Could a cloud-based model for digital signage including the creation and management of content be a step in the right direction? Or will security worries prevent take-up? Matt Cole, director of marketing and creative of BCS Global discusses…
Many of us have done it at some time in our lives. We decide to take up golf, learn to paint, play the oboe or some other temporary enthusiasm. We start with good intentions and buy the books and all the kit, at great expense. We then realise that we don’t really have time to give it the time and attention needed to do it properly.
It’s always faintly embarrassing see those clubs or that easel gathering dust in the cupboard. Yet, at least we can usually keep it to ourselves. It’s worse when we’ve begun something more public like writing a blog, for example.
The same is true in business. In fact, this is what happens in the digital signage world the whole time. A business, full of the right ideas and ambitions, decides to invest in a screen and content management software, but then realise that they don’t have time or the skills to make it work fully for them.
It’s all too easy to get tied up with the hardware specifications and the capabilities of the software and forget that the content needs to be fresh, relevant to its surroundings and part of a content strategy. Too many vendors hand over the technology and, in so many words, tell the customer to get on with it.
This provides little guarantee that the solution will be successful, especially if nobody takes ownership. The challenge is that digital signage seems to fall between IT, marketing and facilities management, with nobody having overall responsibility or, more likely, time allocated to making it a success. In smaller organisations such as estate agents or doctors’ surgeries these roles will either not exist at all or will be outsourced to a number of different providers. This makes it even less likely that a central team or individual will be able to manage the entire operation.
But unless the content is compelling, relevant and timely, nobody is going to care. The customer may blame the concept of digital signage itself or the technology, but if nothing that they show has the power to engage the viewer, the results will be disappointing and return on investment slow.
A shift in purchasing model
As a global company which also focuses on video conferencing, we’re only too aware of what can happen when technology isn’t used to its full potential. According to the IT analyst firm Gartner, almost 90% of video conferencing facilities bought a few years ago are now unused. If we continue to under-utilise digital signage, the figures for this technology could be similar in a few years’ time.
Like digital signage, video communications help address many of today’s business challenges. So instead of seeing businesses miss out on new advances in this area because of past experience, we advise customers on its use and support their systems on an on-going basis. We do the same with digital signage, ensuring that customers can forget about the technology and concentrate on the delivery of engaging content.
We believe this managed services model can help create a real step-change in a business’s approach, ensuring that they maximise the impact of their solution on an on-going basis. While there are already some managed services providers offering back-end support, we combine this with consultancy and professional help where required on the creation, management and measurement of content. The important factor is ensuring content is developed and scheduled to align with business and marketing strategies and brand values. To do this we work closely with marketing teams, as well as our own business media specialists who know how to use the system to its best advantage.
This way, customers can avoid loops of stale content and instead they can attract and engage their target audience with relevant and well-timed information.
The emergence of cloud technology is helping us in this disruptive approach. For a start it is making adoption far more affordable. A traditional customer-hosted set up can involve significant capital expenditure. Our cloud-based solution, Cloudmedia, involves only a low capex and monthly payments. Because it is online, the potential storage capacity is unlimited, so companies can scale up or reduce usage as their business demands or requirements change.
Cost and scalability are just one of the many benefits of the cloud-based delivery of digital signage. It can be accessed with only an internet connection, across all browsers and is inherently stable with the flexibility to handle spikes in usage by automatically reallocating resources when necessary. Because all maintenance is carried out behind the scenes, software upgrades are automatic, freeing up IT staff or eliminating the need to employ specialist staff.
Of course the one thing many potential buyers worry about with the cloud is security. But in reality, security levels may well exceed a customer’s normal standards, going beyond the required accreditation benchmarks; for example, IL3 level.
Although it’s wise to choose a vendor with a well-established reputation in providing secure systems, most cloud providers are more than aware of customer concerns on this front and are meticulous about security and compliance audits and protecting power supplies.
Some vendors offer different network security options depending on customer requirements; two-way data encryption is available and it is possible to provide a secure VPN tunnel between the server located in a secure data centre and the media player located at a customer’s premises with further levels of security added if needed.
Bug fixing on the operating system is completed on a regular basis, ensuring all security patches are up to date. A responsible vendor will also look at application security and bug fixes to ensure any vulnerability is removed at this level.
It is understandable that security of the cloud is a concern, but information in the cloud is as secure as that held on traditional systems, if not more so.
Access to advanced technologies
Once a business starts to recognise the importance of targeted content which fully blends with other marketing communications, they will wish to start measuring the effect of their campaigns. They can then take advantage of the latest camera technology to monitor who is looking at the screen to assess campaign success and subsequent return on investment. Cameras can also trigger varying content according to age or gender. This means content can be altered in response to shifting audience demographics without the usual delays, making the messaging ever more relevant.
They can also take of the latest advances in image quality; ultra-high definition (HD) or 4k video, for example. Using the cutting-edge technical and creative know-how, they can use this to improve the impact of video walls and split screens without sacrificing image quality.
Growth forecasts for the digital signage industry remain buoyant. However, in some ways, they mask the true story; that many systems are not used to their full potential and so will not provide the long-term value their buyers anticipate. If this continues, this market expansion won’t be sustained.
On the other hand, the launch of a cloud-based solution, provided as a managed service which makes excellent content its top priority and addresses security concerns, could ensure the industry more than fulfils its early promise. In other words, no more blank screens or outdated messages – and no more wasted investments.