How Microsoft Uses Digital Signage for Internal Promotion and Communication

The software giant speaks to its employees and visitors, making communication a priority.

Like most large, multi-product companies, Microsoft has a lot of products and activities it wants to bring to the attention of employees, partners and prospects. The software monolith also has many buildings, both in the greater Redmond, Washington area and around the world. This means they have many internal and partner events that provide on-going opportunities to present timely information.

One of the informational mediums used is video. Much of this content is created and produced by the Microsoft Production Studios Network (MPSN), a sub-group within Microsoft’s Production Studios group, a state-of-the-art video production facility located in the greater Redmond area.

“We’re part of the central marketing group, and help handle internal media requirements for business needs,” says Daniel Orme-Doutre, a product engineer in MPSN. “About 80 percent of what we do is creating, producing and distributing video, primarily for internal or field site communications, including event support.”

Upgrading from Stale to Signage

Although the studio’s videos were being used by and within Microsoft, Orme-Doutre noticed that there were opportunities to put the content to greater use. “A lot of the business groups had digital screens in their buildings, but all they presented was localized PowerPoint presentations,” recalls Orme-Doutre. “And I noticed that a lot of these screens would go dark or empty, and many others would be showing stale content about old events.

“Given we had all these displays, and we were continuing to create compelling, informative video content, I thought we should be able to do better than that,” says Orme-Doutre. But when he tried to drum up support from Public Relations and Human Resources for doing digital signage across the campus, “I didn’t have any success, because using digital signage has a cost associated with it, and the cost was outweighing the perceived value.”

However, says Orme-Doutre, in 2009, an opportunity presented itself: “I started working with a real estate and facilities group within Microsoft who were doing a lot of “hang display” orders from groups that also included “and can you run the display, too?” requests — and they were getting support calls when something went wrong with a display.”

While working with the Real Estate and Facilities group, Orme-Doutre started a pilot digital signage project. “It didn’t take long to figure out how to build and manage a service that could use these displays as digital signs,” says Orme-Doutre.

Photo Gallery: Microsoft’s Digital Signage Techniques

The next step was at the content level. “I realized that groups needed fresh content as well as somebody to help them manage the tech side of these displays. The service group hanging displays were also getting content-related support calls. They also weren’t in the business of managing or supporting other people’s content. So I stepped up and said, ‘Let my group fill that void.’”

“Providing content for digital signage was a natural extension of what we already do with streaming and other digital content,” notes Orme-Doutre. “I run the IPTV technology for internal Microsoft activities, and we have our own analog and digital cable channels.”

To create and manage content intended for digital signs, since Microsoft does not make digital signage products, Orme-Doutre selected a third-party digital signage content management system (DS CMS) that, not surprisingly, ran on Windows servers and player PCs. “We like to choose partners that can showcase Microsoft technology. We also made sure it used .NET and Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), with ties to SQLserver.”

With a DS CMS in place, “We continue to work with Real Estate and Facilities, so that groups are purchasing the right displays for their areas, and installing and mounting them correctly. And then we manage the player PCs and the content management.”

For the content itself, “We partner with lots of groups, [including] the XBox team, central marketing and other business groups,” says Orme-Doutre. “We work with groups for location-specific marketing, general feeds, and other content. In addition, we ‘backfill’ localized content with corporate content, like news announcements and videos from HR and internal corporate communications. And on some displays we also provide traffic, weather, news and other feeds.”

Microsoft Production Studios has been providing digital signage content as a full service since mid-2011, according to Orme-Doutre. “We have a document talking about the service and its benefits. When we get a request, I do a site survey to see if there’s a display there already, and if not, what’s needed. I’ll help order the displays and make sure the cabling and power will be sufficient. And once the display is mounted and connected, we have workflows and processes to get content to us, and a mailing address team alias in case there are any content or support issues. So it’s pretty scalable.”

Currently, Orme-Doutre’s group is responsible for over 30 digital signage displays, located in over 10 buildings. “Most of these are in Redmond, but we also have several in our Silicon Valley satellite campuses, a few in India and we’re looking to extend in Europe.”

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