Friday, June 28, 2013

Staples goes digital

Staples announced this week it's launching a major digital signage and kiosk initiative for their smaller urban store locations.   If this pilot project proves to be successful, there is no doubt Staples will probably consider rolling this out across their entire store network.

This is a really smart move from a top tier retailer that is sure to have repercussions across the industry.  We keep hearing about retailers trying to cope with the "showrooming" phenomenon.  Well this is a step in the right direction.

Multiple in-store kiosks will let shoppers browse Staple's entire product catalog and even place orders for office furniture.  Digital signage screens located at the store's entrance will inform shoppers of current promotions and in-store delivery services.

The goal is to increase sales per square foot using mainstream technologies.  I haven't read anything online about RFID, NFC or anything along those lines.  Sticking with reliable, time tested technologies simply means this project has a better chance of success.

There is a place for pushing the envelope and this is not it.  I wish the folks at Staples all the best with this and am looking forward to seeing the program implemented at my local store.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Intel enters the digital signage software market...So what?

Intel just announced it is entering the digital signage software market, launching a SaaS (software as a service) platform that will compete with a lot of their clients.  Everyone was expecting this following the announcement that Intel had purchased some intellectual property from Ryarc earlier this year.  So what's the big deal?

Well for one thing, digital signage software publishers now have a new competitor. Up until now, Intel was seen as an ally since the company offered PC hardware, audience measurement solutions and remote control technologies. By launching their own SaaS offering, Intel can potentially compete with everyone else in this space by providing a top to bottom solution.

We now know this is a pure SaaS play priced at the lower end of the scale, which will probably not impact the high-end digital signage market.  Still, the Intel name carries a lot of weight so this announcement is sure to make some people nervous.  These would be the folks who create and sell software solutions that run on Intel's hardware.

Before we jump to any conclusions, let's pause for a moment and reflect on what typically happens when  a large technology company acquires a smaller organisation.

  1. Acquisition is announced with great fanfare.
  2. Acquired product/company gets integrated into the new organisation.
  3. Core members of the original development and management teams leave.
  4. Development of the product is suspended or severely curtailed.
  5. Product stagnates.  Gets shut down or sold after a few years.
Here are a few notable digital signage software acquisitions that haven't really made a big impact:

  • 3M acquired Mercury Online Solutions in 2005 with their FRED digital signage software platform and created 3M Digital Signage.
  • Cisco acquired Tivella in 2006 and launched Cisco Digital Signage.
  • NCR acquired NetKey in 2009.
What do these 3 acquisitions have in common?  In each case, a well known digital signage software company was purchased by a large corporation whose focus was elsewhere. For 3M, Cisco, NCR and now Intel, digital signage is a side-business. It is not a core activity so there is less tendency to innovate and lead.

This probably explains why digital signage products from these large corporations tend to be more complex and less intuitive than many competing products.  For them, digital signage is one part of a much larger ecosystem that involves networking products, kiosks and other products.

Meanwhile, smaller dedicated software publishers continue to innovate and grow.  Think of all the recent Android product announcements since the beginning of the year.  Digital signage software publishers aren't afraid of reinvesting in their business and continuously improve their products.

So will Intel become a big player in the digital signage space?  Only time will tell but I wouldn't loose too much sleep over it.  The odds are not in Intel's favor.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Do more with digital signage

I felt compelled to write this article after reading David Hayne's posting about a Danish company that lets users display fine art images on their screens.  Folks in the digital signage industry tend to get focused on the information and advertising business but there are a lot of other interesting opportunities to consider.

For example, digital signage can be used in architecture or as an interior design element using Christie Micro Tiles, video walls or projectors. 

Back in 2009 I wrote about a Winnipeg, Alberta company called "Skycandy" that specialized in environmental content for ceilings.  They offered various products like back-lit photographs and video content that depicted a view of the sky to convey the feeling of being outdoors.  The content was captured from the vantage point of someone looking straight up to the sky while walking in a forest and other locations.  They also offered night sky views which looked quite stunning.

The company's web site is gone now and I never got the details on the technology so I don't know how they displayed the video content from the ceiling.  The cost and security issues may have made this a bit of a hard sell (think big plasma screens hanging above your head).

On the other hand,  Skycandy offered an interesting solution that could be used in medical clinics and public venues.  I can almost imagine sitting in a dentist's chair, looking up at the sky with clouds floating by...  Makes the whole experience seem a bit more tolerable.

It's easy to look at digital signage from a purely advertising perspective but a whole range of new opportunities emerge when you consider architectural and interior design applications.

Here are some examples:
  • Restaurants.
  • Professional offices (lawyer, accountant, etc...)
  • Medical centers and clinics.
  • Museums.
  • Gyms, spas and fitness centers.
  • Car dealerships.
  • And even retail stores!
Say you want to throw a Monet, van Gogh or Warhol on your wall.

Perhaps show a panning view of the Grand Canyon...

Fine art or environmental content can help enhance your decor and even transport your audience to a whole different place.

Here are a few tips that will help you get started:
  • Quality is key. Use high resolution content and high-end hardware to deliver your content.
  • Think big... Big-screen, multi-screen or projection.
  • Make the hardware fit your decor.  Hire a professional interior designer who knows A/V.
  • Content can be abstract motion graphics, fine art or photo-realistic depending on the venue.  Creativity is essential.     
  • Make sure you have budgeted for quality hardware and high-end creative.  This is all about creating a big impact and conveying a "premium" image.
Used in this way, digital signage can create a special mood or enhance a brand's image without the need for advertising, live news or weather feeds.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Are SSDs really better than traditional hard drives?

More and more PC hardware vendors are swapping out traditional hard drives and replacing them with solid state drives (SSD) which use flash memory.  The logic behind this being traditional electro-mechanical hard drives are more prone to failure than solid state devices.

It makes sense to expect SSD drives will be more reliable since they have no moving parts. They are certainly going to be more tolerant to shocks and vibration.

We also know that  SSD drives can transfer data much quicker than traditional hard drives.

The only real downside is the higher cost of SSD storage over traditional hard drives.  Or is it?

Here are a couple of interesting blog postings that debunk some popular misconceptions about flash memory and its use in SSD drives.

SSD Reliability lower than discs?

How does flash storage fail?

The SSD reliability article dates back to December 2010 and it is true that 3 years is a long time when you are talking about technology.  While I am sure that SSD storage has been getting more reliable over time, there is still a place in digital signage for traditional hard drives, especially when your project has limited budgets or has high data storage requirements.