To Build or to Buy: Your Signage Network's Operating Software

Eric Lamb

To build or to buy? When it comes to business-critical software, this is a decision that many companies face and we see this consideration come up frequently with digital signage networks.

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Imagine that you’re in need of a new home. You have two options:

  • You can buy a house that is already built, choosing the one that best matches your list of requirements.
  • You can build a house from the ground up, designing every aspect from scratch to exactly fit your needs.

While the benefits of building a completely customized home may sound enticing, the strain on time, money and resources makes that impossible for most and impractical for many. The concept is similar when thinking about your digital signage.

When evaluating the decision of whether to invest in developing in-house software or partnering with an outside provider, there are a few key factors to consider: cost, control, maintenance and innovation.


Robust infrastructure comes at a price, whether it’s from hiring a team of engineers to build your software or licensing it from a provider. Just like building a house, developing software from the ground up typically comes with many unforeseen or hidden costs. 

When buying, you have more say over the price. However, it’s important to do your research, as many providers have hidden costs such as onboarding fees. Prices vary based on network size and the sophistication of the software. It’s worth investing in a software that can grow with your network and support things like advertising that you might not need today, but will be beneficial to your business in the future.


It’s important to ensure that any partner you may be evaluating will still provide you full control over your network operations and content management. If your signage network plans to monetize through advertising, you’ll need to select inventory for sale, manage direct and programmatic sales, and reserve dedicated spots all from one simplified platform. Custom alerts and user restrictions can provide confidence that your network is running efficiently.


As your network grows, changes will need to be made to your infrastructure as well. If you’re considering in-house building, make sure to dedicate budget and resources for maintenance as well as continuity. Too many networks suffer from poorly maintained code bases that were developed years ago by an employee that has since left the company! 

When considering partners, you’ll want to validate that they have a dedicated team of engineers working on updates and improvements to ensure your software is up to date with the latest technology. One of the biggest reasons to work with a vendor is that you benefit from the improvements they make to the platform, even if you didn’t ask for them. 

When it comes to maintenance, you’ll need to be able to seamlessly roll out changes across your network. You’ll want to look for a partner that offers web-based diagnostics, meaning you can register, configure, monitor and upgrade players remotely.


As an operator, you shouldn’t have to dedicate significant time to maintaining your basic infrastructure. Too many operators spend their time managing servers, building basic ad-serving functionality and generally reinventing the wheel. Instead, your focus should be on what makes your network special, draws the attention of consumers, and is appealing to buyers.

Your technology should empower you to customize and control the on-screen experience—build custom apps for anything ranging from transit updates to weather notifications, all based on web-standard technology (HTML, JavaScript, CSS). 

If your company’s core competency isn’t building software, then buying software that is designed to handle your network of the future is the best solution for you. Work with a provider who has a team in place to update and maintain your infrastructure and give you the flexibility to manage and customize your network to meet your needs. 


Eric Lamb

Eric Lamb is the VP of Publisher Solutions at Vistar Media. Lamb has been with the company for six years. Starting as a technical analyst, he moved into product management and eventually took over the supply side of Vistar's business. Today, Lamb team handles sales, technical support, and partnership development for Vistar's media owner clients.