Digital Signage systems can be as complex or as simple as you like. The extensive adoption of digital signage in supermarkets, offices, campuses, restaurant franchises and the rest has fuelled rapid innovation in the hardware and software we use to enable it.
The market is flooded with technology aimed at improving the signage systems we deploy, making them faster, more resilient, more secure and easier to use. From incredibly high-definition displays to intelligent cloud-based platforms, a buyer has no shortage of options when it comes to establishing their digital signage system.
It can, however, become overwhelming. Particularly for those with a limited knowledge of the technology needed to deploy an effective system of digital signage. There is an extensive list of device manufacturers, hardware suppliers, software sellers and integration specialists which can make it seem like an exhausting and expensive process to undertake.
The most important thing to remember though, is that there are only 3 key elements of digital signage that need your attention. A functioning signage system can be established by simply linking together a display (screen or monitor), a media player and the software that brings it to life.
It is more-often-than-not the choice of software that can be the most difficult decision to make. Understanding what you need the software to do will inform this decision. Whether you are deploying a large network of digital screens across multiple locations, or you are installing a singular display in your store, being able to control and monitor the system with ease will be your main priority. That is what the software facilitates – content management and device management.
In any modern digital display it is necessary to have a system that creates, uploads and distributes your content, but also a means of monitoring how this content, and the hardware that plays it, is performing within your deployed signage. This is the difference between Content Management Systems (CMS) and Device Management Systems (DMS).
Content Management Systems
The primary role of a Content Management System is to simply control the media that is displayed on the deployed signage. A digital display’s media player will encode the content onto the screen as required, but it must be told by the CMS what to show, in what format, when, and for how long.
Most modern Content Management Systems operate with a user interface in place to serve as a platform from where the required media can be distributed out to the network of screens. Different CMS platforms will have a variety of abilities, ranging from the most basic systems where content can simply be uploaded and scheduled, to the more technical systems which allow the user to create and edit content from templates or from scratch, build playlists, establish multi-channel programs, and construct rules and regulations around content playback.
For the user, the goal should be to have complete control over the content that is played on your digital devices and that is best achieved with a CMS that is intuitive to use and requires no training. It should be as easy as the average phone application to adopt and integrate with your signage system. Many CMS providers offer free trials of their software for this reason. Signage operators can also develop their own proprietary CMS if they have the resources and see the need for the software to be native to their own network of screens.
Consideration must also be given to the interoperability of your CMS and the infrastructure you have in place. Today, the preferred approach to connectivity is through the cloud. Cloud connectivity means the signage manager can update, upload and schedule content from any device, anywhere. The alternate, and more traditional, method is on-premise management. On-premise management is completely suitable for displays that are contained to one venue and only need to be managed from that location.
Another feature of Content Management Systems that some vendors will advertise as a part of their CMS offering is the ability to remotely monitor deployed systems from a technical standpoint. This process is technically device management and it’s important to know that certain CMS systems don’t include this capability, but it’s a vitally important aspect of an effective digital signage system.
Device Management Systems
As noted, Device Management Systems can be considered an inclusion of a Content Management System but it’s not particularly built into all CMS platforms.
Having solid management devices in place ensures that digital signage devices are analysed, monitored, and failures are prevented. They can carry out necessary checks and provide reports on details such as media player health status, updating of the components on the system, taking action against the devices such as carrying out updates, reboots, and general maintenance.
The best device management systems can monitor each digital signage player in the field and display relevant data on an intuitive user interface. Users can log in to their online accounts and see the statuses of their screens across multiple locations. It also allows end-users to see what content, at which times, is performing best. This is essential to optimising the messaging, refining the content schedule, and gauging the performance of network components.
Having a powerful CMS can ensure you have the right content playing at the right times, but if it is not secure or is plagued by malfunctions in software or hardware, then your valued advertisements, messages or information are compromised. Device security is imperative to preventing system hacks, bugs and any downtime that results. A secure system is facilitated by a device management system.
Downtime can also be a result of poor signage health and functionality. DMS ensures the reader can get immediate reports on any malfunctioning units and remotely fix the issues or quickly deploy technicians to site if required.
As you can see, the two systems for managing content and devices are varied and of equal importance. Whilst some will talk about device management as a provision of content management, that is not always the case. Plenty of the flashy new CMS products on market are exclusively for creating, uploading and scheduling content. They will not supply the necessary tools for monitoring and reporting information back to the user that will ensure display security, minimise downtime and moderate hardware functionality. Digital signage is an expensive investment upfront so it is vitally important to support the investment with effective, reliable software.
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