I’ve been in the workplace digital signage (DS) business from the beginning. We introduced our first products in the fall of 2003 that had been in development for a couple of years. Since then, I’ve travelled the ups and downs of developing enterprise-class digital signage. So if I could go back a decade, I’d tell myself to look out for a few things. Anyone looking for a DS system today can save themselves a lot of time and trouble by checking them out:
1. It’s nowhere near as easy as it looks.
A lot of our new customers are former do-it-yourselfers who had originally thought that putting in a system was no big deal. A true DS system is much more than a computer/display/PowerPoint hardware combo from Best Buy. Our install list for a typical one-location installation contains about 15 items including power converters, wall mounts, surge protectors, screws, accessory kits, various software licenses, etc. And they all need to be compatible with each other and arrive at the same time and place for installation.
2. The hardware does matter.
Yes, you can run a system off a $300 desktop computer and a $400 LCD display in the short term, but eventually you’ll have problems. Computers need to have solid state components and displays should be commercial grade, for starters. Then there’s the embedded OS, commercial-grade cables and mounting, etc., etc.
3. You’ll need way more content than you think.
As I outlined in this blog, a two-frame DS system will consume over 50 pieces per month. Do you have the resources for that?
4. You can’t use all that ‘free’ content on the internet.
You might think that you can get content for free on the internet. True, but you might want to rethink that. First, there are copyright issues with most content that you should be aware of, and the bigger your company is the more this applies. (Well, it applies to everyone equally under the law, but bigger companies are bigger targets for copyright lawsuits.) Then there is the bandwidth consideration; that free content hasn’t been optimized for DS. And content from sites like YouTube will reload in your DS every time it plays. Your IT department may not appreciate 50 MB files downloading 10 times an hour, 24/7. And then there are the pop-up ads that can appear out of nowhere, chat invitations and ‘recommendations’ for other content. This all actually figures… that ‘free’ content has to be paid for somehow!
5. Communicating delicate issues is difficult to do properly.
When it comes time to communicate sensitive issues like diversity, sexual harassment, drug & alcohol abuse and employee attendance, knowing what words and images to use is critical, as you don’t want to come off as heavy handed or slanted one way or the other. Experience is key here – you should find a person or resource that has a lot of experience and can produce it in a short time frame and on a regular basis.
6. Running multiple locations is tricky.
That is, unless your DS has multi-level, enterprise content capability and can accommodate different administrators for different levels, displays and groups by function or geography. If you’re planning a do-it-yourself solution for this type of situation, you’re in for a long, messy ride.
7. You WILL need tech support, so make sure it’s for real.
Your DS system will be made up of over a dozen hardware pieces, dozens of pieces of content a month, varied photo and video formats and codecs and heavy processor demands to run all that stuff. Heat, cold and other environmental conditions must be taken into account. Then there will be software updates, broken equipment, lightning strikes, people spilling coffee on the equipment and on and on. So support is a real issue and you’ll want a resource that is knowledgeable and available. Be sure to check this out in advance.
8. The ROI in the ROO.
Trying to pre-calculate return on investment is impossible, IMHO. And my experience has taught me that you’ll be too low anyway. That’s right, I said too low. When DS is done right, the ROI is in the 100’s of percent the first year. By ‘done right’ I mean that you’re communicating about issues that’ll move the needle for your entire operation. I’m talking about return on objective: communicating your top objectives should be what workplace digital signage is all about. What does even a 2-3% improvement in productivity, safety rating or employee engagement mean to your bottom line? I can almost guarantee it’s a multiple of your cost for a decent DS system.
9. Don’t do it yourself.
I know…this sounds self-serving coming from a guy who runs a workplace digital communication company. But think about it – do you really want to try to do it yourself after reading everything above? It’s all 100% accurate info I’ve learned (and earned) through the steep learning curve of the last decade. You probably outsource your payroll, building maintenance and food service because those providers can do it cheaper, better and faster. It’s the same for DS.