“Proprietary vs. Off-the-Shelf … when do you customize (software/hardware) vs. buy the product everyone else uses?”
The digital signage industry has matured. As an experienced digital signage Integrator, it would be difficult for me to think of a project that required a set of features for which 10 of the 600-plus existing CMS solutions would not work. The reason there are so many CMS solutions is because each time someone thought they needed something custom for their project, something new was developed, when in reality, all they really needed was a digital signage integrator who could comprehensively identify the needs of the project (because they asked the right questions) and one or more CMS solutions that would work.
Yes, every project can have a few unique needs, but I think it would be a stretch to suggest that one of the existing proven and already tested CMS solutions would not work, with some minor customization. A few examples that may require some customization include the need to interface with a database of some type, pull in a web page, or interface some triggering device to work with some emergency notification system.
I am confident that, whatever type of interface a digital signage system may require, it has already been created and what a project really needs is a digital signage integrator that knows where to look. That is not to suggest that some custom module(s) may have to be written to accomplish project goals, but to suggest a company engage in a completely new development of yet another CMS is simply an expensive and unproven path that will likely result in great frustration and delays unforeseen.
In the early days of digital signage, 15 to 20 years ago, yes it would be a worthy consideration to engage in creation of a proprietary CMS, but today, I would argue that this would be a path that leads to more challenges and budget overruns that one would ever conceive.
Working with more than 200 significant digital signage deployments, I can confirm that there is always some project customization, but more often, problems arise from choosing the wrong CMS. Compounding the problem is the fact that the project team may not have been properly trained, which means they don’t even knew where to look.
Note: An experienced and proven digital signage integrator will always require the project team to view their recommended solution to ensure the project team has proper expectations. If your integrator is not requiring you to have a comprehensive demo and sell you training, I would suggest you have the wrong integrator.
Hardware for digital signage has also matured. In the early days, projects were plagued with players that had spinning hard drives, which would fatigue and fail under the heavy-duty cycles of the digital signage project. The same would be true of monitors that were sold to serve the digital signage project, but would fail because they were not designed for the duty cycle required by digital signage. (Duty cycles often run 18 hours or more per day and seven days a week, while some applications like transportation and gaming run 24/7; 365). While picking the right hardware is often one of the easier elements of the digital signage ecosystem, it is far more important to consider connectivity and implications of operating on existing networks and exactly what your content strategy is going to be.
I am in no way suggesting that digital signage is simple. I am just saying that there are no excuses for a project to fail because the wrong CMS was chosen or the wrong hardware was used. NO Excuses.