It is no surprise to those in the industry that customers expend a great deal of effort on the decision of when and how to implement digital signage and which hardware to purchase.
Planning and budgeting, sometimes years in advance.
Interviewing various providers, either informally or through a formal Request for Proposal (RFP) process and even set up an internal “user group” or committee to advise on the types of features and functionality being sought.
What IS a surprise is how little time is spent on the decision of when to replace the digital directory hardware.
Broadly speaking, we see our customers’ approach to this decision falling into one of two categories.
The Reactive Approach to Replacing Your Digital Signage Hardware
The first approach, which I will call the reactive approach, is to run the hardware for as long as possible—either until the picture quality of the monitor or performance of the PC or media player is so degraded that it becomes a distraction to the user or, in a worst-case until it “dies” altogether.
“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing.”– Theodore Roosevelt
Signs Your Digital Directory Hardware is Beginning to Fail
Signs that a monitor is reaching the end of its useful life include:
Loss of Brightness
One of the first signs that a display is getting older is a loss of brightness. Is the screen still bright enough to capture the user’s attention, or is it getting a little dim?
Burn in or Ghosting
Another commonly observed feature of an older screen is “burn-in” or “ghosting”, caused by the non-uniform use of the pixels over time. On a touch screen, sometimes “dead spots” can emerge as your screen ages where certain areas of the screen can lose their ability to recognize touches.
Slowed or Inconsistent Start-Up
Similarly, PC’s or media players can slow over time and/or fail to power up consistently when programmed to turn on in the morning, requiring the nuisance of a manual reboot to get them up and running.
Of course, the ultimate in reactive thinking is to run the hardware until the day it actually “dies”. Only then does the call get made to replace the unit—and right away!
The Proactive Approach to Replacing Digital Signage Hardware
The second approach, which I will call the proactive approach, is to PLAN and BUDGET for the ultimate demise of the hardware, replacing it before the performance degrades noticeably and certainly before it fails completely.
Advantages of the Proactive Approach
First, and most obviously, replacing hardware before it actually fails means that the unit can remain continuously in service, so a property doesn’t lose the use of the signage, often at the most inconvenient time possible (think a shopping mall the week before Christmas)!
Just as most people don’t wait to replace their 10-year-old car until it starts failing (usually on the coldest day of winter) or replace their 5-year-old PC or smartphone until the hard drive has crashed, why wait until your directory has actually failed before replacing it?
Delays in Replacing Hardware
But some may ask, can’t a new screen or PC be swapped out the next day?
Unfortunately, things aren’t always that easy.
Supply Chain Delays
First and foremost, as many of us witnessed during the recent US/China trade dispute, supply chains can get stretched and we saw many large US VARs run short of several models of screens and PCs.
Second, and perhaps not as obvious, is the fact that screen manufacturers are constantly changing their product lines, discontinuing older models, and adding new ones.
While innovation is generally a good thing, the problem we are now encountering is that the new screen models may have very different form factors than the older models.
For example, the 55” touchscreen model of one leading manufacturer was some 4.75” deep 5 years ago. Today, the model which has replaced it are 2.5” deep.
What this means, in practical terms, is a new screen cannot simply be “swapped into” an enclosure for an older screen, but rather new mounting brackets need to be ordered or in some cases fabricated—and this can take time.
Under a planned end of life scenario, this process can all be premeditated and managed whereas, under an abrupt end of life, the transition is much less smooth and much more time-consuming.
Trying to find a fabricator to make a new mounting bracket for that shopping mall screen that died the weekend before Christmas is no easy task!
Best Practises for Replacing Your Digital Signage Hardware
What do we see as “best practices” for customers wanting to plan for hardware replacement proactively?
Discuss Your Plan Prior & Write Policies around Replacement Timelines
Our key recommendation is to develop some written policies around when to replace hardware. While touchscreens and PC’s don’t come with “best before dates” stamped on them like groceries, manufacturers do provide some testing results that can provide useful guidance.
For example, one major manufacturer has found its touchscreens have an MTF (Mean Time to Failure) of 50,000 hours.
This statistic allows a user to calculate when based upon the screen’s site deployment characteristics, how many years it should last, on average, before it fails.
For example, a commercial office building that runs its directory 16 hours per day, 7 days a week can calculate an MTF on its screens of 8.6 years whereas a hospital that runs its directories 24/7 can expect only a 5.7 year MTF.
This allows each of these organizations to plan and budget an orderly replacement of its screens, a few at a time beginning and ending a couple of years before and after the MTF, or to formulate an automatic replacement of all hardware perhaps a year or two before the MTF.
This approach to inventory management is common in many industries as companies manage fleets of vehicles or employee laptops on a statistical rather than ad hoc approach.
Consider Hardware Upgrades
Finally, the decision on when to replace hardware can also be a catalyst for the property or organization to evaluate its entire digital signage program.
Have the needs of the building changed?
Is it time to upgrade, rather than simply replace, the hardware?
Ten years ago, it was hard to find a reliable touchscreen larger than 32” and many buildings installed 15” – 22” screens in their lobbies.
Today, we seldom install any screens less than 42”, and 55” and larger screens have become much more common and cost-competitive.
And why stop with the hardware?
Evaluate the Change in your Visitor Expectations
The features and functionality available today are many times greater than those of the past when a building directory seldom meant more than just that.
A plan to modernize your digital signage hardware can also represent an opportunity to update the software, adding such features as:
– live transit information
– additional languages representing the community your building serves
– interactive maps of the neighbourhood connections between buildings (PATH, Plus 15, etc.)
– building sustainability initiatives,
– compliance with ADA, AODA or other accessibility standards
Now that you’re taking the proactive approach, have a plan and budget for replacing your digital signage hardware you’ll eliminate visitor experience interruptions, keep your features up to date and ultimately avoid added stress & tasks to your to-do list.
As Theodore Roosevelt once said: “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing.”