Originally published in CIO
By David Levin
As a growing number of companies around the world incorporate visual display technology, chief information officers are finding a spaghetti bowl of solutions already in existence across their organizations. The conundrum for CIOs is best summed up by three words—department credit card.
Imagine a company whose departments, from marketing and human resources to facilities, are each keen to use display technology for different applications – and they will pull their individual department credit cards out to pay for them without coordination across the company. These managers are turning to digital signs to replace old-fashioned paper notices, chalkboards and static posters, or meeting room displays to replace printed outlook schedules posted outside rooms—and the list goes on.
Instead of coordinating with IT and making a corporate-wide decision on an enterprise system, these departments work independently, often buying separate systems for what could be accomplished by one with less oversight and at lower cost.
For CIOs, it’s a governance nightmare: The end result is a hodge-podge of disparate, often incompatible hardware and software components that, once purchased, somehow become the responsibility of IT. When there’s a hardware or software issue, IT staff is expected to handle it.
Get procedures right
It’s a growing problem because the number of displays connected to the Internet and corporate networks is proliferating at a rapid pace. Gartner forecasts that 20.4 billion connected things will be in use worldwide by 2020. Like anything else in the IT continuum, as more displays get connected to networks, CIOs must establish company-wide control in order to ensure the optimal outcome.
Centrally managing visual display technology saves substantial spending on equipment and software licenses, countless hours of IT staff work, and makes the use of such technology more effective. Plus, it sets the foundation for scale; because, all other headaches aside, the tangled spaghetti bowl of display technology approach is not scalable.
CIOs looking to improve governance should start by gathering representatives of key departments, such as human resources, design and branding staff that might manage some aspect of the signage network to establish the processes and procedures for governing visual display technology.
Then develop a Reference Architecture, setting out how devices will be managed, choosing what hardware, software and operating system will be used across these devices, what network they will run on, what management policies apply and who is responsible for asset maintenance. That process will also help determine what devices and software best fit the company’s needs and will minimize the number of vendors that IT staff must interact with.
I know it sounds simple, but not getting this right leads to a cascade of other problems.
Get the vision right
IOs often prefer vendors that fit in what Gartner calls the Magic Quadrant—companies with a completeness of vision and the proven ability to execute effectively in a specific area. However, since Gartner has not yet produced a Magic Quadrant for Visual Communications, choosing an enterprise software provider requires the hands-on expertise and judgment of key IT staff and industry references.
As CIOs work through this process, they must develop a vision for digital signage that includes assessing future needs so that any solution is scalable. That vision must also include a proposal for content strategy, and recommendations for the size of initial investment and ongoing expense. It should also include the scope of where signs will appear, the inventory of assets that will have to be managed, identifying who will maintain those assets and who is responsible for content development and management.
Once the process is defined, adding new hardware and software licenses becomes simple, predictable and sustainable.
When done right, CIOs can create a centrally managed, scalable solution for digital signage that follows IT governance standards while still allowing each departmental stakeholder to leverage their respective displays as they see fit.
Get the priorities right
Having done all that, deciding what is worthy of display starts by surveying stakeholders to establish priorities — determining what displays are Must Haves, Should Haves, Could Haves, and Won’t Haves at this time. Many of the Must Haves — such as emergency notification of weather and security announcements — are no brainers, as are many of the Won’t Haves, such as chalk boards. However, prioritizing what a firm Should Have and Could Have on visual displays is best informed by a comprehensive survey of staff.
Just as CIOs have strategies for managing such things as networks, servers, personal computers and mobile devices, they need detailed, published strategies for how to use visual display technology, encompassing everything from maintenance, capital budgets, technical standards and integrations with other software systems.
Getting all of this under control will result in a scalable, enterprise Visual Communications network that meets the needs of multiple departments—in a cost-effective way. And there will be way fewer IT headaches.
David Levin is president and CEO of Four Winds Interactive.