Ask the Board – October 31, 2016 | THOMAS KUNKA

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What are your top three takeaways from a digital signage overhaul?


The challenges in overhauling a large digital signage network can rival or surpass those of creating it for a university campus. Networks can quickly grow in the number of signs, complexity of applications and number of stakeholders with vested interests in their network’s operation and improvement. Our needs will grow and our technologies will advance. With that, it is almost a certainty that our networks will need to be adapted or even replaced altogether. When considering major changes to an established network, the most significant challenges may not lie in the technology but in the human element. With this in mind, the “top three” takeaways I can provide are engage, engage, and engage.

Engage Stakeholders. As our networks grow and evolve, so do the needs of those who use them. It may seem obvious that the needs of the present may not be the same as those that existed when the network was first built. That is why we would want to upgrade our networks, right? But if we are looking to make an investment in an upgraded content management system, for example, we should make every effort to rely on more than our professional experience in making that decision.

Identifying and communicating with stakeholders such as content developers, marketing managers, support staff and anyone else involved with the signage networks we oversee is a good step forward but not enough. A Customer Needs Questionnaire (CNQ) can help gather clear metrics about the features and capabilities most important to those who actually use our networks on a daily basis. Having metrics is one of the keys to the next takeaway.

Engage Leadership. How often are we given a blank check and told to upgrade our networks? Seldom, if ever. Typically, to proceed with a major upgrade, the idea must be put together and presented to leadership for approval. Details vary widely but the essence is that we may be in a position where we need to convince leadership to move forward on an upgrade plan that we hope is in the best interests of our stakeholders.

Having completed CNQs, our proposals should clearly articulate how they will address the specific needs of the stakeholders and show how we are providing value. Additionally, we will want to evaluate the costs, project timelines, risks, etc. and perhaps outline the research that was done in finding the proposed solution and the alternatives that were considered.

It is the role of leadership to decide if and how our upgrade plans move forward. It is important that our plans do not stand alone but exist within a larger context. The better prepared we are, the better our chances for success.

Engage Stakeholders. With approval from leadership to move forward, we might have thought we would begin implementation. However, with sweeping changes and large numbers of stakeholders, it is important to re-engage the stakeholders regarding the details of implementation. Ideally, the implementation they see should be directly related to the input they provided along with timelines and any steps needed to prepare for the coming changes.

There are situations where our upgrade plans depend as much on stakeholder re-engagement as it does leadership. There are campuses that operate some services on a cost-recovery basis. The process of engaging leadership may yield a complete implementation plan along with a proposed rate model. The process of re-engagement of the stakeholders would determine if the stakeholders (campus units in this case), are willing to pay the suggested rate for the services we are willing to provide.

In the end, we know that first deployments of digital signage, especially at a small scale, can often be rolled out without much research or planning. Once established, any changes, large or small, raises the stakes for all those involved. In the end, overhauling our digital signage networks is all about engagement—all about the things we can do before a single change is made. Without engaging those we serve, we truly don’t know what we need. Without knowing what we need, we can’t (or at least shouldn’t) engage leadership. The most critical point I can make is that, without buy-in from leadership and affirmation from the stakeholders, we may  never have the opportunity to upgrade and overhaul our networks in the first place.

About Author

Senior Application Specialist
University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

FORMER MEMBER OF THE DSE ADVISORY BOARD
End User Council

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