If you could magically ask the digital signage industry for anything at all, some new innovation that would dazzle and amaze your clients and peers, what would it be?”
What I ask for is nothing less than a revolution in digital signage platforms. In the last decade, we have seen the slow evolution from systems that deliver rudimentary management of content for small networks to those with the capability of managing enterprise digital signage networks. Evolution, however, is not enough. In today’s complex environments, much more is required from digital signage networks. Large organizations with distributed content management and support models require different ways of thinking about digital signage solutions. These environments are not simply large digital signage networks but can be viewed as collections of networks, with each network needing to operate independently, yet at the same time cooperatively with other networks inside of a single platform.
This type of environment is indicative of a large decentralized university campus from where there may not only be a campus-level communication and IT organizations, but also dozens of distributed ones throughout the campus. When the nature of digital signage itself can easily be characterized as a highly localized mode of communication, it easily falls into a distributed model. The problem lies in the fact that the digital signage platforms of today are clearly designed for single top-down networks with centralized control. This makes using the tools of today akin to hammering a nail with a screwdriver. It will soft of work, – but it is the wrong tool for the job, and we know it.
The coming revolution in platforms, above all else, will focus on the needs of communicators. Digital signage content must be able to be shared across collections of digital signage networks rather than down from the top-down. Content creation and management must be a collaborative effort that can function with as much or as little centralized oversight that is appropriate for the organization. The tool must adapt to fit the organization rather than the organization to the tool. Content must be able to be created, shared, and used within each organization but, when desired, be shared across other networks in a seamless manner.
The future of signage lies in being able to organize, visualize and manage digital signs in many ways, much like a pivot-table in a spreadsheet. It may be important to generate a complete census along with the organization responsible and contact information for each sign. It may also be important to know what types of digital signs exist (info-panels, video-walls, wayfinding, room-signs, etc.) and where they are located – either globally or within an individual sub-network. If content sharing across sub-networks becomes prevalent, play data could be used with GIS technology to allow content managers in departments to visualize how effectively their message was distributed via heat maps; and with subsequent reports, could then contact content managers in departments that may help them reach a broader audience in the future. Who wouldn’t want a heat map of where shared content is being played?
These things are not necessarily difficult. They are simply not within the mainstream thinking we have today. Today’s platforms are primarily designed for top-down management of a large number of signs by a relatively small group of people. In the realm of today’s “innovators,” enterprise signage may have the capability of delegating some functionality “down” through a hierarchy, but we need more. We need more than single signage networks. We need collections of networks. We need an entire signage eco-system within which to work. In other words, the revolution in platforms must produce things that we have not seen before and probably have only begun to imagine. The tools of today simply don’t cut it. It is with that in mind that I demand nothing short of a revolution from an industry that I have every confidence is capable of delivering just that.