Ask the Board – August 22, 2016 | SPENCER GRAHAM


What are the criteria for picking a CMS amongst the myriad of options out there?

I think a person needs to have definitive answers to some very specific questions to guide them in their search for any content management system. CMS’s run the gamut in so many areas like the sheer horse-power for the processor in your computer, how serious you need to be about the video card, the types of displays it will support, the types of content it will support, how intuitive the CMS is to learn and certainly what price it will be sold to you!  Ponder these questions:

  • What content will I expect it to play? CONTENT is the operative word in the phrase “content management system.” If you are going to simply run very basic “slides or posters,” you might get away with PowerPoint and a projector or simple monitor. If you want to schedule specific items to play at certain times of the day (day-parting), you’ll want something that can do that.  If you are going to leverage video content, the CMS needs to be able to handle that chore given the file size that videos can create. If you will be pulling content information from various databases for calendars or wayfinding, it must be able to perform those functions.
  • What does your CMS NEED to do for your network? At one time, long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away, there were maybe three major players in the CMS realm. NOW, eight to nine years later, there are many versions and flavors of CMS with all sorts of bells and whistles. The more pretty and shiny things you want to add to your CMS choice, the more it will cost. 
  • How many digital signs, and types of signage, will your CMS need to support? Your CMS will need to form and support some sort of network to communicate with your signage.  Will your signs all carry the same message at the same time, or will you need to task different signs with different content all the time? If it’s only a couple signs, then you don’t need a ton of horse-power … but if you are going to have hundreds of digital signs spanning a larger network, you will need a more robust CMS to make those chores easier.
  • Do you or your IT/design people have the time to master an intricate CMS to leverage all of its power? There will be a steeper learning curve when you start getting into a more robust content management system.  It will take time to master all the bells and whistles, and it may require additional paid training sessions either over the Internet or actually attending a training session at the corporate offices.
  • What’s your budget going to support if you purchase a CMS? Make NO mistake, when you begin pricing options for a CMS, it will vary significantly and widely!  That is not to say that there aren’t some VERY good CMS’s in the marketplace that are reasonably priced for a small network or for individual deployments. Some are even FREE!  (I have even seen a free software platform that rivals any of the Big Boys in the marketplace with many excellent features you can leverage for a great content look.)  As you grow your network over time, you may find that you need the heavy-duty features of a more powerful CMS. The more gizmos you want, the heftier the price will be. Some CMS’s will cost you upwards of $120,000 initially and then $25,000 per year for an enterprise license renewal. 

Ultimately, you need to do some serious research.  If you are thinking about any CMS purchase, find out who some of the End Users are that currently use it for their network… and… CALL THEM. They will be able to give you an unvarnished opinion about the product you are considering for purchase.  Also, ask them about other products they have used or know about.

Here is a link to the Digital Signage Federation’s Google Hangout pages.  There are several Hangouts the DSF has archived that can assist you in your research on content and CMS options.

About Author

Manager of Operations, Information Stations, Interactive Video, Network & Web Services
West Virginia University

End User Council

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