The Digital Signage Insider

Networked Digital Signage and Kiosks: Why you NEED Remote Management

Published on: 2004-09-02

Though we only briefly touch on the tremendous benefits of remote management in our list of the top 13 mistakes to avoid when planning an interactive kiosk or digital sign network, an article that I was reading in the 3rd quarter edition of aka.tv made me realize how essential it is -- especially in the context of digital signage narrowcasting networks.  The article, which talks about AccentHealth (a company that has a large network of DVD-powered displays in doctors offices across the country) starts off with a disclaimer saying that AccentHealth's very successful network isn't a true narrowcasting network.  The key difference, says, is that, "[t]he content is controlled by DVDs that are hand-delivered to physician's offices each month by service technicians who handle all programming changes, service and maintenance issues."  While this hasn't seemed to be a problem for AccentHealth (yet), it brings to the forefront one of the critical requirements of any modern, networked digital signage setup: the ability to make changes to your screens remotely, and without having to change out physical media.

Remote management brings several key benefits together to make networked digital signage easier and more effective than non-networked alternatives.  Remote management can offset the ongoing cost of distributing content, and can often be used to troubleshoot problem devices without ever having to resort to an on-site visit.  Also, remote management features can often be used to dynamically change content.  Depending on your project, this kind of functionality can be used to change advertisements, upgrade interactive applications, or provide customized informational or marketing messages.  When looking into remote management options for your digital signage or interactive kiosk network, you should check for three things:

1. The remote management system should be able to work with kiosks and digital sign players behind firewalls and/or using network address translation (NAT), and should not require an externally visible or static IP address or require open ports.  Wow, that was a mouth full of technical detail.  Basically, depending on who you are and what your project is, you might need to deploy your devices into networks that you don't own or operate.  In fact, you might be counting on your host location(s) to provide Internet connectivity, even though they might not be able to provide what you need.  Your remote management software should be able to work with even the most limited and restrictive network setups.  Some retailers have the network security equivalent of Fort Knox.

2. The remote management system should be able to transmit content and schedules ahead of time, preferably during specific times of day.  Depending on how much content you display and what kinds of files you use, transferring even a small amount of changes could take a long time over a network.  That's why it's important to use a remote management system that will let you schedule changes days, weeks, or months ahead of time, so your units will have a chance to get all of the necessary content.  Also, if you're going to be using your host's network or sharing it with other vendors or service providers, its useful to have a remote management platform that will also let you specify when you can download files.  That way, you can specify that your 200MB videos should only download in the wee hours of the morning, and not during business hours, when the network might be needed to process credit card payments.

3. The remote management system should be capable of upgrading the system software and adding features, not just moving content around.  This is probably something that you'll need to ask your vendor about.  But considering the staggering number of critical system updates that Microsoft has been supplying for Windows systems these days, it only makes sense to use a management system that will help keep your systems secure (this isn't quite as prevalent for embedded systems or Linux-based software packages like FireCast kiosk and networked digital signage software, but it's still important).  Also, as new video formats come out or new features are added, being able to download them to the kiosks or players remotely will save you the time and agony of physically deploying new software.

Even without remote management, AccentHealth is getting good results and showing strong growth, so clearly technology isn't everything.  However, considering how much costs have come down the past few years, and how inexpensive it can be to get started with a complete networked digital signage solution, there isn't really any reason to go with a traditional DVD-based system anymore.  Take advantage of remote management as a way to reduce operating expenses and offering exciting features to your clients.


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