What are the criteria for picking a CMS amongst the myriad of options out there?
When it comes to choosing a digital signage CMS, there seem to be as many opinions as there are people. My strategy is composed of very broad strokes: Usability, Interoperability, Scalability, Affordability and finally Feasibility, which brings the first four together into the proper context.
1. Usability – A digital signage CMS should be accessible and available to the vast majority of those in an organization with a minimal amount of training. As a network grows and an organization evolves, more and more people will interact with the CMS, each with their own unique experiences and skillsets. With that in mind, it is important that a CMS is judged not only by its ability to be used by a highly skilled media developer but also by its ability to be used by the average IT professional, marketing manager or administrative professional.
2. Interoperability – The role of a content management system has grown beyond managing simple image and video files into a platform for data integration. Key applications of digital signage such as wayfinding, room signage, social media and menu boards have more to do with data than media. The ability to pull data directly from existing event management systems, enterprise calendaring systems, data warehouses and web content management systems should not be undervalued.
3. Scalability – Depending on the task at hand, the question of scale can become an issue. Scale can be a matter of pure quantity (signs, users, locations, etc.), which can have a direct impact on licensing costs or have technical implications. The more important and less spoken-about type of scale, however, is how well a solution addresses the broad spectrum of digital signage applications. This is where the job gets difficult because if you are at the table selecting a digital signage CMS, it is sometimes for a single deployment or single use case for digital signage rather than an enterprise-wide rollout of digital signage for many current and potential future use cases. I put this under Scalability first; because “Scopeability” (the ability to apply at scale, a single solution to a wide set of needs), while more appropriate of a description, isn’t an actual word and second; because digital signage deserves consideration among other enterprise applications such as email, calendaring, helpdesk and Web hosting due to cost, integration and other decision points that have moved squarely into the realm of enterprise IT.
4. Affordability – There is no way of getting around the bottom-line. Those approaching digital signage as a single project or as part of a larger project such as the construction of a new building are sometimes shocked by the unanticipated costs of licensing a digital signage CMS after they have already made substantial investments in hardware and installation. Licensing costs typically involve a recurring component that will need to be accounted for in the future. Licensing structures vary and include unlimited site licenses, tiered rates based on the number of signs served and pay-per-feature models. It is critical that the CMS costs be factored from the beginning, based on the needs and requirements of the organization and not as a line-item purchased at the end of an installation project. Also, like most systems, quantity licensing usually yields substantial discounts. Increases in scale (and scope) can reduce the per-sign costs.
5. Feasibility – Having a clear understanding of criteria such as those aforementioned as you evaluate and select a digital signage CMS is important. More important, however, is having realistic expectations and the willingness to adapt and compromise. In an ideal world, even the smallest unit within the largest organization would be able to select and deploy a solution that would satisfy not only their own immediate needs at a small scale but also the needs of the entire enterprise for years to come. But this is not reality. My role was and is to represent and provide for all digital signage needs across the organization … before those needs emerge. I would guess that this would rarely be the case in most organizations, and as a result, the challenge will be to strike the proper balance between some of the ideals I’ve put onto the table and the realities of your own organization and situation.