Digital signage is a growing market, with the technology lending itself to a constantly evolving portfolio of custom applications and deployments that go far beyond the notion of it as updated billboard advertising.
At its recent International Partner Conference in Holland, signage software vendor Scala trotted out a range of resellers to demonstrate some unusual and interesting digital signage projects - some of which involved ongoing partner engagement and recurring revenue streams beyond simple provision of content.
Mohamed Rafeeq (pictured, left) is now the chief executive of Scala India but until recently he headed up Bangalore, India-based VAR Digifour, which has now formed a joint venture with Scala. He says Scala was very impressed with the digital signage work Digifour was executing for Indian airports and the Times of India.
“We would like to be a one-stop shop for digital signage for our customers. We have done successful installations for KFC, Taco Bell, Siemens, Philips and Wells Fargo as well as [infrastructure specialist] GMR, which operates, manages and maintains Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International (IGI) Airport,” Rafeeq told delegates.
IGI’s new Terminal 3 can handle 34 million passengers per annum through its nine-level terminal, two piers and 168 check-in counters. Scala partner DigiFour was commissioned in 2009 to provide signage for integrated TV, live weather updates, passenger information, advertising, control rooms, and a 250-screen network for the terminal around the clock - within 90 days, Rafeeq says.
That included a 48-screen, 10mx2m videowall in domestic departures, according to Scala. And further development of the project sounds ambitious.
“The Scala network also acts as the redundancy source for flight information when the primary system is down,” Rafeeq says. “We have conceptualised the idea of running all the airport systems on Scala, having all the flight information systems running through Scala, and have [integrated airport software and hardware workstation and printer solution] CUTE running through Scala, as well as the gates, the baggage handling and the OOH [out-of-home] network.”
Rafeeq says IGI is only the second airport network the firm has implemented and managed content for on an ongoing basis, and it expects to be involved in many other such networks - especially if it meets the challenge of further developing the network.
James Fine, president, and Stéphane Bastien, technical director, at Telecine Multimedia, a digital signage reseller in Montreal, Canada, told delegates Telecine is always up for a challenge when it comes to unusual customer requests. “We call it ‘extreme digital signage’,” says Fine. “We love to do things with Scala that maybe should not be done and have not been done before.”
Bowman County High School wanted a way to archive and display “hundreds of thousands” of photos and details from all its previous students. Student pictures and details also had to be searchable, bringing up all those matching a particular first or last name, for example, says Bastien, using XML tags and the like.
“Then we designed an innovative ‘keyboard’ [onscreen] that was not in Scala, so people who were not necessarily very tech-savvy could come in and search for class photos, individual photos or the like by year or name,” he says.
An interesting addition to the software keyboard Telecine implemented as part of the digital signage kiosk-type offering is that when the “keys” are pressed, they sound like an old-fashioned typewriter, to help older users understand the association and hopefully find it easier to use, Bastien adds.
Fine says Telecine also did a deployment for a firm called 4Food, which wanted to connect the digital signage displaying its menu on boards in the outlet directly to its point-of-sale system. That proved complex because of the sheer number of combinations a customer can choose when ordering - such as dressing, mayonnaise or certain garnishes on a burger, for example.
“We also did one for a retailer who wanted a system where people could actually see the music they were hearing in the store,” Fine says. “So we created a web interface that would do that.”
Bastien added: “People who liked the music would want to know who was playing it, so now store staff can just say ‘this is it’ and show them. The artist is displayed in real time via the web. We had to take that data and integrate it with the digital signage.”
Telecine, a small company with just seven staff, is happy to develop new solutions for customers even if the result is that the customer will never need to call them again. Fine says the 3D digital signage project the firm completed for Casino de Charlevoix is, in a sense, self-updating - which means the casino does not have to contact Telecine, or anyone else for that matter, every time it needs new content for the displays.
“On New Year’s Eve, they have a big party and a countdown,” adds Bastien. “The people said they would like video that is dynamic, and we also created a system that takes real-time information coming from Scala for the countdown - you can put it anywhere in your set-up and know exactly what time it is. And it tells you that every year.”
Fine adds that much can be done by rethinking the format. The advent of small digital photoframes that can be networked, for example, has opened up new signage opportunities for providers prepared to think creatively and laterally about where it could be sited, what sort of communications can be hosted, and with what kind of audience in mind.
Small photoframes might be used to display cocktail menus in bars - presenting many options in a smaller space and being less obtrusive at the bar than a 46in LCD - or screen additional information at exhibitions for those hovering near a particular stand.
Other projects include one for the Mankato Intergovernmental Centre over the border in the US, local and global weather forecasting website AccuWeather, CBC Radio-Canada, and Equinix Fitness Centre. Equinix had the singular challenge of wanting to display hundreds of different sessions on a live timetable updated in real time, including information about the instructor who would be taking each session - changing them on an ad hoc basis, says Bastien.
Jeff Porter, executive vice president of the exports group at Scala, says the software vendor will continue to push for greater ease of use, broaden its range of open APIs that can be used for third-party integration, widen its appeal at both ends of the market as well as in specific verticals, and expand its hosted and services offerings.
“We aim to exploit technological advances for new prices and performance,” he says. “And we are reviewing our merger and acquisition opportunities to bring the best solutions to our partners and customers worldwide.”
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