Turning the Screens Inward, to Boost Productivity

By most accounts, digital signage has now established itself as a bona fide media channel, in the world of retail and Out-Of-Home. The Digital Out Of Home (DOOH) segment has thousands of large networks, measurement metrics and the attention of advertising agencies. However, the larger segment (and most growing segment) of the digital signage market doesn’t concern itself with advertisers or audience metrics and measures its return on investment in an entirely different way. These digital signage systems are now pervasive in education, corporate, civic, and transportation environments. And an increasing and still under-exploited sub-set of this is internal-facing digital signage.

Staff-facing digital signage uses large screens to communicate data and news to workforces. The technology is ideally suited to posting time-critical messages, but also is useful for more routine ones such as sales and production goals, industry news and financial data, training videos, incentive programs, benefits updates, community outreach efforts and employee recognition programs. Digital signage can also interface with the company intranet to bring added attention to important news and data, and provide that information to staff who don’t spend much of their time in front of computers.

Warehouses, factory floors and garages are workplaces ideally suited to digital signage, because staff at these locations are typically not sitting at desks. However a growing number of employers are using digital signs in traditional office settings, often in common areas or break rooms. These system supplement normal communication channels and provide additional impact to achieve corporate communication goals. The rich multimedia experience of digital signage content enhances the effectiveness and retention of corporate messages.

A typical staff-facing digital signage initiative starts with a set of communication goals, or a communication problem that must be solved. For example, a local transit authority found that critical information about route changes and traffic alerts just wasn’t getting to employees through paper postings.

This was the situation at the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, which operates public transportation and airports in the Buffalo/Niagara region of New York State. The solution was to employ a 14-screen digital signage system that not only provides drivers with up-to-the-minute alerts, but also live traffic cameras and maps pulled from the web in real time. The system also devotes a portion of its screen real estate to employee recognition and news items such as benefit and policy changes.

The agency worked with Exhibio, LLC to develop its digital signage system, which uses 50-inch displays in bus garages throughout the city and in the rail operations center to keep employees up to date with information such as route changes and traffic hazards. The information displayed on the system is updated by staff in the NFTA’s corporate headquarters.

The screens, referred to by the authority as “video bulletin boards”, have made a difference to NFTA employees and managers. Once the system was in place, the bus operators began to scan the screens regularly when they came to work, not only for route information but also for weather reports, safety messages and employee news such as awards, promotions and meetings. The displays even have been used to post pictures of the holiday party.

“We now have a state-of-the-art communications system that allows us to reach our employees across the metro area in a moment’s notice,” NFTA official Michael Martineck said.

Based on the success of the bus driver information system, the NFTA has put additional screens in other parts of the operation including the customer service call center, which shows information relevant to the staff manning the phones, but also pulls from the driver information system as well, enabling call center staff to receive real-time updates at the same time as the drivers. The result has been big improvement in the ability of front-line customer service personnel to provide critical up-to-the minute information to customers.

  • The NFTA also uses digital signage in bus and rail maintenance garages to announce maintenance bulletins and safety reminders
  • So, what should corporate users look for in digital signage system? The ideal technology solution for staff digital signage differs from that required by many DOOH networks.

Advertising and in-store merchandising networks primarily use media (video and images), usually full-screen. Ideal solutions for this application provide reliable remote management, scalability to large numbers of screens, playback reporting and advanced media management. Typically, specific content is produced for the network, which is managed and maintained by trained professionals.

Staff digital signage, on the other hand, needs to offer more flexibility and ease of use, as well as versatile data integration with existing in-house systems.

Flexibility is a key feature because ideally, the end user should be able to rapidly deploy content that can consist of text, pictures, video (live, streamed and file-based), web content, or any combination of the above. A built-in content authoring system that allows users to easily customize layouts and backgrounds, plus mix a variety of media is essential. System operators cannot spend valuable time creating content in a graphics or video editing program. The system must also provide for instant updates of content so that operators can rapidly disseminate time-sensitive information.

Ease of use is critical because end-users of the system are typically non-technical personnel with a minimal amount of training. Also, content management is often delegated to several individuals within the organization. The best systems provide an intuitive, graphical interface for content authoring, previewing and deployment. Many people know how to use basic office applications like Microsoft Word and PowerPoint. Picking up on the conventions of those software interfaces goes a long way toward user-friendliness and reducing the need for training, so choosing a system that provides this level of user-interface familiarity is wise.

Finally, data integration is required because the most useful staff digital signage systems will allow users to tap into corporate databases to provide up-to-the-second information. This is particularly useful in places like call centers and sales floors, where data such as queue times and market prices are displayed. Business today thrives on a constant stream of data which typically is housed within corporate data stores such as CRM (Customer Relationship Management) and ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) applications and other IT systems and internal databases. Businesses are tapping into external data for digital signage well. Obvious items are stock and commodity prices, but there are also industry and company specific news feeds, weather data, IP video and even blog and twitter posts that can be monitored on a regular basis.
Other specific features should be considered as well.

Emergency alerts can provide a key communications link in the unfortunate event of a facility-wide emergency. Evaluations of this feature must be done carefully and tested rigorously. The system owner must also run regular tests of the entire system to ensure its integrity and reliability. Emergency alert systems also make the case for flexibility and ease of use, because the nature of an emergency can vary greatly, from a dangerous person to an approaching tornado, so it is very important that emergency personnel be able to instantly relay very specific information to viewers in a situation where instructions to “stay in the building” or “evacuate the building” can mean the difference between life and death.

Live television integration is also a feature to consider. While most managers would agree that they do not want staff sitting around watching TV, it is useful to consider this feature as one that may employed in special circumstances such as a television appearance by the CEO or a breaking local or national news event that affects the staff.Return on investment (ROI) in staff-facing digital signage is a bit harder to quantify than it is in DOOH, but it is real and comes in the form of cost savings and increased productivity.

In situations where a specific process is made more efficient or the frequency of mistakes or defects is measurably reduced, the savings can be immediate and substantial. “The speed and clarity of the information we are providing to our bus and train operators has resulted in fewer problems and disputes and has visibly improved transportation service for our riders,” said the NFTA’s Martineck, who also added that communication problems with employees often result in costly arbitration hearings, which have measurably decreased since the system was enacted.

In other situations where responses and reactions to quickly changing information can mean the difference between profit and loss, revenue gains can be substantial. Other gains made in employee morale or increased participation in community programs are difficult to quantify but the benefits are clearly visible to management.

Given the huge cost of single mistake, the tragedy of an injury that could have been prevented, or the possible catastrophe of an emergency situation, digital signage has great power to make workplaces more profitable, productive and safer.

Considering all of the benefits of staff-facing digital signage, it is easy to see why this segment of the market is growing quickly and becoming more of a focus for industry stakeholders.

Bob Rosenberry (bob@rosenberry.com ) is a Consultant to digital signage companies and end-users. He has six years experience in bringing digital signage solutions to market and more than fifteen years experience in technology development, management and marketing. Most recently, Bob was Product Manager at AGNPRO and prior to that was a co-founder of Exhibio LLC.