The Perspective 
Thursday, 21 February 2008

When I was in high-school, I worked for my father in a family business: a small engineering firm that designed and fabricated materials handling systems for conveyors.

One thing you can find in abundance at any engineering firm is computers. We had roughly two dozen of them, running top-grade software like AutoCad — an engineer’s first love, next to Star Wars and Lego blocks.  There was one thing that these computers shared in common:  they all ran on the old DOS platforms.

One day I showed up for work and happened to mention that our freshman computer class was learning something different. It was a program (I don’t think anyone knew the phrase “operating system” yet) called Windows, and it was — in my expert adolescent opinion — “cool”.   For a start, it wasn’t text-based. It had just enough icons and graphics to get the video-game-addicted neurons in my brain fired up about typing up that Word document. It was, in essence, the next “New Thing”.

Those were the days when a kid could start a riot simply by stepping into a cafeteria filled with IT personnel and casually suggesting that Windows had better diagnostics tools than DOS. In five minutes’ time, the room would be split into two camps, spaghetti would be everywhere and you could easily cut to the front of the line to pick up your Twinkies. Ah, those were times.

Of course we all know how that debate ended.

*  *  *

When I think of the current state of the digital signage industry, my mind goes back to those days. It can be safely said that — in advertising circles at least — digital signage is the next New Thing. It’s breathing life back into an advertising market previously ravaged by the declining print industry and a dramatic drop in the number of viewers who still watch television commercials. (I think there are three now, and if they see one more ad for ABC’s “Eli Stone”, I’m afraid someone is going to end up in the emergency room.)

And yet the comparison doesn’t hold. Windows was a brilliant success because it was — well — Windows. There could only be one Microsoft and as much as everyone hated – and still hates – to admit it, there could only be one operating system.

That’s not the case for digital signage.

There is an army of content providers, hardware providers, software providers, integrated solutions providers and network providers — ranging from Fortune 500 companies to three-man startups — all claiming to offer an exclusive chunk of the New Thing. Some of them are good, and some of them are, well, less so. It’s almost like the California gold rush must have been: that shiny pebble the prospector offered you might have been gold, or it might have been just a shiny pebble.

Far too many deployers are assuming that, just because it’s new, they can deploy digital signage in any way, shape or form and it will be kissed by the prize of success. They have the Windows mentality:  The project has to work. After all, it’s digital signage.

Their problem, I suspect, is that they don’t understand the life cycle of an industry.

*  *  *

Think back to when the Internet first came into being. In those early days, marketing departments and management consultants were all chanting the same mantra:  If you want to survive in the new economy, you’d better have a Web site.

True advice, but how many breathtakingly pointless Web sites were thrust before us — sites with outdated content, bad links, e-mail addresses that went nowhere and information we didn’t need — all so a company could say they had something on the Web to show that they were progressive and on the leading edge?

And they were. The Internet was a brand new medium, with no rules or standards. It still had the ‘wow-factor’. When it came to the information superhighway, all you had to do to impress was show up.

But you can’t sustain an industry on the wow factor for very long. After the bubble burst, we quickly learned that we had the mantra wrong. We should have said: If you want to survive in the new economy, you’d better have a relevant Web site.

Remember the old IBM commercial? The young Web developer is excitedly showing the corporate sales associate the spinning, flaming logo he designed for the company’s Web site. It was visually dynamic. It looked cool. But the sales associate, unimpressed, says what the site really needs is an online order platform that links the site with the company’s POS system.

There is a long pause.

“I don’t know how to do that,” the kid says, gulping hard and looking like a deer in headlights.

The Web developers who survived the test of time figured out how to do That. They understand that the Internet industry is about more than just looking cool. Now it’s all about applications that actually fulfill a need:  the Googles, Mapquests and eBays of the world. How long had the Internet been in place before Steve Chen, Chad Hurley and Jawed Karim had the bright idea to create a site where people upload and share their own videos? Nine years? Ten years? They ended up selling YouTube to Google for $1.65 billion.

