Blog: Jeff Hastings 
Jeff Hastings (Bio)
Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Staging and testing digital signage projects prior to deployment is an important yet often overlooked element of a successful digital signage installation. Our support staff regularly receive support calls from installers having interoperability problems with systems that weren't tested prior to installation. They call us when they're on-site, un-boxing things and trying to make them work. It can be a very stressful situation for everyone involved.

It's not uncommon for individual components to be tested prior to installation. And while this is a good first step, it overlooks the reality that thorough testing requires full staging to see how the entire system (software, media player, screens, mounting hardware and the network configuration) behaves in unison. This highlights the importance of system integration to truly understand and perfect interoperability of individual components working in harmony.

It is often the case that a system integrator specifies all the required equipment for a given project and then turns it over to an installation team for the final stage of delivery to a customer. In this case, the best practice is for the integration team to carefully stage the equipment before the actual installation.

Take all of the equipment, set it up, test the content and networking to make sure it's working perfectly. Then box it up with explicit instructions for the installation team. It should all be checked, labeled and kitted. All the installers should have to do is connect it together. They're good at installation, and it should be exactly that. The installation should be geared around the labor side of things and have nothing to do with the operation of the system itself. If the pre-installation staging is done properly, the only thing the installer will have to worry about is possible shipping damage.

Staging is especially crucial for content that relies on data-driven information. For example, if the player connects to a database of pricing information for a digital menu board, the integrator needs to make sure the connections to the pricing database are being made. Staging is also a crucial process for any kind of video wall. Staging the screen configuration, checking the player synchronization and bezel compensation settings — all of these elements contribute to a smooth and successful final installation.

One final consideration for the integrator to ensure a simple and successful deployment is to specify reliable purpose-built hardware designed specifically for the job at hand. Think of the long haul and start with the products that will perform flawlessly for years to come.

Installers don't want to be in the position of dealing with malfunctioning PCs or other equipment in the field. And they certainly don't want to complete an installation with only blank screens to show for all their hard work. Installers understandably don't want to be in the position of having to call out an engineer to fix the problem.

There exists a symbiotic relationship between integrators and installers, each with an important role to play in their shared success. Working in tandem, they can build and maintain very strong customer relationships that benefit all involved.

(Cover image courtesy of Sigfrid Lundberg.)

Posted by: Admin AT 10:26 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Wednesday, 10 December 2014

A good systems integrator delivers a system that works, meets the client's requirements and is delivered on time and on budget. A great integrator goes a step further, and transforms business requirements into technology solutions, preferably solutions with a very long lifespan.

Much of what separates the two is the ability to communicate well with clients. How closely does the integrator listen and understand the business issues that the client faces and the needs of the audience who will view the signage? Do they use this information to engineer superior solutions that fulfill the client's needs? Project engineers should be skilled at interpreting business requirements and transforming them into appropriate technical solutions.

A great integrator is able to advise the customer about current and upcoming technology, and will recommend a technology solution that future-proofs their installation. This is very different from simply delivering on the client's demands — an integrator that is simply installing a shopping list specified by the client isn't really adding value.

Many digital signage installations require ongoing support. Content may need to be continually refreshed and updated, and new functions and capabilities introduced as business needs evolve. Therefore the relationship with the systems integrator should transform into a long-term business partnership.

How do you go about finding a great systems integrator that will become a valued partner for years to come? Due diligence in this process can be broken into five important steps:

Step 1: Consider the project

Define and be able to clearly explain both the current requirements of your project as well as future goals. Do you want to eventually transition to 4K content and displays? Do you want to add touch interactivity or live TV at some time in the future? Draw up the project requirements and selection criteria. If you don't have this expertise in-house, consider bringing in an expert.

Step 2: Consider the integrator from a business perspective

Review the financial health and integrity of the systems integrator's business. Ask for and call on references that have installed systems similar to what you are asking them to do. Assess the business culture of the systems integrator. How quickly do they respond to requests? Establish their billing practices — when does a casual discussion turn into chargeable consultancy?

Step 3: Consider the integrator from a technical/human perspective

Match the technical requirements of the project to the skills and experience of the integrator. Establish their ability to customize hardware if required and get a feel for how close they are to market-leading vendors. Be cautious of offers to tackle issues outside the firm's expertise. Review their website for examples of similar successful projects, and ask detailed questions about them.

Step 4: Look at the implementation process

Establish who will actually be working on the project, and what the roles of each member of the team will be. Verify that their experience, skills and qualifications are appropriate. Check what parts, if any, of the project will be subcontracted. Verify the suitability and skills of the proposed subcontractors. Discuss a timeline for implementation, including milestones and payment terms. Establish sign-off criteria, including deliverables such as documentation, training and records.

Step 5: Meet the whole team

It is essential to have a good relationship with the project team at every level — not just the managers. Seek a meeting with the whole team before you sign off the project, and ideally involve all the key stakeholders from your side, too. Look for a team that can contribute creatively but takes a measured-by-experience approach to your project.

Close attention to the considerations above will streamline the systems integrator selection process, and set both sides up for a mutually beneficial partnership that will stand the test of time.

Posted by: Admin AT 08:00 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
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