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Fitting Digital Signage Into The AV Integrator’s Toolbox

It is often said that change is the only constant. As markets evolve, the question often arises as to how much an AV integrator should continue to focus on their core business and how much energy they can afford to spend going after an expanding market like digital signage. On first glance it seems like a no-brainer. After all, the digital signage market is expanding in double digits and conventional wisdom says that they should jump on the bandwagon with all their might to catch the wave. As with all things of this nature, the truth is more complex than it may seem on the surface.

In searching for an answer, each AV integrator will have to examine their current business. A SWOT analysis is a great place to start. For those unfamiliar with SWOT, the process takes a close (and honest) look at the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats a business faces in consideration of a clearly stated goal.

Let’s assume that the business analysis shows that the AV integrator does have the bandwidth to expand. Being a prudent businessperson, the AV integrator’s first step will be to gain an understanding of the dynamics they will have to deal with. In the case of digital signage, it is much more complex than it appears on the surface. Here are a few of helpful hints:

1. It is not all about a flat panel display hung on a wall. Projectors, LED screens, and other display technologies on the horizon are and will continue to be part of the equation.

2. There is no such thing as a true plug-and-play digital signage solution. Just remember that anytime a computer, media player, software, and content are concerned it will by definition not be plug and play.

3. Content, software, and networks are not afterthoughts and cannot be treated as such.

Before diving in, the AV integrator must strive to understand the market, including the forecasted growth, the existing applications that make up the bulk of the industry, and what looms on the horizon from a technological and applications point of view. For example, understanding the growth of interactivity and the addition of portable devices and how they will interface.

A good place to start delving into digital signage is with what you know best. If you currently concentrate on corporate, education, or healthcare markets, then that is the perfect place to start. You already understand the niche and undoubtedly have the contacts and some of the internal structure to get started. One caveat in this is that no matter how familiar an application appears on the surface, you must think outside of the box and beyond the obvious display at the reception desk.

Next on the to-do list is to fill in the gaps in experience or resources. The area of content and content creation is the best example of this. In digital signage, content might be created by the customer, an outside agency, or this might be a service provide by the AV integrator. Content is an ever-changing component and may well be a recurring revenue stream for the integrator and their content partner. The question at hand is whether to take this service in house or outsource it as a service.

A key admonition is to be wary of the “pot of gold at the end of the rainbow” scenario—huge digital signage rollouts in the retail community promising hundreds or even thousands of screens. If it looks too good to be true it probably is.

Finally, micromanage each element of the process (sales, operations, technical, and finance) until they all work as smoothly as the AV business that you have been involved in profitably for several years.

Alan C. Brawn, CTS, ISF, ISF-C, DSCE, DSDE (Alan@BrawnConsulting.com) is a principal of Brawn Consulting, an audiovisual consulting, educational development, and market intelligence firm.

Spotlight On: Menu Boards

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In the past six months, NEC has seen a jump in large fast food chains considering digital signage.

About one-third of the food Americans consume is prepared outside of the home, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). To make people aware of calories they intake while at a restaurant, the FDA has created new guidelines that go into effect in March 2011. Section 4205 of the Affordable Care Act requires restaurants with 20 or more locations to conspicuously post the number of calories in all its standard menu items.

Systems integrators and contractors should take this opportunity to help inform restaurants that may not be familiar with the new regulations, while making a case for installing digital signage systems. For a restaurant that may have been considering digital signage, this is a major incentive to make the switch soon.

“The positive side of the FDA ruling is that it gives you that first reason to make the jump, in case the other many reasons weren’t enough to convince you to make that investment,” said Mike Zmuda, director of business development at NEC Display Solutions.

One main appeal to digital signage is flexibility. With a digital system, you can make changes to a menu quickly and easily.

That flexibility can also translate into increased ROI. A restaurant can leverage new pricing structures based on time of day, weather, inventory— almost anything—because of the ease of implementation in their signage. Add the dynamic advantages of video, and a digital signage system can become very strong promotional platform.

With the new FDA regulations on the horizon, now’s the time to show restaurants that digital signage can open up a lot of creative marketing strategies. “It’s real-time flexibility that you don’t get with traditional signage,” explained Zmuda. “And you can play around with it, which is fun.”

—Mary Bakija

LG Predicts Signage Uptick

by Kirsten Nelson

The digital signage market has demonstrated a notable resilience in the face of ever-present challenges in the economy, and it may present more growth potential for systems integrators who are able to customize solutions for clients seeking to differentiate with the technology.

“If we look at any of the reports that have been published in the last six to 12 months, the trend is certainly pointing upward,” observed Jeff Dowell, VP, digital signage, LG Electronics USA Business Solutions. “I read somewhere that they are talking about a 25 percent growth rate over the next three to five years. That’s significant, particularly in a stagnant economy. We’re seeing an increase in discussions and an increase in activity among major brand owners who are looking to do something unique and compelling in their stores. That will serve very well to get some of these larger clients to open up their wallets and lay out some money for signage.”

LG Electronics aims to address the steady digital signage demand presented by the SMB market with its new “Super- Sign” suite of digital signage solutions. The suite has two offerings: SuperSign Elite, a customizable hardware and software platform designed for system integrators, and SuperSign Premier, a turnkey solution with content offerings, technical support, and monthly financing that SMBs can utilize out of the box.

“LG’s new SuperSign suite is designed to meet two primary needs of the SMB market—complete turn-key and fully customizable,” Dowell said. “These solutions satisfy both endusers and channel partners.”

Noting that the top challenges to digital signage adoption are price and complexity, Dowell added, “These products tackle those issues head on.”

SuperSign Elite is a hardware and software platform wherein LG displays can be combined with either the LG NC1000 standalone or NC2000 integrated media player. The media player allows users to create content using preloaded templates for information sharing or displaying video segments in Full HD. LG’s intuitive Management Software allows for quick navigation through menus to control networked displays and simultaneously run media files such as video, images, audio, and flash.

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