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SIGN OF THE TIMES: Digital Signage

Author : David Strydom

04 October 2013

Can digital signage end up saving FMs money? As companies come to realise technology can save them money rather than add unnecessary expense, digital signage has become increasingly popular. But many FMs are yet to be convinced that the cost justifies the convenience.

David Webster, RGB Communications' CTO, says as video conferencing increases the pressure on meeting room time and space, it is more important than ever for FMs to deploy smarter room booking systems in conjunction with interactive digital signage. ''Popular calendaring systems such as MS Exchange are, of course, a great way to manage meeting room bookings but their usefulness is limited if the booking information isn't available where it's often most needed - outside the meeting room itself,'' Webster says.

He adds that FMs should be looking for digital signage for meeting rooms software which pulls data from calendar systems and which runs on wall-mounted tablets, such as iPads (or similar Android or Windows devices) which can be mounted outside each and every meeting room. ''Relevant data including the meeting room name, pre-booked meeting times, subject, host, etc, is displayed on the tablet. Easy to spot green or red indicators should also be visible to immediately show whether a meeting room is vacant or in use. The interactive nature of a tablet enables spontaneous meetings to be booked directly at the meeting room door.''

Digital signage for meeting room software shouldn't be dependent on often expensive custom hardware such as touchscreens, Webster says, and should easily integrate with an existing IT infrastructure.

''With digital signage on the outside of all meeting rooms and a summary of the days' meetings on larger video displays in reception areas, FMs can now deliver an affordable, easy-to-manage, yet effective and dynamic presentation of meeting information that drives optimal usage of all meeting rooms and VC facilities.''

When asked why it was impossible to book a specific meeting room, which was then subsequently found to be empty, digital signage enables a FM to immediately see who is wasting costly office space and AV equipment and to identify regular culprits, Webster points out.

"For a digital signage system to be cost-effective, it has to deliver for the business as a whole and that typically means displaying messaging and content from all departments,'' says Rowan Brunger, sales director at Viewpoint, which provides integrated audio-visual and multi-media solutions to the corporate, education and ministry of defence sectors.

''A digital system that is delivering only one message might as well be a poster and one that shows out-of-date information offers no value at all,'' Brunger says. ''The cost benefits of digital signage aren't necessarily felt by the FM or his departmental budget, but should be felt by the business overall. Take for example one of the most creative demonstrations of ROI from digital signage I've ever seen: It involved a camera positioned above the queue in a staff canteen. Staff could monitor the size of the queue and therefore decide the best time to have lunch.

''For the business this meant less crowding in its canteen and more time spent on the job, as employees were saving five to 10 minutes queuing time each day. This was in addition to the system's use for internal communications and HR.''

Brunger says the ongoing renewal of content also affects the extent of your return on investment. One reason signage isn't updated stems from lack of training or poor quality content. ''A good supplier will ensure you know how to use the system and encourage a partnered approach between the facilities team, marketing and HR to make it work. The world's best digital signage system is only as good as the system that manages it and that's what ultimately delivers the returns."

Guy Phelps, corporate sales manager at NEC Display Solutions says all digital media solutions will, at first inspection, seem a large capital expenditure, however, on closer inspection and consideration of the Total Cost of Ownership, FMs need to understand the potential savings as a result of having greater flexibility.

''Clearly, FMs will be required to demonstrate a measurable return should they embark on a programme of digital signage. However, since there's no direct influence on sales, there can be no measure of success in terms of ROI. In this instance, FMs must clearly set out their objectives: what are they hoping to achieve? Improved global CEO communications? Increased productivity? Reduced disruption from desktop e-mail? Enhanced working environment? The key measure now is of the Return-on-Objectives (ROO) in order to understand the potential success and hence the potential costs if the investment isn't made.''

As an example, Phelps says, a large multinational corporation is introducing a hot-desk policy alongside reducing the number of administrative e-mails with an objective of reducing costs associated with unproductive workspace and use of time. ''In support of this programme, the company will install a network of digital signage with screens placed at strategic points on each floor of the building to improve communication, which will have been affected as part of the cost-saving initiative. FMs must offset the cost of digital signage against the cost savings derived from the proposed increase in productivity.''

Phelps says digital signage in a manufacturing environment reaches workers with no access to e-mail thus helping improve communication. Its use in communal areas for screening news programmes and sports events reduces absenteeism, boosts moral and leads to increased productivity. Video walls in reception areas influence the visitor's perception of the company while a touchscreen room management system increases productive use of meeting room space.

''If the FM can quantify these benefits as objectives, then they can measure the costs associated with not making the investment into digital signage. Finally, there is no substitute for recommendation. Plenty of companies have already taken the plunge and invested in a digital signage programme.''

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