Ask the Board – January 2, 2018 | THOMAS KUNKA


If you could put out an industry SOS, how would you fill in the blanks: CONTENT CREATORS OF THE WORLD, PLEASE STOP WITH THE _______. THE INDUSTRY REALLY NEEDS MORE ________. Why?”

Sending out an industry “SOS” is a serious action. It implies that, much like a ship sinking after hitting an iceberg, there is a singular condition endemic to the industry that is in the process of causing irrevocable harm. With that in mind, my SOS would not go out to the content creators of the world asking them to stop doing something. Whatever they are doing wrong (if anything) would be easily reversible. Nor would my SOS be one that asks the industry to provide more of anything. My SOS goes directly to the vendors of digital content management solutions. Some of these vendors have lost sight of the role digital signage has in their customers’ organizational use and have developed corresponding disconnects in their pricing models. This seems to be particularly true within the education vertical.

Digital signage has become a valuable tool for communications in many vertical markets. Hospitality, transportation, retail and many others including higher education have many uses for digital signage. On a large university campus, digital signage is used in many different ways. It is used in residence halls, student unions, athletic facilities, academic buildings, libraries, museums and even research facilities. It takes on many forms, from small interactive signs outside of classrooms and conference rooms all the way to large-scale video walls. Digital signage can greatly enhance the campus experience for students, faculty, staff, alumni and visitors alike. In the end, however, the mission of an academic institution is centered on teaching, learning and research.

Academia has embraced many digital technologies to support its mission. Institutions invest in wired and wireless network infrastructure. They rely on learning management systems to provide better student outcomes. They invest in classroom technology and enhanced learning spaces. They invest in campus-level software license agreements for software suites that their students, faculty and researchers use in their daily activities. What happens then, when digital signage vendors price yearly licensing for digital signage platforms on par with the technologies that are essential to the mission of the institution?

Given the choice, any IT Director or CIO will choose to provide their campus with a state-of-the-art wireless network, a learning management system or AV upgrades to a dozen or more classrooms over purchasing licensing for every digital sign on campus. They know what technologies are critical to teaching, learning and research and which are not. They also know that the costs of digital signage do not stop at licensing. Display and player hardware represent significant upfront and ongoing investments. Electrical and networking infrastructure must be put in place, and displays must be physically installed. Content must be created and managed. High costs, complexity and an unclear return on investment, (depending on use case) make digital signage a hard sell for what is clearly a “want” rather than a “need.”

The crux comes back to the licensing of the digital signage management systems because, in the end, digital signage has become an enterprise IT issue. When shown licensing costs that are comparable to their costliest mission-critical technology initiatives, and given that those costs are only a portion of the total initial and ongoing costs and complexities, many initiatives will be rejected without consideration.

Another possibility is that initiatives will be reduced to “one-offs” with the expensive digital signage content management systems replaced with what may be seen as the next best alternative—the desktop presentation software or web-content management solutions already in use. It doesn’t matter what features the platform offers specifically for digital signage applications; most IT Directors and CIOs will be comparing costs to “free.” Digital signage may move forward; fragmented, using improper tools for the job.

This SOS is for a segment of the digital signage industry that is clearly disconnected from its higher education customers. There is no argument that a vendor can make to institutional decision-makers that digital signage is absolutely critical for teaching, learning or research. Digital signage is one of the most impactful means of enhancing the campus experience, and our imaginations and our tools are the only limits of its uses. However, products are only worth what customers are willing to pay for them and right now, it seems that vendors are asking far too much to be viable in the higher education vertical. In that regard, this is every bit as serious of an SOS as a ship hitting an iceberg. The pricing models being shown to campus leadership create an indelible impression that shapes how they view digital signage. Once they see astronomical costs attached to something that isn’t critical to the mission of their institution, they may simply tune out anything and everything to do with digital signage from that point on, regardless of what it is, how it is presented or who presents it.


About Author

Senior Application Specialist
University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

End User Council

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