Practical Lessons Learned From a Digital Signage Network Overhaul


*Written by Steven Schultz and originally published by

Imagine going to the airport to catch a flight for the vacation of your dreams, and finding no information about flight schedules or where to go to catch your plane. How quickly excitement would turn to frustration. Indeed, the very business of any airport is to facilitate passenger movement from the front curb through security and onto an aircraft, for which good digital signage is critical.

The Situation

The Jacksonville International Airport (JIA) in northeast Florida serves 5.5 million passengers each year. Over the course of time, JIA had acquired three digital media management solutions, and all three were end-of-life. Content was “functional,” but did not support the JIA brand or enhance the traveler’s experience. This was the perfect opportunity to replace all three solutions with a single solution that was robust enough to meet the various needs of different stakeholders, and yet friendly enough that technical support as well as business ownership could be handled by JIA personnel. Further, it represented an opportunity for the business to change its processes, gain efficiencies and achieve outcomes that were not previously possible with the original solutions.

A project of this type had to be approached carefully because it impacted multiple areas.

Not only would it affect the ability of passengers to navigate the airport and locate their gate, but the existing signage also featured third-party advertising, so any change would impact advertising revenues. And, if something went wrong, it would do so in a very public fashion, meaning the traveling public would notice immediately.

In today’s world of social media, negative information proliferates at the speed of light. So how best to navigate through a project like this? There are several important factors, the first of which is to ensure that ALL the stakeholders have been engaged. The second challenge is to think through and anticipate all the potential risks involved and develop a strong mitigation strategy. Third – and I cannot stress this enough – you must communicate, communicate, communicate. This isn’t exactly rocket science, but the reality is that these challenges are exceedingly hard to handle well.

Jacksonville International AirportOur Process

Beginning with stakeholder engagement, the correct stakeholders may not always be obvious. For the JIA project, we started with business development (advertising), landside/airside operations (flight information displays) and information technology. We began with the questions: “What do we want to achieve at the end of the day,” and “What do we want the visuals to look like?” This made us realize that personnel from brand management needed to be included, which led to questions that required input from folks in safety and security. Through an RFP process, Art of Context was selected to help JIA with integration and design, and they became an integral part of the team.

These stakeholders were responsible for determining the final solution requirements, had ownership of the final pre-production designs, performed User Acceptance Testing and ultimately owned the production content. Various stakeholders participated in the project at various times, depending on the specific scope that was being developed. Even at that surprisingly, there were ideas and requests that the project team had not initially anticipated. For example, safety and security staff wanted to be able to take over any screen in the terminal with emergency messages in the event that something happened that could cause the terminal to be evacuated. Business development personnel suggested using the signs to build the “sense of place” and support local events. Another idea was to show different backgrounds during special events, such as a golf theme during the Tournament Players Championship. We began to think about way-finding in terms of enticing people to think about what they might want as they travel, and then help them find it, rather than just present a digital map to the terminal. We even thought about the friends and loved ones that are picking up passengers traveling to Jacksonville and included signage in the courtesy waiting lot to tell them when flights had arrived so they would know to drive to the arrivals area. Having the right people at the table allowed us to move beyond just being “functional” into a more holistic thought process.

The next key area to consider is risk analysis. Risk analysis actually falls into two broad categories: Project risk, meaning a risk that will affect scope, cost or schedule of the project, and deployment (or operational) risk, meaning the risk to the organization and its operations when the new technology comes on-line.

Project risk management is often included as part of a project process, but deployment risk often gets less attention. Because of the public nature of JIA’s digital signage, the project team felt that deployment risk was extremely high. If things did not go well, the various airlines would not be able to communicate at which gates flights were located and if the flights were on time. Clearly, the inability to do so would create a very chaotic and confusing environment for both the airlines as well as the travelling public. To mitigate this risk, the project took two specific steps.

First, a lab environment was built, and all content was run in the lab environment to ensure correctness of data as well as stability of the solution. The lab environment also provided the means for the stakeholders to review the final content and sign off on the solution prior to production migration. Taking this extra step ensured a level of ownership from the business side.

