Tips for Deploying Digital Signage in Higher Ed

Emergency notification is one of the biggest benefits and a major factor in ROI. A digital signage pro talks about choosing displays and creating content.

Take a walk around any college campus and you’re sure to run into digital signage. No more posters and bulletin boards. Flat-screen panels hang in common areas like the cafeteria or student lounge displaying campus announcements, digital menus and scrolling sports highlights. Sleek and stylish, digital signage doesn’t just look good, it’s also an easy and effective way to deliver important information, including emergency communication to students, staff and campus guests.

Despite the popularity of digital signage, a first-time purchase and installation can be a daunting task. There are a variety of displays out there-LCD, LED, Plasma, projection, video walls, etc.-and it’s difficult to determine which display type is best for you. There’s also the matter of who manages the display and how to generate content. Ryan Cahoy of Rise Display, a digital signage software company, provides some tips on how to get started.

Deploying Your Signage

Before you purchase digital signage, you must first decide how it will be deployed.

“There are two types of ways universities make decisions,” says Cahoy. “There are schools that look at it from a centralized approach where they make a decision for a standard that goes campus-wide. The other approach is little empires or silos. Each college makes a decision on what’s best for them.”

There are pros and cons to each approach. If you go with a centralized digital signage solution you deploy the same type of display and the same software, etc. throughout campus. This makes it easier for IT or A/V staff to maintain the displays and allows for everything to be tied together. A centralized solution may also allow schools to leverage their buying power.

“The negative is they have to make compromises because they have to do a kind of one size fits all solution,” says Cahoy. In other words, certain departments or schools on campus may not get the exact display or display capabilities they wanted.

If you go with the empire approach, each college or department chooses and purchases the digital signage solution that best fits its needs. The downside to this method is that the solution isn’t cohesive, making it difficult to deliver consistent messaging campus-wide. In order to avoid later conflict, Cahoy says it’s necessary to know right out of the gate what’s driving your digital signage purchase and consider which deployment approach best meets your school’s needs.

You may even want to consider a hybrid approach where the majority of campus deploys a centralized solution, but departments with very specific needs strike out on their own. For example, if the athletics department wants an interactive hall of fame, those displays may need to be different from those hanging in the dorms.
Choosing a Display

There is no one display that is best. The type of display you choose depends on where you want to install your digital signage and what type of content you want to play.

“That’s really an environmental thing,” says Cahoy. “It’s not necessarily ‘Okay, we have to use LCD across the whole campus.’ What they may look at is, okay, this is a really big atrium [so] maybe we want an LED board. This is a very video intensive area [so] maybe we want to use a plasma because it’s got a little bit better video refresh rates.”

Schools have to know the purpose of their digital signage and what it’s trying to communicate. Do you need an outdoor display or kiosk for wayfinding? Are you trying to replay video highlights in a sports stadium or do you simply want digital menus in the dining hall? These factors will drive your purchasing decisions.

You also need to make sure to plan for the future. “The one inevitable trend when you look at all this is the technology is moving at an increasing pace,” says Cahoy. “You have to assume that what’s coming out the door three years from now is bigger, better, faster or higher resolution than it is today and you want to be able to take advantage of that.”

Cahoy suggests not tying yourself to anything proprietary and staying with open standards. For example, if you purchase an LCD display that has an open expansion slot, choose an industry standard media player, use a Windows or Linux operating system and stick to open software your digital signage solution will have a lot of flexibility. If two or three years down the road you decide you need more processing power you can just plug in a new media player. To update the look of your solution just swap out the display.

By sticking with a solution that isn’t proprietary, you have greater flexibility to replace various pieces of the technology when newer and better things hit the market.

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