The Digital Signage Insider

Digital Signage Services Mainly Handled In-House: Survey

Published on: 0000-00-00

Over the past few weeks, we've been studying the results of our digital signage costs survey. As you may recall, we're segmenting the 220+ responses into four groups: those with no experience working on digital signage projects, those with experience working only on small projects, those with experience working only on large projects, and those who have worked on both small and large projects. Thus far, we have examined the data for digital signage LCDs, media player hardware and installation and digital signage software, management services and tech support. But there's much more to a running a network than these nuts-and-bolts pieces. Indeed, a wide array of additional services might be needed, ranging from content creation to project management. Today we're going to share more data from our survey respondents concerning the services they deemed essential to making their projects successful. If you're viewing this in your email or RSS reader, you'll probably want to go to /blog to see the chart with all the survey responses.

A service by any other name...

Image credit: Purple Slog
While there are plenty of web directories that claim to be a one-stop shop for business services, I've never seen a compendium of definitions for these services and their related providers in one place. Further, because some of them are quite complex, they may be called different things depending on who you ask. To wit, one person's "logistics management" might be another's "roll-out management" and still another's "inventory and shipping management". When putting together the survey, I tried to choose what I felt was the most generic name for each of the services that I've run across while working on a large variety of digital signage networks. Still, the results below may be slightly skewed based on what exactly each person felt the listed services comprised. For that matter, they'll be skewed by what you think they comprise too. Here's what each of the services means to me:
  1. Logistics Management: Hardware and software inventory control (possibly but not necessarily including purchasing), shipping and receiving management and RMA/warranty management.

  2. Strategy Consulting: Figuring out what the network is responsible for, setting goals and objectives, establishing measurement criteria for determining whether said goals and objectives have been reached, and possibly translating valid business lingo into management gobblygook to get the deal sold.

  3. Project Planning: Developing an itemized to-do list of things that must be done before, during and after each screen is installed, parceling these tasks out to the relevant teams/groups, and making sure each team achieves their goals (and dealing with the fallout when they don't).

  4. Content Strategy Consulting: Upon figuring out the strategic purpose of the network, figuring out how to make content that will work towards those ultimate goals. May include aspects of content creation, but is often confined to a strategic and then editorial capacity.

  5. Content Production: Making all the pretty content that fills up the screens, and (frequently) cleaning up the not-so-pretty content that other people give you to put on your screens.

  6. Content Management: Assigning the content to the different screens on the network (and different areas on the screen) as appropriate, and then making sure that the content played correctly, at the right dates and times, and in the proper order and proportion.

  7. Network/Operations Management: Once the network is up and running, making sure that the screens continue to function properly, watching for systemic errors, and dealing with the random errors and issues that crop up over time.

  8. Initial Project Management: Some people choose to break out their project management into phases, and have a team dedicated only to the deployment phase. These people are responsible for coordinating site surveys, on-site construction (if needed), installation, shipping/receiving of the various parts that must arrive at each site, and generally making sure that each screen gets installed and turned on according to schedule.

  9. Ongoing Project Management: For networks that continue to grow over time, these services are very similar to those listed under "initial project management." For those that tend to deploy all-at-once and then stop, the services might look more like those under "network/operations management."

  10. Installation Services: The art of hanging screens, running power/network cables, drilling, hammering and otherwise making lots of noise all in the name of getting screens installed and lit.
As you can see, even my pre-selected list has some overlap between items. And without the benefit of formal definitions, some respondents may have interpreted these services quite differently than I did. Still, the breakdown of how many people handle each service in-house, outsource it, or don't bother with it is quite interesting. We'll look at the overall results today, and then we'll break them down by project experience in next week's article.

Looking at the overall results

Service We do it in-house We outsource it We don't bother with it
Logistics Management 66% 30% 4%
Strategy Consulting 86% 10% 4%
Project Planning 93% 5% 2%
Content Strategy Consulting 74% 23% 3%
Content Production 50% 44% 6%
Content Management 74% 23% 3%
Network/Operations Management 66% 29% 5%
Initial Project Management 89% 9% 2%
Ongoing Project Management 86% 10% 4%
Installation Services 28% 69% 3%

What do these results mean?

I'm pretty confused by some of the results, and I bet you are too. For example, how can somebody "not bother with" installation services? Is your network in a bunch of boxes in a warehouse somewhere? Likewise, 6% of people opted out of content production. How on earth does that work? I understand that you can do a lot with Twitter and RSS feeds, but seriously, are there really networks out there that don't have any custom content at all? Even throwing the word "Jim" into your "Happy Birthday!" template and hitting "Save" would count in my book. Perhaps that 6% didn't think so.

On the other hand, I was very pleased to see that only 3% of respondents gave no consideration to content strategy consulting, though a large number still do this in-house (and my bet is that a fair number of those aren't doing a great job). Even just a few years ago, that number would have been much higher. For the most part, people today seem to understand that digital signage isn't just nuts-and-bolts. It's also arts-and-crafts. Along a similar vein, strategy consulting is done by all but 4% of the respondents polled, though again the vast majority (86%) are handling this in-house. While I believe that most of the networks coming out in the last few years are dramatically better than their predecessors, I still feel that a few days (or sometimes even hours) with a bona fide digital signage expert would help virtually everyone undertaking a new project or revamping an old one.

