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Digital Signage’s Growing Role In The AV World

We have become accustomed to seeing digital-signage screens everywhere. Whether we’re at our local bank, grocery store, dentist’s office or anywhere in between, we expect to see a screen that will provide us with relevant information so we can make decisions in that space. Those screens have become the first impression that businesses give us about the products and services they offer, and what they consider important for their audience to know. In the context of retail, that sign might be the difference between a customer walking into the store or walking right by. In banking, it might be the difference between inquiring about a loan product and continuing down the street.

As more businesses come to realize that digital signage is an important aspect of communicating with their audience, we’re seeing the digital-signage industry grow quickly. There are now more companies involved in some aspect of digital signage than any one person could expect to inventory. Some deployments are so simple that they no longer require an AV company to help with the install; they’re simple, plug-and-play systems. So, where does that leave us?

As the need for digital signage has grown, we’ve seen it evolve to the point that putting static information on the screens and walking away is woefully insufficient. That information must now be delivered in a contextual manner. In addition, in many cases, digital signage now offers real-time information that changes automatically as the data that feeds it changes. For example, a restaurant that serves both ice cream and hot chocolate can now automatically advertise the correct product, at the correct time, based on the temperature outside, without the need for manual intervention. As another example, over the last couple of years, we’ve come to see airports have digital screens that show us the duration of the wait at security—and that message is conveyed in different languages. As we see these trends grow, having the ability to get data in and out of systems will become ever more important.

In light of the ability to utilize all this data, customer expectations of what digital signage can and should do are evolving. That’s where the opportunity lies for us in the AV industry. Our expertise will be required to deploy solutions that get data onto screens from Internet of Things (IoT) devices, various databases and application program interface (API) integrations. Unfortunately, not all of us in the AV industry are ready for this change. However, it’s important that we get there quickly if we want to benefit from this growth.

When you look at an airport that shows dynamic security-line wait times on a screen, multiple vendors have to be involved to make that work. A vendor has to provide people-tracking technology; a digital-signage content management system (CMS) has to collect that information and display it on the right screen; IT services have to make the integration between the sensors and the CMS; a design company has to make the content on the screen look visually appealing; hardware companies have to manufacture the screen, the cabling and perhaps the media player; and an AV company has to put it all together.

You might think that level of collaboration results from airports being complex. Maybe you don’t need that many parties to work together for a straightforward project like installing a menu board at a restaurant, right? The truth is, expectations are changing in spaces like that, as well, meaning there’s an opportunity to provide value and bring our expertise to the table. Some restaurants now have their menu boards integrated with their point-of-sale (POS) systems to pull in pricing information, thereby ensuring it’s always up to date. Some restaurants have those menu boards highlight certain items when inventory is high (or when some other, restaurant-owner-determined criterion is met). Now, a simple menu-board project that the restaurant might have been able to set up itself has expanded, and it requires IT expertise to make the integration between the POS system, the signage CMS and the inventory system. That’s an opportunity for integrators to provide value-adding services to clients, and it’s an opportunity that requires knowledge of the right media player, content design and screen manufacturer to put it all together.

example of airport AV design
An airport installation that has multiple components, including integration with a flight-information database, airport advertising network and touchscreen wayfinding.

It’s unrealistic to expect that any one AV company can do all this work alone. In fact, it’s probably unwise for any integrator to go it alone, as no one can be an expert in all these areas. However, for those who are willing to embrace IT, partner with multiple vendors on their projects and learn how to incorporate IoT devices into their deployments, there is a lot of opportunity out there.

The AV companies that will be best positioned to take advantage of the evolving customer expectations around digital signage are those that embrace IT and understand how to put together a full solution. Although companies like this exist today, there aren’t enough of them. These companies have either built in-house expertise or cultivated vendor partners that help them with IT-services-related project components. Those components include integration services with APIs that allow different systems to function together: for example, a manufacturing plant that can show data from its enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, safety/emergency-notification system and HR system all on the same screen.

AV companies that do a great job bringing together multiple vendors on each project to meet client needs will be well positioned. If there is a vendor/company that thinks it can tackle these kinds of projects alone, odds are it’s looking at a very narrow scope. Companies that go a step further and bring in not just multiple vendors but also partners—those who have a hand in the design or architecture of a space, as well as folks from other lines of business within the client—will often have a better handle on how to meet an organization’s overall objectives.

Finally, AV companies have to understand how to incorporate edge technologies (IoT devices) into projects. These devices include facial-recognition cameras, radio-frequency identification (RFID) sensors, movement sensors and more. A lot of data is captured at the edge, so having the ability to show that information on a screen or have that information trigger a change will be vital to customers. Some example use cases are as follows: a facial-recognition camera sensing whether a man or a woman is standing in front a retail window and changing the content based on that; keeping a screen powered off to conserve energy until a motion sensor detects movement and turns on the screen.

As we continue to see more screens and IoT devices in our daily lives, our expectations as regards the type of information those screens provide is going to change. For some businesses, this might present an opportunity for a competitive advantage. In all likelihood, companies that can not only hang up screens, but also provide services to help clients connect their data and bring in the right partners to augment the project, will win more business as compared to those simply concerned with a basic AV install. This ability to provide value-added services around data integration is a part of the digital-transformation journey that a lot of organizations say they’re embarking on. The companies within the AV world that are able to provide these solutions, I believe, are poised for success.