The CMS-Where the Work is Done
The CMS-Where the Work is Done
By Alan C. Brawn CTS, ISF-C, DSCE, DSDE, DSNE, DCME, DSSP
As we prepare to shed some much-needed light on the crucial importance of a content management system (aka. a CMS), keep in mind all that “feeds” it. We have the Internet of Things (IoT) facilitating an (ever increasingly) connected world where every technology seems to be capable of connecting to one another. We have a barrage of information that is available to us collectively referred to as big data and knowing what to do with it all is critical. Speaking of critical, we have analytics that entails the analysis of data as well as the prediction of what that data means moving forward. File this under the old MBA course axiom which tells us that “you can’t manage what you can’t measure”. Speaking of management this is where the CMS rises to the top of the heap in importance for our consideration.
Think about it this way… The CMS is where the actual work is done. It is the place where content is imported and, in some cases, stored. It then manages, distributes, and in many cases reports on where the data/content is, where it is going, and who will have access to it. This is true for an ad-based or information-based system. You may not think about the CMS as a stand-alone entity just as you don’t think about the operating system on your computer, but you will continuously think about the work it is doing and how well it is doing it.
There are hundreds of companies currently selling generic digital signage CMS software. The requirements of vertical markets also encourage smaller companies to develop their own CMS software packages for a specific vertical application such as QSRs, hospitality, or healthcare. The differences between general purpose CMS products will typically be small… Our research shows that almost all CMS software does similar things, but individual products do those things in diverse ways (i.e., UX, workflow, reporting, integrations with external software, etc.). Most often, it is the complexity of the user interface (and thus the user experience) that becomes the differentiator. More features may result in more complexity… which may or may not be needed.
This means one of the most important choices to make is which software vendor to partner with. If you are dealing with a small network of just a few screens, selection of software is much simpler. Just choose whatever appeals to you relative to the user interface. However, larger scale rollouts require more careful consideration.
Digital signage software packages usually consist of a group of components, each designed to perform specific tasks. These components create the software “engine” that drives your digital signage network. Vendors may call these parts by different names… but they still fall into a few straightforward categories. Let’s look at the basic components, and what they do. The player is the component that resides on the media player and will render the content for the media player to send to the display. The server component of the CMS package handles scheduling the distribution of media to the player software. Some software packages may have separate scheduling and player management components, that are not integrated into single interface inside the server software. This simply means that those functions exist in a separate interface (or even a separate application). The server will connect to a network, or the internet, allowing flexibility in having multiple people interact with the system. Content creation is a key aspect of the digital signage software. There are two basic methods that the signage software packages may utilize for allowing the user to handle content. The first method adopted by essentially all CMS products, is to allow the user to work with standard content types and import them into the signage software. The second method for content creation, is entirely integrated tools, that allows the user to design, and create, content within the software package itself. Once again CMS vendors may use different names for their components, but the work they do in each case is similar.
There are two types of CMS purchasing model. One is on-premise (self-hosted), sometimes abbreviated as “on-prem”. This operates under the concept that the end user is going to purchase the software up front and host/manage it themselves within their corporate network environment. The second is software as a service (provider hosted), abbreviated as “SaaS”, which operates under a subscription model. The end user has little to no out-of-pocket expense in setting up the software but pays a per display / per month (or year) subscription fee to the software provider. The software provider then hosts the server software and offers use as a service. This is generally also referred to as “cloud” software.
With so many CMS vendors to choose from this begs the question of how to approach this all-important decision. The following is our guidance of what to look for and questions to ask:
- Take published reports, ratings and rankings lists with a (potentially large) grain of salt. Reports, ratings, and ranking lists are often colored by sponsors, partners, and personal bias.
- Track records count. How long has the company been in business? How large is the installed base and what is its makeup? Think risk.
- References speak volumes. If possible, see if you can speak directly to satisfied clients with like needs to your own.
- Live together first. Evaluation demo licenses are a must. Use the platform, learn it, and think about how it works in the real world… your world before you commit.
- Test the service support. Ask for help and support on an issue even if you do not really have a problem. You will discover first-hand the level and quality of their support.
- What is included? A common phrase is “turnkey solution”. Exactly what does this include and what “other fees” are charged?
- Look beyond the glitz and glamour. While a graphically attractive GUI is a plus, it can mask underlying weaknesses. There must be a stable platform especially in the player engine.
- One size does NOT fit all! Most software vendors handle the basics but if you have a specialized application, you are better off with a vendor who is experienced in the niche and has a development roadmap focused on that.
- Think outside the box. Look at how it handles additional features you may wish to add, and if it can integrate with other software solutions. Open architecture provides an “out” and a fallback position.
- Is it secure? Security is one of the hot button issues surrounding any PC installation, especially within digital signage. Be aware of how the playback software handles security.
- What in store for the future? Ask if there is there a realistic software developmental roadmap?
- Who is on the team? Today you can fool people into thinking you are bigger than you are in a business sense. So, check out the staff and what they do. Your project may depend on them.
- What is in a release? How is the product developed, tested, and released? Are there beta test releases and what is the timing?
- Reduce service calls! Service calls are expensive so look for software that can recover itself and handle restarting the system from a crash, with no user interaction.
Research shows that a typical end user changes CMS providers every three years. The reasons can be traced to a few issues.
- Dissatisfaction with glitches or errors in operation.
- Dissatisfaction with provided support (availability and timeliness).
- Requirement for additional features or capabilities.
- Price or recurring fees.
The bottom line is that if the proper digital signage network due diligence is done up front, the match of the CMS to the application can be seamless and last a long time. Remember you get what you pay for!