The Digital Signage Insider

Plan ahead for your next interactive kiosk or dynamic digital signage installation

Published on: 2004-08-13

As mentioned a few articles ago, WireSpring has released a whitepaper that outlines some of the top pitfalls to avoid when planning a kiosk or digital sign deployment. In this article, I'm going to cover #12 on the list (and also touch on #8 and #5):

Failing to account for maintenance, repair and life expectancy.

This isn't a particularly glamorous topic, but that makes it even easier to overlook.  The fact is that hardware breaks, and power outages and physical abuse can quickly take its toll on the delicate computer hardware packed into most kiosks and digital signage players.  Couple this with the fact that many networks feature machines across the country (or the world, in some cases), and the hardware is often placed inside cabinets, behind walls, or suspended from the ceiling (in the case of some digital sign networks), and repair costs can escalate to the point where a single truck roll could easily cost several hundred dollars.

Thus, it's imperative to plan ahead, use high quality parts, and partner with a professional service organization (if you don't want to handle repairs yourself -- and you probably don't).  Let's look at each of these in turn:

1. Use High-Quality Parts

There are actually options out there for people putting their own systems together, and for those of you using a 3rd party integrator to assemble your kit, it's worth asking about the types and quality of the parts being used.  Don't let a vendor use a crappy or discontinued part to save a few dollars.  For example, most commodity hard disk makers today offer several versions of the same disk.  Sure, there have always been lines for IDE vs. SCSI (which are typically more expensive and limited to servers or high-end workstations).  But now there is even more granularity, and since hard drives are the most fragile parts going into kiosk and signage players today, they are a good place to start with.  For a while now, Western Digital has been offering both "value" and "professional" series of the same drives.  Though similar in density, the professional series (formerly known as "JB" and now called "SE") add features like fluid bearing drive motors (quieter and more reliable than ball bearing motors), larger cache sizes, shock and vibration protection, and longer warranties.  The latter point is particularly important -- most IDE and ATA hard drives today only come with a 1 year warranty!  The power supply and physical enclosure of the system are the other two components most likely to cause you headaches over the course of your deployment.  Use a high-quality metal enclosure to help block out RF interference (make sure it's properly cooled -- take a look at our FireCast Media Appliance dynamic digital signage player for a good example), and I'd recommend using a server-grade power supply as well.  Ask about extended warranties, on-site service, and return or replacement policies when making your purchases.

2. Partner with a Professional Service Organization

Even using the best hardware that money can buy (within reason, of course), expect a 2-3% failure rate for a given 12-month period of operation of your kiosk or digital sign network.  Get ready for it by partnering with a professional service organization before deploying.  In the past our customers have used TAP Services, BlueWire Services and PC Pinpoint Business to service their networks, and in general, they have been happy.  These firms will work with you to establish regular maintenance and cleaning schedules, provide 24-hour 1st line technical support, and offer on-site repair and replacement policies.  More often than not they will suggest a per-unit monthly fee (perhaps even including parts and labor for any on-site visits) to cover all of these things, so that you won't have to make a massive capital expenditure to pay for services before ever deploying a single unit.  If you go this route, I would highly recommend purchasing the extra 2-3% of hardware that you expect to have fail, and have your partner keep it in inventory so that they'll have quick access to it when necessary.  Also check to make sure that the installers are comfortable using your selected software package.  While WireSpring's FireCast OS Linux operating system for kiosks and digital signs installs in 6 minutes with only 3 settings, the same cannot be said for your typical Windows 2000 or XP install bundled together with kiosk or signage software.  This brings me to point 3...

3. Plan ahead!

I can't stress enough how important it is to lay everything out ahead of time when it comes to deploying kiosks and digital signs.  Budget your time as carefully as you would budget your money, and create value "ranges" instead of trying to aim for fixed points.  For example, say you were planning a network of 100 kiosks that you estimated would cost a grand total of $10,000 each to deploy for 3 years, including hardware, software, install, maintenance, tech support, and everything else.  That would bring your total cost of ownership (TCO) to $1,000,000.  Break down each cost component and create high and low ranges for each.  Can you get discounted hardware from a wholesale supplier?  What if customizations cost more than anticipated, or have a longer lead time?  Will you be in violation of any contracts if you miss your deployment schedule?  If so, will there be any repercussions or extra fees to pay?  Do you need 24 hour technical support?  What about weekend and holiday support... and so on.  Once you go through this exercise, you might find that you could do your deployment for as little as $750,000 or as much as $1,250,000.  Figure out how much risk you want to take, and make sure to have the necessary capital available.  The worst thing that you can do for your network (and the whole embryonic industry) is deploy a bunch of systems and then let them languish because you ran out of cash at the last minute.  If your customer is credit-worthy, look into factoring the entire cost of the deployment over some number of months and presenting them with a single monthly fee for everything.  This will force you to budget properly, and it will be easier on the customer as well.  WireSpring can help with this aspect of things, but I think I would be asking for trouble if I just started putting up links and email addresses to our favorite financial companies :)

Keep the old clich "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" in the back of your mind while planning your next kiosk or digital signage network.  And download our 1-page whitepaper for the complete list of common mistakes and pitfalls to avoid when planning your next project!

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