Point-and-click enterprise wide digital signage management

An enterprise or a retailer has to clear many hurdles in order to distribute marketing content through digital signage displays throughout a national or global network.

A centrally managed digital signage network by Reflect Systems software drives content to displays at Virgin Megastores. Click here to view an enlarged diagram.

Outside consultants perform the difficult and costly task of connecting dozens of networked PCs controlling individual digital signage displays to a satellite or terrestrial connection. At the end of this costly process, regional marketing managers and local store managers often must work with a limited selection of digital signage feeds. If the feed does not fit one region’s needs, marketers struggle to tailor it on-the-fly. The burning need is to combine efficient centralized content with distributed content management.

With this in mind, developers of large-scale digital signage solutions are looking to provide easy-to-use, cost-effective display solutions using content stored at a central server that are easily tailored at the regional or local level by less-technical marketing and merchandising staff. Dallas-based Reflect Systems says its ReflectView solution provides this capability, with the flexibility to work with a company’s existing PCs, distributed servers, reporting tools, network management, and centralized content control and security.

“Our focus is more on the enterprise. We had a vision to create a software-based infrastructure that anybody can use to create content and distribute it with one or two clicks. It is a software based system – not the hardware, software, and professional services integration – and it is administered wholly on IP [Internet protocol] networks,” said Reflect Systems CEO Stan Woodward.

The result is a system in which up to 16 zones of video content can be controlled per server ,rather than the one-PC-per-display model more common to narrowcasting networks. Centrally stored content can be tailored at the headquarters level or by the local store or department manager, delivering specialized content to target specific customer traffic patterns and interest.

For large retail chains, the benefits of this arrangement are fairly obvious, Woodward said. Every region will have a different audience with different tastes and sales needs. If the company is only able to broadcast one canned feed across its national or global network, each region and local store cannot count on getting the right message to its customers. A car dealership promoting minivans, SUVs and station wagons is not going to benefit from a sports and racecars feed. Record store patrons don’t have to watch Jay-Z throughout the store – the Toby Keith video plays in the country section, Cold Play is in the alternative section and clips from the "Haunted Mansion" are showing in the DVD section.

Customization opens up a new door for marketers. Typically, digital signage network feeds come with a canned set of reports that confirms a video ran and tallies how many times a feed broadcasted and when. Now, Reflect Systems enables integration of real-time reporting of sales data, so that individual marketing and store managers can adjust content on-the-fly according to what needs to be sold.

“In the end, digital signage networks are going to be able to program feeds based on current inventory and sales opportunities that need to be capitalized on at a given moment,” said Woodward.

Although retailers are poised to gain greatly from enhanced digital signage networks, business enterprises of all types also can benefit from being able to tailor messages to every level of employee, as well as to customers and suppliers.

“Enterprises have a mix of needs – they’ve got lobby areas and employee common areas where they want to put signage,” said Woodward. “They want to be able to put up information about company happenings and events, but they also want to market in a subtle way. A company information loop can create a powerful experience for vendors, clients and partners.” Company press conferences, shareholder meetings and quarterly earnings news coverage can be shown in a lobby or on a desktop.

“The biggest thing we see from employee surveys is that people don’t feel connected to management. When a message gets filtered four or five levels down from the executive board, employees can lose touch. This kind of technology basically cuts right through that, so no matter where you are in the company – at your desktop, at the breakroom TV or wherever – you’re not left out of the process. There’s no place in the company where people can’t hear that message – and it’s consistent. There’s no doubt about what the communication is from the CEO, or how the union negotiation is going,” said Woodward, citing surveys indicating 20 percent-higher stock prices for companies that communicated more with their employees.

Woodward hopes applications like ReflectView also meet the CTO's and CIO’s challenge of bringing this capability within a sound budget. He asserts that integrating existing infrastructure into a network with more than 30-site systems has been a challenge. But with a single server controlling many zones, it may turn out to be easier to sell a project that will affect four or more zones at once. More importantly, it will help the bottom line for companies to be able to control the entire network from end-to-end, he added. Moreover, companies mitigate risk by having the core of the digital signage network in one central location rather than being at the mercy of several individual servers and desktops.

What may help the bottom line most is fitting this technology around existing infrastructure.

“We’re saying ‘don’t change your desktop, don’t change your monitors, your LAN [local area network] or WAN [wide area network]. We’ll lay this in on top of what you have and it will work,” Woodward said. “In the end, the goal is for the company to own the whole the technology and the message from an IT and marketing standpoint, respectively, and be able to adjust either locally.”

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