By Alan C. Brawn CTS, DSCE, DSDE, DSNE, DCME, ISF-C
One topic that comes up in almost all of the conversations we engage in relative to digital signage, is the concept that it looks simple on the surface but in actuality is very complex. Truth be told it does appear simple and some even try as they might to treat it as a commodity. After all, you put up a nice flat panel display on a wall, connect it to electricity, and then feed some video into it and voila, people view it. Now how tough is that? The answer of course is that it can be very tough and complex if it is to be properly designed and implemented and anything but simple or a commodity. The concept of plug and play does not fit in this category to anyone but the uninitiated.
While we will be preaching to the proverbial choir to some in terms of the complexities involved, it serves us all well to remind ourselves that digital signage is made up of distinct elements or segments each of which has its own set of issues along with twists and turns to consider. The Digital Signage Experts Group teaches these as The 7 Key Elements of Digital Signage which is intended to be used as a tool to keep all of the issues or elements involved in focus and not get lost in the process along the way. The Key Elements in order of complexity are; Business, Content, Design, Software, Hardware, Connectivity-Networking, and Operations. What exacerbates all of the complexities that we speak about is that each one of the elements interacts with and is dependent upon all the others. It is also a truism that each of the 7 Key Elements is used in each and every digital signage project from a single screen in a local school up to a multi-thousand screen roll-out in a national retail chain. Hopefully the real complexities of digital signage are beginning to become more apparent.
Just consider the most complex issue, business, as an example. Before a project can be designed or software or hardware selected, there must be a business case for actually doing it. From a business perspective the first complexity is to figure out what the digital signage system is intended to do. These are called the objectives and they must be noted and articulated before all else. Then the return on investments and return on objectives must be addressed and quantified, making sure to take total cost of ownership and any offsetting revenues into consideration. Research shows that the number one reason for failure of a digital signage network is the lack of business analysis and planning up front before any other step is taken.
We used business as an example but in each of the key elements there are complexities, options, and challenges to consider. This begs the question of how to learn what each element entails and understanding what needs to be considered each step of the way. Probably the most common way to learn is via trial and error. In short, a person dives in and learns to swim in the digital signage pool or in some cases sinks as a result. I like to use the metaphor of creating a paint color to illustrate why this is not the best approach. If you want to get grey paint, you can start with black and keep adding white paint to it and at some point, perhaps many, many gallons later you will get the shade of grey you wanted in the first place. Another approach is to start with white paint and add black to it and in a few gallons you will end up with grey. Both methods ultimately get you to the same spot but one take less time and is much less expensive. With no disrespect for the trial and error method, there are better and more efficient means to learn about digital signage and from some credible sources of that information to boot.
Many organizations and associations involved in digital signage realized some time ago that an educated and knowledgeable industry professional was not only a great goal but also the way to insure the growth of the industry and long term sustainability overall. We do not have the space to provide a definitive listing of all the education that is available out there but the following trade show organizations do provide impartial, agnostic, and vendor neutral education that should be considered from a professional growth perspective.
The granddaddy of them all is the Digital Signage Expo which started out 11 years ago as the Digital Retail Expo. Your trusty scribe has been involved with them from an educational perspective since the beginning and from the very first DRE they have provided vendor neutral, industry specific educational tracks at every event. They utilize an all-volunteer board of advisers who recommend the education tracks and topics and each year they evaluate the attendees at their events and what needs to be offered relative to the changing landscape of the industry.
Recognizing the opportunities for the traditional signage industry for their members and attendees, the International Sign Association has initiated a full day of what they call dynamic digital signage courses prior to the opening of their ISA Sign Expo and during the even they feature a dynamic digital signage park and a stage where presentations are conducted throughout the event. The courses are selected by their educational committee and are targeted at teaching the fundamentals and addressing the concerns of sign shops who want to engage in this evolving platform as additional revenues for the business.
On the Pro AV side of things, InfoComm has a long and well-earned reputation for their educational programs going back over 25 years. In 2014 they have expanded their digital signage offerings with classes focused specifically on digital signage and while they have had a digital signage center stage in the exhibit hall for several years, this year they added a full day of digital signage education focused on end users and the evaluation of digital signage for their applications.