Not surprisingly, installation was the service most likely to be outsourced. That makes sense, since most people don't have big crews of carpenters, electricians and A/V installers on hand everywhere they want to place a screen. Project planning, which is certainly a very critical element during every stage of a network's life, was the service most likely to be handled in-house. This is probably how it should be -- provided you have some experience doing project planning in-house, that is.

These results speak volumes about the transition of digital signage from a back-room operation largely handled by AV folks to a kinder, gentler sort of project that is now being approached by people with sales, marketing, corporate communications and other backgrounds. While the variety of people and skill sets can make a digital signage solution a bit challenging to sell (since you have to know your buyer and what his pain points are), it also means more opportunities as the marketplace continues to swell. As I noted earlier, the data I've covered today is just the top-line results from the entire set of 223 respondents. Next week, I'll segment the numbers into our small, large, mixed, and no experience groups to highlight some specific trends. In the meanwhile, I'd certainly appreciate your feedback:

Are there any services missing from my list? If you're a service provider, do you agree with my definitions for the items listed above? Please leave a comment and let me know.


+1 # bruce 2009-09-30 20:10
Bill, One of the things I got out of the survey results, and thank you very much for taking the time to provide your insight, assuming the no project experience respondents are shopping for digital signage, they do not expect to pay a lot of money. How can you blame them though? A simple Google search reveals several tier 1 mfr 40 LCDs are available for less then $1,000 and a full fledged Win XP PC (albeit a netbook) is south of $300. I've stated this in previous comments here and there, but it presents digital signage technology consultants like myself with both a challenge and new business. The challenge is educating the no project respondents about the old adage, oeyou can pay me now or you can pay me later and why you should buy commercial grade equipment and not consumer. However there are more and more "good enough technolgy" solutions becoming available everyday it seems lately. The opportunity is that demand continues to rise -prices continue to fall, flat panels and PC technology are pervasive in the home, and tech is easier and more reliable to use. More and more small to medium sized businesses want in and are also thinking about how to use digital signage and as a result are in need of guidance. As far as the software model and managed services pricing part of the survey goes, I think the average costs you hit upon are as good a benchmark as any. I feel there is still way too much grey area and not enough good communications out there that delineates someoneTMs SAAS solution compared to someone elseTMs ASP solution compared to someone else self-hosting the solution themselves. Even simple media player software is offered in many different ways making it difficult to get consistent across the board results. That being said, based on my experience, I think many of the no project experience respondents expect to pay one price for both the media player hardware and software. Lastly, I think youTMve done a good job defining and identifying the many services involved with developing deploying and maintaining a digital signage network, but I agree with you that the results are probably skewed based on what each person felt the listed service meant to them. I find it hard to believe that there are so many one-stop shops for digital signage out there offering everything from Network Management to Content Production to Strategy Consulting and Project Management. I am of the belief that the consultants, AV/IT integrators and creative agencies must unite to provide this kind of one-stop shop. In the future perhaps there will be super digital signage agencies that can provide the entire range of services, but today not many companies are able to or do not do a good enough job offering all of these services in house...
+1 # Bill Gerba 2009-10-01 14:27
Hi Bruce, Thanks very much for the analysis. I agree, it's no longer sufficient to merely peddle tech components. Commercial parts prices have dropped, consumer-grade stuff continues to improve in quality, and overall the marketplace is better-educated than ever. The good news is that (theoretically) this ought to drive out value-less resellers and produce more business for those VARs who can genuinely help customers with a combination of products and know-how.
0 # Pat Hellberg 2009-10-01 18:26
Bill Excellent article, as per usual. It's no surprise that the respondents said that they handle most digital signage services in house. I would be surprised, however, if digital signage is a primary focus of those in-house staff members. More often than not, it's an add-on. (Hey, IT, you already control the pipeline into our store locations. Add this digital signage thing to your list. Or, hey, marketing. We know you don't have any spare time or expertise to create content so could you get the ad agency to provide those broadcast commercials so we don't have blank screens?) To be successful, a digital signage network requires focus and expertise. Obviously, I have a vested interest in saying this since I am a consultant (who started and ran Nike's DS network for years) but I'll say it cause it's true: You don't know what you don't know. I am working with clients, big and small, some with established networks, some about to launch. They share one thing in common. They recognize the need for specific expertise and experience for their DS programs. Digital signage has not matured to the point where there is widespread recognition that it is a unique communications tool that requires specific focus and effort (like advertising, marketing, retail merchandising, etc.) In the meantime, to those who have had DS "added-on" to their plate, I'll say it again: you don't know what you don't know.
0 # Bill Gerba 2009-10-02 13:31
Pat, I think your one sentence summarizes it best: \\They recognize the need for specific expertise and experience for their DS programs.\\ I would argue that the biggest issue isn't the client's lack of knowledge, it's their willingness to recognize and accept that deficiency, and then do something about it. Thanks as always for the insight!
0 # Myrel 2009-11-02 14:40
Hi Bill, You're insight is indeed very helpful. In fact these are the things that companies engaging themselves into setting up their own DS system must consider. DS operation is like having your own TV network that needs to settle most of the things you have mentioned above. We need more of this insights! Cheers!
0 # Bill Gerba 2009-11-05 15:16
Hi Myrel, Thanks for the kind words. I definitely agree, the services above should be considered "required" not "optional." Once people get into that mindset, I think we'll start to see digital signage really being used to its fullest potential.
0 # Morgan Williams 2009-12-17 14:24
Bill, Thanks for such a coherent explanation to these frustrating situations.

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