Plan for the Future of Digital Signage
Here are a few tips on how to keep up with the technology.
By D. Craig MacCormack

With more than 300 content management software (CMS) systems available today, it’s difficult to navigate the crowded waters and figure out the best solution for your organization or institution.

Mike Zmuda, director of solutions development for NEC Display Solutions, talked about some tips in narrowing the field during “Content Is King,” an AVI-SPL University webinar focused on tips and tricks in customizing digital signage solutions. Click here to listen to the webinar.

“The most important thing you want to do is to try to future-proof your decision,” Zmuda said. “You want to be able to grow with your system. Whatever you think your digital signage needs are now, they could be completely different a year from now. That means understanding where you are now and where you want to go. There are certainly plenty of integrators who can help you do that.”

Among the most common uses for digital signage, Zmuda said, are security, video messaging, events, schedules, weather and way-finding. Those could change at some point down the line, but those uses are most popular and seem to have plenty of growth potential in each segment.

Narrowing the Field

Before deciding which CMS system is best for your digital signage installation, you need to decide whether you want to use open system architecture or a closed proprietary system. In open systems, the hardware and software don’t mix, Zmuda said, while they work together in a closed system.

Users have to understand how the system will change as the technology changes, he said. How will you be affected if the manufacturer goes out of business? What if the manufacturer stops supporting the hardware or software? What if the system has limited functionality?

In short, it’s better to use hardware and software packages that can be easily interchanged, Zmuda said. Because content management is still evolving, it’s important to consider what might be available in a few years, he said, noting that clients should focus on plug-and-play, best-of-breed systems.

To the Cloud?

The next question is whether users should host their own systems or move them to the cloud. Because most CMS users aren’t software companies and have their own companies to run, they likely don’t want to become specialists in a particular piece of software, Zmuda said. Hosted systems use Software as a Service (SaaS), eliminating the need for IT staff to learn and maintain another system. On top of that, updates become immediately available through hosted systems.

So, should you get an off-the-shelf CMS system or use an open source offering? Open source systems keep the costs low and are easily modified, but freeware isn’t designed to work well with it, Zmuda said. That means you’re relying on the “community” to report and, more importantly, fix bugs that crop up over time. In short, if you’re interested in reliability and long-term profitability, your best bet is to use off-the-shelf components, he says.

When it comes to ease of use, Zmuda said there’s almost nothing more important.

About the author
D. Craig MacCormack - Editor-at-Large, Commercial Integrator
Craig MacCormack is a veteran journalist with more than 15 years experience covering local and national news and sports as well as architecture and engineering. He is Editor-at-Large for TechDecisions' sister publication Commercial Integrator. Follow him on Twitter: @CraigMacCormack.

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