When predictable is good

Predictable can be both good and bad when it comes to digital signage.

It’s bad when the content on the screen, as well as the layout and programming approach, looks much like everything else out there. To have impact, a network needs the stopping power of strong creative and an overall look that is anything but predictable.

But when it comes to operating a digital signage network, predictable warms the hearts of IT, deployment and operations people.

Ask anyone who has started and ran digital signage networks from the early stages, and they will be happy to relate all the mistakes made – among them a big decision to use consumer grade PCs. The problem, they’ll say, was that these PCs were anything but predictable.

When Dell came on the mass market scene, the consumer PC market got somewhat demystified and the competition went from specs and speed to price. That drove prices down and with them, the profit margins for manufacturers. That resulted in at least a couple of things – a quest to lower build costs through cheaper components, and an endless rotation of parts and feature sets as the manufacturers looked to one-up each other.

So it was possible to buy and have delivered relatively low-cost PCs from name-brand manufacturers, but it was next to impossible to stay on top of versions and repairs. It still is. Digital signage software companies will, almost universally, say their playback and management software will run on any PC meeting their minimal specs, because they want the business.

But the software firms would really prefer clients use the PCs they either sell or recommend. That’s because they have some degree of predictability when they manage the hardware choices.

When a well-known manufacturer releases a slick new small form-factor desktop PC, the life cycle for that product is measured in months. So the software for that machine needs its own special load, known as an image, that has all the right device drivers and other bits to ensure it works properly. When that PC product ages out, a new, different image needs to be developed and supported for the newest PCs being used.  On a large network, that can mean multiple images to support.

For the operations people, when something goes wrong in the field, they need to not only know where the PC is, but what it is. Which type of unit? Which version? Which image? It gets messy in a hurry.

That’s why predictability is so important for such networks. Savvy digital signage network operators look for manufacturers whose product life cycles are measured in years, and for software providers who’ve already developed software images for those units. That introduces predictability, and makes their working lives easier.

We align with some of the best digital signage software companies in the market, and look for partners who embrace the notion of predictability. This month we’re working closely with a new strategic ally, Stinova, and will be at Advantech’s World Partner Conference  in Taipei. Stinova has tested and certified our hardware, and when customers buy our ARK-DS520 player, for example, it can ship with pre-installed images for Windows or Linux.

It will be a predictable choice for end-users. Perhaps that sounds boring, but it’s a very good thing.