Digital Signage Pilots and the Path to the Rollout

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The majority of digital signage projects of any size begin with a pilot program. A pilot uses a few screens in carefully selected locations and provides a way to analyze the expected results of a project. It is a process that is easier, more cost effective, and with less risk, than building an entire system and trying to evaluate your results on a macro level after the rollout. In the realm of science, this is called a controlled experiment where all the factors can be looked at and examined as to their effect and interaction with each other. This permits you to look at the 7 Key Elements of Digital Signage in detail including:

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 Alan C. Brawn

• Business
• Content
• Design
• Software
• Hardware
• Connectivity
• Operations

From a content perspective you can test the look and feel of the material and how the viewers react to it. From a design perspective, you can see and test to see if you have the right locations, sizes of screens, numbers of screens, etc. and experience how they look in your real word environment. This also permits you to see if the content management software that you have selected is as user friendly as you had hoped and provide an idea of how it will scale up to an enterprise level. Looking at the hardware from displays to mounts to media players in actual operation, you can see if your choices are right or need some adjustment. Looking at connectivity performance, it tells you if the signal flow is secure and highlights any weakness in your choice, be it hard wired, wireless, of cellular. Finally, operations deal with logistics and the actual installation of the system and also addresses continuing maintenance that is necessary. A pilot can be virtual lie detector in that it will tell you the truth about problems, which if gone unresolved, will come back to haunt you as you go enterprise wide.

Depending upon the complexity of the digital signage system, an effective pilot should run from 30 to 60 days. This gives you a reasonable test period to see what works and what does not. It allows you time to internally review the performance with the stake holders to gain consensus that the system is doing what it needs to do for them. It also gives you time to interact with your vendors to see what might need to be adjusted.

The first and most important step in planning a digital signage system is to articulate and gain consensus from the stakeholders, on the objectives. The entire concept of digital signage revolves around delivering a message more effectively than a traditional static sign. Due to this, understanding and articulating the objective of what you are trying to achieve with the signage system is critical. This process is necessary before you can begin the design, and select your hardware and software. It is imperative to understand what you want the digital signage system to accomplish, and how it will be evaluated. You need to Identify and articulate the SPECIFIC OBJECTIVES of the project, i.e.:

• Brand building
• Customer experience/entertainment
• Facilitating by function
• Ad revenue generation
• Information and/or way finding
• Increasing efficiency
• Time saving
• Technical support
• Other-TBD

The objectives need to follow the SMART acronym and process. They must be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and doable in a reasonable period of time. Only when that is done, then you:

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Define the Scope of the Project
The critical part of any pilot is to get a big enough sample of the overall network, taking into account variables that make one site different than another. It is important to make sure your pilot runs in the most real-world setting possible for an appropriate length of time to be properly evaluated.

The various items you'll need to define are:
• Locations the pilot will run taking into consideration variations in environments and conditions
• Allotted time period the pilot is to run
• List of action items and deadlines for pilot leaders
• Measurements of pilot’s performance
• Avenues for stakeholder feedback
• Pilot management, reporting and collaboration tools
• Review periods
• Budget and resources
• Contingency plans
• Evaluation

At that point, you will be ready to revisit your strategy. So next comes:

Questions to ask prior to the launch of a pilot:
• Who will evaluate the success or failure of the pilot project?
• Who will be the team leader of the pilot project?
• Who will be on the stakeholder team for the pilot? i.e. marketing, IT, facilities, etc.
• Who will be installing, configuring, and maintaining the system?
• What are the key features of the system?
• What content will be displayed and who is creating and managing it?
• Will audio be utilized?
• What vendors will be involved beyond supplying products?

Only then, you’re almost ready to deploy! In the next article in this series, we’ll look at Setting Task Assignment Check List; Deploying the Pilot; Training the Pilot Team; Training the Pilot Team; and Metrics and Analysis.

Alan Brawn (alan@BrawnConsulting.com) is a principal of Brawn Consulting LLC an audio visual and IT consulting, educational development, and market intelligence firm with national exposure to major manufacturers, distributors, and integrators in the industry. He was formerly President of Telanetix and previously National Business Development and Product Marketing Director, Samsung Electronics. Brawn is Director of the Digital Signage Experts Group certifying professionals in the digital signage industry. (Visit www.digitalsignageexperts.org for information about the Digital Signage Certified Experts program)

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