Second, the deployment to production was staged over several months, allowing those items with less risk to migrate first. Initially, this also meant that the old media players and servers were left in place in the event there was a deployment problem, which would have allowed us to put the old system back into production.

Because the advertising layouts were the simplest and perceived to be less of a business threat than negatively affecting flight information displays, that content migrated first. With regards to project risk, JIA follows a formal systems development life cycle. When the RFP was issued to select an integrator, the RFP specified that this project deployment methodology would be followed. What resulted was a fixed-price bid, with milestone deliverables tied to the payments. If milestones were not reached, or not reached in a timely fashion, then payment would be held until that milestone was satisfactorily completed. The process also demanded that the stakeholders sign-off on the designs, perform pre-production testing and sign off that the product was production ready. Any scope that was not included in the original RFP was considered only through a formal project scope change control document that analyzed the impact of the requested change.

The third critical factor of success is communication. This sounds easy and everyone thinks they do it well, but the reality is that it is exceedingly hard to do well organizationally. A project of this type is particularly vulnerable to the opinions of upper management who may not be part of the core project team. Imagine spending weeks or months developing content with the project team in perfect concert, and at go-live, the CEO says something like “I don’t like it, and I don’t think that is the right passenger experience.” If that happens, the project basically dies at that point. To head off this type of problem, project information and visuals that were being developed were communicated in several different ways:

  • Project status reports were sent out periodically to executive management and other business stakeholders including samples of what the project team was thinking.
  • The project was reviewed every other month in the technology governance meetings by the executive management team.
  • The lab environment was created in a space in JIA’s administration building that everyone could access and get a “first hand” experience with the proposed content.
  • The project team took on the role of “evangelist.” We were all prepared with an elevator speech, and took opportunity to talk to everyone we encountered.

If a team member got in the elevator with a vice president, they would say something like “We finished our designs. They are running in our lab. Do you have time for me to show you?” In this way, we consciously tried to reach as many of our key executive stakeholders as possible with formal meetings, information conversations and formal project communications. Internally, the project team met weekly, even if we felt we didn’t have much on the agenda that week. The meetings always turned into something productive, even if it was only to review design ideas and build alignment.

The Result

JIA now enjoys a digital media management system that supports the JIA brand, ADA compliance requirements, emergency communications and enhances the traveler experience deployed in a safe, rational manner that caused no business disruption. The system has provided a higher level of stability and reliability for the business than the old systems, and the business continues to come up with new ideas to expand its use.

*Written by Steven Schultz and originally published by

Author Steven Schultz will present Seminar 25 entitled, “Practical Lessons Learned from a Digital Signage Network Overhaul,” on Wednesday, March 29 at 2 p.m. at DSE 2017 to be held at the Las Vegas Convention Center. For more information on this or any educational program offered at DSE 2017 or to learn more about digital signage go to

About Steven Schultz:

Mr. Schultz joined the Jacksonville Aviation Authority in 2012, and has been working with executive management to implement corporate Information Technology (IT) governance structure as well as put in place needed IT processes and procedures to build a sustainable IT program. This effort has already realized an excess of $500,000 reduction in IT costs, while also building an equipment refresh program and 5-year IT-Business plan. Implementation of a rolling 5-year systems upgrade cycle has included JAA’s digital signage, access control systems, video surveillance systems, and ERP.

About the Digital Signage Federation:

DSF’s Mission is to support and promote the common business interests of the world-wide digital signage, interactive technologies and the digital out-of-home network industries. The DSF is a not-for-profit independent voice of the digital signage industry reflecting the diversity of its membership. It promotes professional recognition through certifications, continuing education, conferences, publications, and presentations offered by the DSF and affiliate groups. It provides government lobbying to leverage the collective strength of members and represent their interests at the higher levels of government and the community. The DSF provides leadership and networking opportunities focused on building a strong foundation for the advancement of the digital signage industry. For more information, visit


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