While the big events are the most obvious examples, there are several regional based trade shows that also offer some solid opportunities for education and they may well be coming to an area near you. The ones that stick out are the Almo E4, Stampede Big Book of AV tour, and both the Ingram Micro and Synnex Varnex reseller events. There are several of these around the country and they are a miniature versions of a big show like InfoComm but with a good cross section of manufacturers and aimed at people who might not be able to attend the national events. In both cases, education is provided as a value add for their attendees and many times the focus is on digital signage.
Of course manufacturers offer education on digital signage and as suspected, more often than not it focuses on their own products but there are great examples of companies that offer education not tied into specific products. One such example is Samsung and their Samsung University offerings. This program is vendor neutral and covers numerous digital signage specific topics. These classes are provided to Samsung tier one distributors as a value added benefit for their resellers. As a side note, it is important to note that there is nothing wrong in taking a course dedicated to a given manufacturers products. In fact, the majority of the time, valuable
information is presented with a specific brand or item addressing a need or a problem. In these cases it is important to separate general knowledge from promoting of a given product that you may in the end want to use.
Another source of education is a trade association or federation. From the perspective of digital signage, the Digital Signage Federation is a great place to look. The DSF addresses the diverse constituencies that make up our industry and embraces all of those that supply and support the industry and both network operators and end users alike. I cannot say it better than to quote part of their mission statement; “To this end, we partner with our members and key organizations to provide education, networking, and advocacy to continue moving the growth of the industry forward. So whether you are launching a new ad-based network or you’ve been around since the inception of digital signage, our hope is that you will find the resources you need to thrive.” The DSF is one of the sponsors of the DSE and provides vendor neutral educational seminars and webinars and is a focal point for writers and speakers on the topic of digital signage.
Last but not least in our examples of formal digital signage education is the Digital Signage Experts Group. DSEG is founded on the concept that an educated participant and end user is in the best interest of the entire industry and insures integrity, credibility, professionalism, and continued growth. Working within the commercial AV, IT and signage industries and in cooperation with manufacturers, distributors, designers and integrators as well as the creative community, DSEG is an industry wide organization dedicated to providing impartial, agnostic and vendor neutral education and certification programs for the complex digital signage industry, and all the technologies and services driving it. The Digital Signage Experts Group works in concert with an advisory board of recognized digital signage industry experts to advance the level of professionalism within the community. The “heart” of the curriculum is a one day digital signage certification entitled the Digital Signage Certified Expert (DSCE) and it is founded on The 7 Key Elements of Digital Signage. Also offered are certifications in the areas displays (DSDE), networks (DSNE), content and media (DCME), and soon a sales professional course the DSSP. Courses are available online or at select live events around the country.
As a parting shot on a topic that ads to a person’s education and knowledge, we are often asked where to go for current news relating to the digital signage industry. As with all news reporting and op-ed pieces the reader needs to look at a cross section of what is being said either online or on the blogs or at the websites of the associations and trade shows in order to get a balanced look. That being said, my first suggestion is to go to good old Google and set it up to report back to you on a daily basis what they have under the subject of digital signage. Yes you get some “stuff” that is of no interest to your specific applications but it is a great place to peruse what is going on and help keep your hand on the pulse of the industry. For solid reporting on industry trends and major events you cannot beat Digital Signage Weekly and the Digital Signage Connection. Under the heading of the “most read” spot for industry rumors, trends, merger and acquisitions, people on the move, special events, and also frank and sometimes controversial opinions is the Daily DooH. For those that just want the headlines, Digital Signage Pulse is an aggregator of digital signage news from a lot of disparate sources including those noted above is. I just have to add one more recommendation for those who are interested in the investment side. The folks at Peter J Solomon Company put out a monthly media newsletter that is very insightful to say the least.
It is the attainment of education and knowledge that flies in the face of the patently false concept that digital signage is either easy or a commodity. As long as there are the very real variables that we must work with in order to design, build, create content for, and operate a digital signage network, we need professionals to perform those tasks. It boils down to the human factor and knowledge that makes all the difference. The good news is that there is plenty of education out there and it is now up to you to take advantage of that to perfect your skills and provide tangible value to your clients.