Digital Signage Solutions Maturing, Gaining Momentum In Retail

The market for electronic displays with the ability to change from message to message rapidly, known as digital signage, is expanding into the retail space.

Chipmaker Intel has broken into the emerging technology market and now offers digital signage solutions that encompass retail, hospitality, banking and entertainment; point of way signage for a captive audience, which includes health care, corporations, and education; and point of transit, at transportation venues and outdoor settings. Brands and venues want to measure the ROI of their campaigns, and digital signage is designed to allow them to do that with audience metrics and proof-of-play, which focus on collecting anonymous audience metrics.

61 percent of Intel's signage solutions go toward the retail space, according to Jose Avalos, director of digital signage for the Intel Embedded & Communications Group. Avalos says digital signage has become more than a segment, and is now a full-fledged industry.

"We solve real problems in this space," Avalos."We think there is a real opportunity in this technology with our V-Pro brand and our Core brand. As Intel designs references and evaluation platforms, it allows system integrators to provide turnkey solutions for digital signage. We develop the solutions and let the vendors and system integrators pull the solutions together."

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Avalos gave the example of a network operator managing a network at a public venue, whose tasks include installation, support, and maintenance. That operator could go to a system integrator to pull the technology together and use Intel Active Management technology, which allows the retail partner to manage the signs remotely, reducing the TCO of the operating network, Avalos said.

Avalos said that once devices with digital signage become connected, Intel and its customers want them to be "intelligent," meaning they are energy-efficient, remotely managed and secure end-to end, while offering different metrics and analytics.

"Once it's intelligent, the device wants to be transactional---that's the biggest trend we're seeing in embedded today," Avalos said.

Mark Thompson, president and CEO of 2020 IT Solutions Group, a Kelowna, BC-based solution provider that began offering digital signage solutions more than five years ago, said 2020's solutions are customer-facing and placed at point of sale terminals.

"We see digital signage going in the direction of a replacement of fixed menu boards and billboards everywhere," Thompson said. "Digital signage simply means the sign can be changed rapidly, even immediately. It also allows the sign to shift with the time of day and respond to the competitive positioning of different companies, all of whom want it to react quickly, whether it's at a restaurant or an airport, whatever the venue may be."

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Mack Truax, director of sales at Southfield, Mich.-based solution provider Blue Water Technologies, said that though digital signage is a fast-growing, emerging technology, Blue Water has identified specific verticals and focused on customer service while taking advantage of remote manageability.

"The key for us is to offer a device that we can monitor, a device we can control, in case something goes out or is not available," Truax said.

Truax mentioned education, sports, the automotive industry, financial services, and healthcare as verticals that offer opportunities to VARs.

"People want technology to be interactive," he said. "Customers want to touch a screen, to pick and choose. We have custom interactive touch-screens with creative features and custom applications. It could be a drive-up at a financial institute, a kiosk or a bank--whatever allows users to gather and use information, that's what we specialize in."

In addition to remote management, analytics, Avalos said Intel is gearing its digital signage solutions toward security, citing an outdoor billboard hijacking in Moscow and a similar situation during a Super Bowl broadcast in Tucson, in which a TV network's system was corrupted.

"We've invested in some security solutions we're going to be launching next year," Avalos said. "It will use the V-Pro platform to increase end-to-end network security."

Avalos said in the past the digital signage market had been rather fragmented, with various solutions and companies operating without much technical cross-over. In October Intel unveiled a new Open Pluggable Specification platform, part of the semiconductor firm's effort to expand its IT footprint, while developing strategic partnerships with OEMs.

"Open Pluggable Specification is getting great support from industry leaders, including Microsoft," Avalos said.

In order to develop the ecosystem around digital signage, Clearwater, FL.-based Tech Data, which distributes a broad range of hardware and software as well as a growing portfolio of digital signage products to resellers, offers a training curriculum called "digital signage experts."

"Our own folks go through a curriculum to be certified in digital signage," said Wendy Linsky, vice president of Peripherals Product Marketing at Tech Data. "For the resellers, the curriculum is categorized based on their area of expertise."

Linsky said the overriding trend in the industry is the tendency for digital signs to appear in any kind of industry or market. The coursework is designed to give resellers the technical expertise they need to become a proficient third-party provider of digital signage technology.

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"Some markets have adopted digital signage sooner, such as health care and hospitality," Linsky said. "The digital signage category is not a commoditized market; it’s a high-end solution. There are many that take a long time and aren't done overnight."

As for the direction toward which digital signage is moving, Avalos said that in the future a client can buy a campaign and use analytics with optimized software. Avalos said the Cogno Vision software, which Intel acquired earlier this year, can determine the gender, and age of the user, among other traits.

If combined with Active management technology, Avalos said the analytics and metrics can create richer solutions like proof-of play, in order to show advertisers that their actually plays on the sign.

"The digital signage device will become more transactional; it will have social media integrated into it, and it will improve the customers' overall shopping experience at the point-of-sale," Avalos said.

With devices moving toward the retail space, some believe the market's segmentation will give way as digital signage providers offer more end-to-end solutions.

"The market is much segmented at the moment, but there are many offerings and consolidation will occur," Thompson said. "Signage is going where TV has gone. Large companies in the television or cable market like Time Warner and others will likely notice the opportunities in digital signage."