The Digital Signage Insider

Digital Signs and the Build versus Buy Scenario

Published on: 2004-05-07

Aside from a brief stint working for Computer Associates, I have primarily been involved in service-oriented industries. In both the advertising and content creation worlds, (mostly) custom output is created for a specific job, and is expected to fulfill a specific set of pre-determined requirements.

Yet even after working on WireSpring for the past four years, I am continually astonished by the issues that come along with trying to offer services in what has traditionally been a product-oriented industry. The service in question is, of course, our FireCast kiosk and digital signage software (and more specifically, our ClientCenter remote management service), and the industry, depending on how broadly you define it, is either kiosks and digital signs (for narrowcasting, self-service, or captive audience networks), or out-of-home advertising, or even store fixtures.

The question that invariably comes up at the end of a product discussion when talking to a large customer or potential customer is: why should I purchase a pre-packaged solution, when I could build my own in house? (and they're thinking "for a fraction of the cost.")...

Many large companies, even those who do not count information technology among their strengths (forget about core competencies), somehow feel that the delivery of a product signals the end of a relationship between vendor and customer, and that they would never exact additional value from an ongoing relationship. It could be that they've had some bad experiences in the past, or that they've just traditionally been an organization that does everything in house. There is some fundamental misunderstanding about the value of a packaged software solution that can include elements of customer support, technical expertise and other related services.

Consider a metaphor where a person decides to cook for himself instead of going to restaurants because he wants to save money. Except that he doesn't have a kitchen, so he'd have to build one of those first. And he doesn't know how to run gas lines to his stove, or water lines to his sink so he'd have to figure those out too. The deceptively simple meal suddenly requires a tremendous amount of infrastructure to complete. And without expertise in that infrastructure, there is no guarantee that it's going to work the way that you need it to.

When a potential customer decides to build their own kiosk or digital signage infrastructure instead of using a boxed product (ours or anybody else's - I'm not biased), it's like they've opted to build the kitchen, though I think that many of them are still convinced that they're just going to cook the meal. They're not thinking about the infrastructure of it all - the server hardware, bandwidth provisioning, power requirements, software monitoring, service dispatching, and the software itself... the millions of lines of code that make it all work properly. And forget about ongoing software management. It makes me laugh when companies who don't write code think that they can produce a product and it will work perfectly in any environment forever once it's done. Even the best software requires monitoring and maintenance and will benefit from feature additions.

Any company that thinks otherwise is in for a rude awakening Smiley

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