*  *  *

That, I think, is where digital signage is today. Some people are still bowed over by the sight of it, and who can blame them? It’s visually dynamic. It looks cool. But that won’t last forever. Soon the honeymoon will be over and digital signage content will have to be relevant and useful or the consumer walking through the crowded mall will simply relegate it to the blind spot of their minds.

When this happens, except a harvesting similar to what we saw with the Internet. It will still be a thriving industry, but many of the frivolous, less relevant deployments will be weeded out with Darwinian efficiency.

How can an industry leader make sure that they’re on the winning side when it’s all said and done?

I’ve thought about this, and more and more I believe the deployer’s greatest tools aren’t displays and players, but a paper and pencil. Take a few moments to sit down quietly and jot down as many verticals as you can think of:  hospitals, movie theaters, bookstores, car dealerships, jewelry stores, community centers…

Now next to each vertical, write down its specific communications needs. A hospital has to provide its patients and their families with directions from the lobby to the maternity ward. A car dealership has to show its prospective customers what the interior and the exterior of its newest model looks like. A movie theater has to advertise its movies and show how much a jumbo bucket of popcorn costs. A church has to inform its members about upcoming events. A concession stand needs to link its digital menuboards with its POS system.

These are applications. These are the golden nuggets perspective signage deployers will be willing to pay good money for. These are the Googles, the Mapquests and the YouTubes of the digital signage industry.

There are still countless verticals that have yet to be reached by digital signage, with countless applications yet to be discovered. The deployers left standing when it’s all said and done will not simply be creative. They will be practical. They’ll be practical enough to identify a need – a real need – and creative enough to come up with the solution.

