Digital Signage Software: How Do I Choose?

With over 1000+ options for digital signage software available it can seem like an overwhelming and daunting task to find the right one for your company to adopt.

The initial feeling reminds me of the intro to a 1996 Cake song entitled, The Distance.

"Reluctantly crouched at the starting line, Engines pumping and thumping in time. The green light flashes, the flags go up. Churning and burning they yearn for the cup. They deftly maneuver and muscle for rank, Fuel burning fast on an empty tank."

I imagine you sitting down to your Google search bar, heartbeat elevated because you need to make a very important decision for your company and have no idea where to start. You put in the search term "digital signage software" and your enter button becomes the green light flashing and the flags going up.

The results that turn up become the software companies, maneuvering and muscling for rank to gain the opportunity to pull you in to their solution, yearning for the "cup," or your attention. After hours of searching you feel like all your fuel burnt fast and you are left empty or no better than when you started.

Sound familiar?

Well, we would like to provide some basic, or starting line, information about digital signage software so that you can at least begin your search with answers to the following questions: What is the purpose of digital signage software? What digital signage software options are there? How do I choose a digital signage software?

What is the Purpose of Digital Signage Software?

Picture this: you walk into your doctor's office and they have a digital display showing a host of different things, such as "meet the doctors," health related topics, even fun facts. Or you go shopping at your favorite retailer and there is a display highlighting the newest fashion, the hottest sale item, where to locate the shoes, or a live social media feed that you can upload a pic of your new purchase.

All of this content such as images, videos, social media feeds, and any other data used on the digital display, as well as how it is managed, exists because of digital signage software.

The software creates what you see, and quite possibly, what you do not see. The software is your content management system (CMS).

The CMS is the control system for your content.

Typically, there are a few key elements to your CMS:

Content Management: There will be a host of different types of content (videos, images, URLs, social media feeds, etc) that you'll want to utilize in your digital signage network.

Your CMS will allow you to sort, tag and control these content assets so you'll be able to access what you need when you need it. Each unique software provider may deliver different content options, but each are customizable to work for your company or business.

Your CMS also allows your clients to become the administrators of that content and assign local users within their organization to organize, sort, tag, create playlists, etc.

Schedule Content: Once your client creates their content, that content can be scheduled for deployment. Scheduling is customizable too, allowing certain content to be delivered to specific displays at specific times across your client's network.

Monitoring or Reporting: This aspect of the CMS allows you and your client to access a dashboard to monitor the network enabling the opportunity to identify and troubleshoot issues efficiently.

Understanding that the software is the primary component to the digital signage solution, now let's take a look at the different software options available.

What Are My Digital Signage Software Options?

There are two options, in a generic sense of the word, when choosing a digital signage software. There is cloud-based, or Software as a Service (SaaS), and there is local, or self-hosted softwares. Let's break down each into a quick list of features.

SaaS Features: · Web-based/HTML-based solution· Cost is usually per device per month· Includes technical support and software updates· Accessible via any web browser· Simple system requires less paid staff needed to run it· Budget friendly· Downside: If you cancel payment for the service, you lose your whole solution

Local/Self-Hosted Features:· You own the software· Can be maintained at current version if no further payments or updates are made· Hosted by your provided server or client device at a physical location of your choice· Downside: While you "own" the software, you still pay a yearly maintenance fee if you wish to keep the system updated· Downside: Staff or further resources are often needed to maintain (IT Dept./HR Dept.)

There is a possible third option, the free option. This is the first one that most people think they can jump to. Unfortunately, it may not be all its cracked up to be.

There are a couple of things to consider before going with the free options:

What are you getting with the free offer? Many times you can get some downloadable, customizable content, however the option of monitoring or scheduling or even customizing to your extent needed comes at an additional cost. Updates, training, and support may not be included. Make sure you understand everything you are getting with your free service.

Will it work with my hardware? If hardware already exists, the software may or may not work with it. Most paid-for softwares will recommend hardware or provide lists of compatible hardware. Be sure that the free software options offer this as well to ensure your components will work together.

Is the software from a trustworthy company? Like any other company you obtain a product from, take the time to do your research. Check reviews of that specific software and even look into the developer and the company offering the software.

Even after close consideration of the free option, Seth Godin provides us with some insight in his blog on the problem with mediocre software:

"Perhaps the biggest problem: In many markets, especially online, software is free. And free software built by corporations turns us from the user into the product. If you're not paying for it, after all, you must be the bait for the person who is. Which means companies spend time figuring out how to extract value once we're locked in and can't easily switch."

He adds: "When you can, insist on paying for your software. Our instinct to take the free stuff is often a bad long-term choice—it takes a committed team to keep free software worth the trust we put into it."

Whether the option is free for you, a cloud-based SaaS, or a local solution, it is important to weigh out if that decision will be a cheap or affordable one and how both you and your client can capitalize on it.

Now that you understand the software options available to you, how do you choose?

How Do I Choose A Digital Signage Software?

As with any major decision for your company, choosing a digital signage software can require quite the research (as you have probably figured out by now). There are a handful of things to focus in on when making your decision.

The "why" behind your signage: The most important thing when even considering utilizing digital signage in your client's business, is helping your customer understand their "why" behind the signage.

Budget: Obviously, cost is a consideration when choosing software. As you check out your software options, be sure you understand all apparent fees, as well as, not so apparent fees.

Some of the costs to consider are: monthly license/service fees, updates, length of contracts, hardware, installation or setup, and training.

Hardware: As mentioned above, do you currently have hardware like displays or media players already, or is this something your client will need as part of their solution? Ensuring compatibility between the software they are looking at and the hardware they have or are looking at as well is a must.

Type of content you intend to use: Whether they want to use images, videos, social media, RSS feeds, wayfinding, interaction with an audience, data visualization, menus, kiosks, etc., it is imperative that the software you help them choose meets those content desires.

The Content Management System itself: Content and signage is created, scheduled, and monitored through the CMS, which is, again, the control center. This means choosing a software that provides a friendly experience for the user is essential to a successful digital signage solution.

It is easy to fall under the pressure of the overwhelming feeling at the beginning of the decision making process. We understand that we are only talking about digital signage software here and not deciding on your life partner, however either decision can be intimidating on its own level.

Knowing how to start the process is the first hurdle. Mark Twain provides us with the idea that, "The secret to getting ahead is getting started."

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