Future-Proof Digital Signage Solutions


Take InterSpace Computers, a VAR in Louisville, Ky., which, like many VARs in the market, is just in the initial stages of rolling out digital signage systems to its customers. The VAR's interest in digital signage was spurred by its growth in point-of-sale (POS) systems, the fastest-growing part of its business. The same customers that turned to InterSpace to sell and support their POS systems were also interested in ways to use digital signage in their stores.

For now, InterSpace offers traditional digital signage solutions, in which customers buy hardware and software and manage it themselves, but it also offers a hosted digital signage solution and is hoping to move deeper into the hosted approach, which is a much more lucrative model with a recurring revenue stream.

"We are really pushing the hosted, or managed, solution, where we host the software along with doing the update service," says Joe Sykora, president and CEO of InterSpace.

The company's desire to move more deeply into the hosted model led it to choose digital signage software provider Helius, Lindon, Utah.

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"Their bandwidth to do remote updates is fantastic," Sykora says.

InterSpace is also working with Helius and advertisers to develop the best way to provide its customers with digital signage systems that let advertisers rent space on the screens and, in turn, create a source of revenue for both itself and its customers.

In this model, customers get the hardware free and are charged a low-cost monthly fee. That model is very appealing to many of InterSpace's customers because it offers a low barrier of entry into digital signage as well as a potential revenue source.

When searching for a digital signage software vendor, VARs need to choose ones giving them the capability to create systems that tap into RFID and other technologies that will enable more interactive systems in the future.

"You can just replace posters with LCDs, but you can print a lot of posters, ship them, and pay a kid to pin 'em up for less than the cost of an LCD. But if you mix in the concept of interactivity, and the screen changes when somebody is nearby, that is the future," says Mike Tippets, president and CEO of Helius.

Digital signage software pioneer Scala agrees that the extensibility of software is key. The company's software enables systems integrators to link digital signage systems with POS systems and RFID technologies.

By linking a signage system to a POS system that manages inventory in real-time, a store that ran out of a product it was promoting via signage, as an example, would be automatically registered and the promotion changed to another product on the fly, according to Dick Trask, director of marketing at Philadelphia-based Scala.

"There are a lot of systems out there today not running more than PowerPoint systems, and this is not really capturing the biggest advantage with digital signage, which is to be able to deliver a focused message to the right person at the right time at the right location," Trask says.

Many VARs deploying digital signage systems are still moving cautiously with more sophisticated systems that use RFID or link to POS systems, as many challenges still abound, such as high installation costs, ROI skepticism and long sales cycles.

But the first signs of these more advanced deployments are appearing now. Case in point: AVT Communiqué, a division of Hospitality Partners in Arlington Heights, Ill., has built a digital signage system for Chicago's largest hotel--the Chicago Hyatt Regency-- that is now using embedded RFID to enable guests attending the Hyatt Regency's conventions to swipe their ID badges to access personalized meeting agendas. n