Posted by: Travis K. Kircher AT 11:38 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 19 February 2008
Anyone who thinks self-service is a boring industry obviously hasn’t been reading the news lately.
Seriously. I’ve seen some real zingers cross my e-mail in the past few weeks. Check out this Associated Press story, for example. No, there’s no need to hit that refresh button, you read it right. A drug store in Los Angeles has deployed self-service kiosks to dispense medical marijuana. Hash for cash, so to speak. Not only did this controversial deployment raise the eyebrows of some of us here in the office, but it also caught the attention of the good folks at the U.N.’s International Narcotics Control Board in Vienna, who quickly ruled that the machines are illegal and should be shut down. Given that the U.N. has no binding legislative authority in California, it’s doubtful anyone at the drug store is pulling the plug just yet.
Then there’s this story coming out of Union City, Ind. Anyone who’s been in this industry for more than two weeks knows all about the DVD rental kiosks now available at fast food joints. The kiosks enable users to rent copies of the latest movie releases which are viewable for a pre-specified rental period. Well apparently, they’ve stirred quite a controversy in this one little town. It seems parents are worried that the kiosks will provide minors with unsupervised access to movies containing adult material — that Little Johnnie and his preschool buddies might decide to pick up “Fatal Attraction” with their happy meals. So the townsfolk took their case to City Hall and when the city threatened the deployer with a public nuisance citation, the deployer decided to remove all R-rated movie titles from the kiosk’s stock.
These news stories were the material of some great philosophical chatter around the coffee machine here, and not surprisingly, were among the most widely read stories on I don’t mention them here to declare who was right or who was wrong in each instance, but to make a valid business point. These two seemingly unrelated stories both dredge up an issue that will become increasingly important as self-service continues to grow.
That issue can be summed up in one word: culpability.
*                      *                      *
Sure, kiosk deployers know exactly how their products are to be used as well as who is supposed to use them (and who isn’t). But what if the kiosk user decides to take matters into their own hands? What if a disgruntled teenager hits your drug store kiosk and overdoses on Tylenol? Suppose a man who isn’t suffering from any medical condition manages to get a packet from the marijuana kiosk and is arrested later that night in another state? Add to that the people who inadvertently get into trouble, such as the five-year-old who slips a few quarters into a machine, buys a laser pen and burns out his retina.
They’re all disturbing cases, but what do they mean for the deployers? Are they liable for civil damages just because the consumer abused (or misunderstood) the use of the product?
I took the question to Gail Ritzert, a partner at Havkins Rosenfeld Ritzert & Varriale LLP, a law firm in New York.
Ritzert, an expert in product liability law, likened products purchased through a self-service kiosk to products bought online or via a more conventional vending machine. In these cases, she said the responsibility is on the deployer or site administrator to take “reasonable” precautions to make sure that the consumer who is purchasing the product is who they should be … and knows how to use it.
“This kiosk, while it’s not a person, is standing in the place of a seller or a store that is distributing the product,” she said. “What reasonable steps were in place to make sure that you did what could be done to eliminate the person who should not have access to what the product is?”
Unfortunately, she says the legal definition of “reasonable” can vary on a case-by-case basis.
“What I would say to the manufacturers and those who are distributing the product is: Make sure that you check the product because you’re not going to have control over the person who uses the machine,” she said. “That being said, depending upon the software that is used, there are some things that could probably be built in to make sure that there are certain triggers on different things.”
Making sure all of the products in the kiosk have proper warning labels can be a good start, she says. She adds that — for some age-specific products — it might be a good idea to require the consumer to verify that they are above a certain age range. This can be done via a push button or touchscreen interface.
While that may not stop underage consumers from obtaining something they shouldn’t, it will likely demonstrate — to a jury if necessary — that the deployer was taking some steps to protect them.
“We can’t eliminate all misuse,” she said. “But again, the question it comes down to is: Were reasonable steps taken to make sure that directions or age appropriateness were followed?”
*                      *                      *
In the meantime, keep your eyes on the developments in Los Angeles and in Union City. The outcomes in both instances will no doubt have a significant impact on the types of products that will or won’t be offered at a kiosk near you in the future. In the meantime, feel free to check for all the latest on these two cases. We’ll be here to “hash” out the details.
Posted by: Travis K. Kircher AT 10:30 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 12 February 2008
Digital signage takes on many forms, depending on its purpose. The most common is a passive advertisement such as an ad for retail products or the latest branded slogan that reinforces an overall ad campaign. It may be signage in a museum telling you of upcoming exhibits, or even digital food menus at a coffee shop. You'll see examples of these hanging high in the rafters and out of reach to keep people from tampering with the electronics. Occasionally you'll see them at eye level in hotels and casinos but behind safety glass in a wall or freestanding enclosure. This is probably the easiest form of digital signage for consumers and marketers to get their heads around, but there is so much more that is possible.
