Creating a Digital Signage Network (24. Vendors)

                                                 Vendors… A Vital Relationship                                                  

The reliability of your vendors is mission critical to your success.  They must have access to the products you need in quantity and they must be able to deliver on-time.  If there are problems, they need to be quick to respond and assist in a solution to that problem.  We have dealt with many vendors over the last five years and have rewarded those that work best with us with ongoing business.  Those that were not responsive to our needs are no longer the vendors we call upon for new orders.  As in the movie The Godfather, “It’s business, Sonny.  It’s not personal.”  The reputation of your team is on the line every time the administrators request you to perform the job they hired you to do.  I never want to disappoint them with poor performance, so when we deal with vendors it is important that they understand that failure is not an option.   A good conversation upfront always helps me understand what the vendor can and will provide in the way of service.  I then explain to every vendor my reasonable expectations of their services and assure them that if we work together we will both be happy for a long time to come.  Expect and demand quality customer service.  A good vendor is a valuable asset to your network and they should be rewarded with additional business.  Stay in contact with them throughout the ordering and delivery process so that unforeseen challenges can be dealt with quickly.  Check the shipping / tracking notices regularly until the equipment arrives.  Occasionally, problems happen and it can be frustrating but a good relationship with your vendor and timely responses on everyone’s part will be most helpful if you work together for a solution.

Often, our initial research for a new or existing technology begins with an email or telephone call to one of our trusted vendors.  They can short-cut your research time and offer unique solutions in the initial phases of any project and can also facilitate discussions with product engineers at their disposal.  We have held numerous conference calls to product engineers on the staff of major manufacturers before we have made important decisions on key pieces of technology.  They are willing to help if you can develop a good relationship with them!

Frank and open discussions early on with our software vendors regarding expectations have benefited us many times.  We explained to them that we need to enjoy the option of contacting them by email or telephone to discuss unique problems, vexing questions, current research and new ideas as our digital signage network grows.  We promised them we would not pester them to death with silly inquiries but that our expectations were such that if we committed to investing significant resources in their products we would need to feel comfortable coming to them for important and timely solutions.  Surprisingly, they have not only been pleasantly receptive to the close working relationship we have with them, they have actually taken some of our innovative ideas or solutions and actually developed them into the next build of the software or firmware of their products!

The warranty on most pieces of equipment varies and you need to consider them carefully.  There are consumer grade models of monitors and there are commercial grade models of monitors.  They look the same… but looks are deceiving.  A consumer grade model monitor is not made for 24/7/365 usage, whereas a commercial grade model is made for extended usage.  Likewise, a typical consumer grade model monitor carries only a 90 day warranty, whereas a commercial grade monitor carries a 3 year warranty.  Our digital signage network is more than five years old and our signage is up and running 24/7/365 with no significant monitor failures to this point.  Industry discussions indicate that the MTF (mean time to failure… in other words, “croak time”) should be around five to seven years.  We know we will experience attrition at some point and monitors will “croak” on us and we have taken that into account from a budgetary perspective.  We have found that investing an extra couple hundred dollars for a commercial grade monitor is well worth it.  You get what you pay for… and a digital sign sitting “dark and busted” serves no purpose; it sends the ugly message that your digital signage network is not to be taken serious.  Digital signage with an Emergency Messaging feature sitting “dark and busted” can be a tremendous liability to your organization if you have a crisis!  Beware!  Be vigilant!  Assume that a “dark and busted” digital sign has a personal injury attorney attached to it if an unforeseen problem suddenly arises.

