells a lot of product, it has a high ROI; if it flops there's probably negative ROI. Likewise, if your DS changes behavior of your people in a positive way that achieves your objectives, it’ll be dripping with ROI. But if it doesn’t work very well, or the content strategy is not thought out in advance, then there won’t be any. Or worse, it’ll be black eye for the organization and the managers who sourced it.
There are very good vendors in the DS industry with loads of know-how and experience.