My favorite form of digital signage is active, not passive signage — signage that entices you to touch and engage, not just passively view. Being a company that focuses on kiosks and digital signage, we try to show our customers that digital signage can be just as interactive as kiosk software. You can even think of it as a large screen kiosk, and you'll start to understand the possibilities. Digital signage can educate your customer on your products, survey their opinions on your brand, reward them with coupons or sweepstakes entries and entertain them. Digital signage can even become transactional.  
Whatever the application, the advantage of interactive digital signage is that the guest actively controls their experience instead of passively viewing a message. Bring those sign panels out of the rafters and down to eye level. Let the customer touch your brand.
Another advantage of interactive digital signage is that its effectiveness can be easily measured.
Measurement of signage content can be extremely difficult when you’re working with a passive system. Advertisers have an ad or commercial that they want to enable across signage networks, but how do they know that the audience is being reached? Often they build their measurement on how many "eyes" may have seen it, or fluctuations in store sales (think Wal-Mart TV which can directly show sales increases during the weeks you advertise). 
But imagine if you tracked fingers instead of eyes. You would do this by having signage content combined with a bit of software, and software is ultimately measurable as proven on the web. Take into account the number of interactions, the time of day at which those interactions take place and the content that is displayed during those interactions. By examining this data, you can quickly determine when and how your signage deployments are most effective.
For example, if you are Victoria's Secret and you want to reach a particular group of women, you could have touchable signage that shows the latest glossy ad with an incentive to touch for discounts on the latest innovative bra you are promoting. If you think of a Web page with an incentive to "click here for a coupon" it’s the same except you say “touch here” instead, as there is no mouse. The screen can then split and be part signage and part interactive to show the latest bra in its various configurations and assist customers in determining the proper product. You could also provide them with a coupon for 20% off as an incentive to buy. While they’re there, use the signage to ask them a few quick questions (very few to keep them engaged) such as "Do you own this product already?", "Have you purchased from Victoria's Secret within the past 3 months?" or other information you may want to know about the particular consumers who look at the signage. After they’ve answered the questions, give them a reward. Print a coupon next to the sign or send it to their cell phone or email. You can even link that email back to your web site to have another touch point to further build a profile on this digital signage customer. 
I think you get the idea. The signage can now measure many aspects of the eyes that are viewing the content and the fingers that touch your brand.
But hold the horses. Not every digital signage project should be interactive. Passive is sometimes the right media method. You may want a larger number of people to see your message, and having it too low and blocked by a crowd would reduce the number of eyes. Your goals may not include a measurable component. You may just need to entertain and extend your brand. This goal — and many others — would be better served in a traditional manner. You can overcome the height difficulties by putting a portion of the sign higher than the average person's height and have the screen split with the interactive touch portion in the lower half. That will keep some of your messaging in the upper half that is viewable to the surrounding crowd while your guest interacts with the lower half. Sometimes a combination of passive and active media is the most powerful combination.
Another issue when considering interactive signage is the cost. Hardware costs are much higher because the screen now has to have a touch interface and perhaps a more powerful PC driving functionality. That hardware is lower to the ground, and is in some ways more vulnerable to vandalism — or at the very least — will need occasional screen cleaning, so your total cost of ownership may include a few more service calls if the signage is in an unattended area. 
And of course, there are higher costs in the design and construction of the functionality. The rewards however can often outweigh these concerns when you consider a measurable increase in sales and the ability to engage your customer. Every project should be evaluated independently for feasibility and value.
There are many different ways to bring interactivity to your signage. You'll commonly see examples of interactive digital signage such as way finding tools that allow guests to navigate your office, tradeshow, hospital, or mall.   Others include advertising for restaurants that can provide menus and take dinner reservations at the same time, or real estate signage that shows video clips while allowing consumers to preview listings at the same screen. 
Think about your product and then think about your customer. What would be of value to them? Determine if interactive signage would add value and solve a problem. Do the proper due diligence and then pick good vendors that have both the design capabilities and programming capability to turn your passive ho-hum experience to an engaging active experience.
Tim Burke is on the board of directors for the Digital Signage Association and owner of Electronic Art. His blog can be viewed here. You can meet Tim at the Digital Signage Expo on February 27th & 28th showing touchable applications in DT Research’s booth #442.  Stop by to discuss this article and see examples.
Posted by: Tim Burke AT 11:39 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 04 February 2008
It was an accident really.
I’m not a lawbreaker – at least not at heart. Up until now (except for a few too many speeding tickets and a hefty library fine) my record has been spotless.  Kircher_Mug2.jpg
But the other day at the grocery store, I just…
Well, I just lost it.
It was the Saturday before Christmas. I had a basket full of junk food and I was ready to check out. Being one of the faithful few who still believe it’s absolutely immoral to go through the express lane with more than 12 items, I got in line at one of those “unlimited goods” self-checkout U-scan terminals.