  Warranties

Consumer Warranty usually 90 days 18-24/7

Commercial Warranty usually 3 years  24/7/365

Listed below are some of the vendors we have considered using, use on a regular basis, or have used in the past with reasonable results.  This list is certainly not all inclusive and the digital signage product marketplace grows by the day.  These resources are merely an entry point into your research of a digital signage system regardless of the scale.  Take the time to talk to these vendors about the features of their products and the price of purchase.  You can start out small and add features as you grow based upon your own institutional resources and vision of your digital signage network growth.  Some solutions are less expensive for less capability… but that can also equate to additional costs in the future to make a sweeping upgrade.  When talking to vendors, we always talk about pricing and scalability in the same conversation.  I want to know from a vendor if I buy one of their products now, what will it cost me when I have ten, twenty-five, fifty or one hundred of their products?  Is it smarter for me to make this purchase decision now for one item, or should I wait until I phase the project for multiple product purchases a year from now in a new budget period?  Let the vendor know what your future plans might be regarding growth.  I am looking for economies of scale, plain and simple.  It’s business.  It doesn’t hurt to ask them these questions and you will often find that vendors value repeat business from satisfied customers.  Believe it or not, serious vendors will celebrate in your success when they know you are using their products and relationship.  When I am pleased with the service I receive from one of our vendors I never hesitate to tell other people who ask me questions about products we use.  Show your appreciation to a good vendor by suggesting their services.

(An * indicates we are currently using or have used this product(s) on a regular basis.)

 

X2O Media (Xpresenter software)*  Very powerful features!

http://www.x2omedia.com/

Harris Infocaster (Infocaster software)*  Our original software purchase and worked very well.

http://digitalsignage.harris.com/

FourWinds  (software)

http://www.fourwindsinteractive.com/

C-nario  (software)

http://www.c-nario.com/category/Home

DoubleTake  (Fail-Over software)*  We rely on this software to serve as a redundant back-up of all our systems and data.  If our main network fails due to a power interruption or network interruption the system fails-over to an identical system on another campus that is on a different network and power grid.  We do not lose our emergency messaging capability for more than a few short minutes during the fail-over process.

http://www.doubletake.com/english/Pages/default.aspx

Chief (mounting hardware)*  Great service and products!

http://www.chiefmfg.com/

Peerless  (mounting hardware)*  Great service and products!

http://www.peerlessmounts.com/

Middle Atlantic (mounting hardware and equipment enclosures)*  Have used these folks for years.

http://www.middleatlantic.com/

Mini-Comm (broadcaster, receiver, KVM)*  Used these products for years.

http://www.minicom.com/

Atlona  (broadcaster, receiver)*  Very satisfied with these products.

http://www.atlona.com/Atlona-VGA-with-Stereo-Audio-CAT5-Extender-with-CAT5-loop-outs-receiver-unit.html

PC Mall  (custom spec computers)*  Great relationship with these folks!  Our “go-to” contact for every deployment concept and order.  They have been great to assist us in research and development of our project phases.  Peter Blackburn is a great person to work with.

http://www.pcmall.com/home

Samsung (monitors)*  Very pleased with almost 100 of their products.

http://www.samsung.com/us/video/tvs

NEC  (monitors)*  Very good to work with and are beginning to use them more for specialized projects and phases in the future.

http://www.necdisplay.com/category/large-screen-displays

ViewSonic  (monitors)

http://www.viewsonic.com/products/digital-signage/

Panasonic  (monitors)*

http://www.panasonic.com/business/plasma/displays-home.asp

Visual Apex  (equipment and hardware)*

http://www.visualapex.com/digital-signage.asp

Analogway  (digital scan converter)*

http://www.analogway.com/

APC (UPS – uninterrupted power supply)*

http://www.apc.com/products/index.cfm

Panphonics  (directed audio / sound)*  Really cool technology we use for directed audio!

http://www.panphonics.com/applications.php?category=digital_signage

Parametric Sound  (directed audio / sound)*  Really cool technology we use for directed audio!

http://www.parametricsound.com/

TruMedia  (audience measurement technology)*  (Way cool!)

http://www.tru-media.com/

LocaModa  (place-based social media audience engagement applications)*  Great additions to our normal content loop of information that our audience enjoys.

http://locamoda.com/

Animoto  (unique video slide show compilations)*  Cuts down content creation time when you need a snazzy flash gallery for photographs in your content loop of information.

http://animoto.com/

E2Campus (emergency messaging software)*  Main emergency alert software that our university uses with the WVU Police Department.

http://www.e2campus.com/

Nixle (free / limited emergency messaging software to government agencies)

http://www.nixle.com/

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About swgraham2

Mountain Mists is an opportunity to develop some thought processes individually as I journey through this wonderful world; as someone who values highly effective management techniques and the art of leading teams; and through my association with West Virginia University as a professional technologist and network manager specializing in digital signage.
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