The line was long. When I finally got to use the terminal, the woman behind me was all too willing to dish out Christmas cheer by crowding me with her shopping cart. Her frozen stare screamed two words without actually saying them: Hurry up. I scanned my 15 items and looked at the price: $31 and change. Moving as quickly as I could, I scooted over to the end of the terminal to bag my own goods. Then I was out the door.
I was halfway through the frigid parking lot before it dawned on me that I forgot to pay.
I've just stolen groceries, I thought. I’m a criminal. A shoplifter. Any minute now, a cop with an uncanny resemblance to Joe Friday is going to plant my nose in the pavement, take me downtown and book me in a cell with rats the size of small dogs.
The bottom line is I turned around, marched right back into the store and threw myself on the mercy of the court. The kind, old lady behind the service desk was more than happy to run my debit card and let bygones be bygones.
It was embarrassing, but it got me thinking.
According to this article by the Press Association, the U.K.’s national news agency, roughly 2 million Britons admitted to stealing goods when using supermarket self-checkout terminals. The admissions came during a survey conducted by British security firm G4S. That’s a disturbingly high number, but not entirely unexpected. It’s much easier to abscond with the crown jewels when the Royal Guard is looking the other way. The term “self-service” means exactly that: You serve yourself. There are no cashiers giving you one-on-one supervision at the POS.
When you put it that way, it’s not surprising that dishonest people choose to behave dishonestly. But what about the poor saps like me who aren’t looking for loopholes — we just happen to trip and fall through them?
The store was crowded, noisy and I was in a hurry. Add to that the fact that this was one of the high-volume U-scans with a long ramp: the bagging area is several feet away from the touchscreen terminal, where the speaker is located. In a crowded store, it can be difficult to hear the speaker’s constant mantra of, “Please select payment method … Please select payment method … Please select payment method” from that distance.
Fortunately for the store, one alert cashier happened to spot my faux pas and call after me. Unfortunately for the store, she wasn’t very athletic and I was out of earshot by the time she made it to the door.
I hate to say it, but it was easy for me to snatch, grab and make my escape: So easy that I did it inadvertently. And if it’s easy to do it now, then what about in the future when we take self-service to the next level?
For instance, take a look at this story written by my colleague, Patrick Avery, editor of Self-Service World. It paints a vivid picture of the future of retail self-service: a future in which checkout lanes are eliminated altogether and customers carry handheld barcode scanners which enable them to check, bag, and pay as they go.
No supervision.
One can just imagine the security challenges that will face the industry then. How many people will try to run off with the scanners? How many will forget about them and accidentally leave them in their shopping cart or purse? (Perhaps a carefully-placed RFID tag could be used as an alarm trigger if someone tried walk out the door with an unauthorized scanner.)
The ultimate in self-service checkout, of course, is described by Joseph Grove in this story, in which the handheld scanner is done away with altogether in favor of a system which would instantaneously detect, scan and price all the items in your grocery cart.
Assuming those groceries have an RFID tag. Sure, most grocery items can be fitted with the tag, but are you going to stick one on everything? What about produce? How do you put an RFID tag on a grapefruit?
Don’t get me wrong: far be it from me to shoot down progress. I’m counting down the days until RFID checkout becomes the norm. We just have to realize that, as we give consumers more freedom and less supervision, we’re going to have to confront some issues head-on.
Some things we can learn from all this:
Lesson No. 1: Security for a self-service device means more than stopping the malevolent malcontent who wants to make a grab at getting some free groceries. Sometimes it means having a “fool-proof” plan in place to keep klutzes like me from throwing a cog in the works — and getting some free groceries.
Lesson No. 2: Self-service is an amazing technology, but it will never completely replace the vigilant employee. If ever there was an argument for having your employees closely involved with the implementation of your self-service project, my Christmas experience does a pretty good job of qualifying.
Lesson No. 3: As the self-service industry moves forward, security will continue to be a pressing issue. The more the industry empowers consumers (including the malevolent and incompetent ones), the harder it will have to work to seal any security gaps. That means being proactive and spotting those gaps before the bad guys do.
I’m sure the hardware and software gurus will be burning the midnight oil over the next couple of years as we take it to the next level. And I’m sure they’ll make the transition as smooth and secure as possible.
In closing, I just want to get one thing straight. After reading this commentary, you may be left wondering whether or not this editor is a crook.
Well, I’m not a crook.
Posted by: Travis K. Kircher AT 10:26 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Add to favorites

Our members are among the most prominent and respected suppliers of digital signage, kiosk, self-service and mobile technology solutions.

Request project help from DSA members

 The Perspective 
Latest Posts


"I joined the Digital Screenmedia Association because everything is changing so rapidly with this medium that you need to have as much access to information as you can get. I have met many vendors and users, and enjoy the opportunity to share our 'war stories' and use our experiences to help each other with ideas that support successful networks."

Margot Myers
Director, Gobal Marketing & Communications
Platt Retail Institute
Tweets by @iDigScreenmedia

Digital Screenmedia Association | 13100 Eastpoint Park Blvd. Louisville, KY 40223 | Phone: 502-489-3915 | Fax: 502-241-2795



Website managed by Networld Media Group