When and How to Engage Digital Signage Suppliers

Supplier 1

Over an 18-month period, a large grocery chain had a standing time of 2PM on Thursday afternoon to hear from vendors about digital signage. A vendor calling to try to book a meeting was delighted to have a date offered by the secretary, who simply flipped forward to the next available Thursday at 2pm and added the vendor’s name to the calendar.

Whoever was able to attend from the grocer’s impacted departments such as marketing, IT, merchant relations, facilities and human resources would participate in the meeting. Hundreds of vendors presented, with some presentations including partner suppliers that might be part of a final solution. Many would request, and be given a second date to focus on key elements of the technologies in a possible solution.

Not very far into the information gathering process, the grocer came to believe they knew more about the medium than the vendors did. Whereas vendors were focused on the element of their particular expertise, the end user was seeing the big picture comprised of these individual elements and assessing what would be required for them to benefit most from digital signage. This chain had been an early adopter of looping video show on portable TV for product promotion, and their distance learning satellite system had been central to their staff training and internal communications strategies.

“Everyone believes their part is the most important” I was told by someone from the large grocery chain, “and very few had any idea of what it would take to truly do a cost/benefit or investment analysis, or create an overall project plan. Many did not appreciate the implications of implementation or the business challenges to be addressed”.

Despite this time consuming exercise, and the benefits that it could deliver, no investment was ever made. “Hearing about all the moving parts, system complexity and lacking the time or motivation to assess application possibilities and real ROI, we decided not to proceed,” said the grocer representative.

What are the lessons?

  • Digital signage needs to integrate into existing operations and do something better than existing approaches.
  • The property operator (in this case a retailer) is but one stakeholder in the decision process. In retail, merchants matter.
  • Technology follows intention. Presenting a solution when there is no appreciation for the business problem or opportunity is a waste of time.
  • Business value motivates investment.
  • Vendor selection was seen to be a complex undertaking, with the potential impact of the intricacies of specific solutions having to weighed in establishing the total cost of ownership.

The end user did the right and usual thing in investigating potential digital signage use, but became buried under the mountain of information and worthy considerations. Each department looked to every other one to identify themselves as the project champion, which points to the key learning.

The project champion along with lines of authority and responsibility must be clearly established as an initial step in the investigation and planning process.

Vendors found themselves laying their “pearls before swine” as the concept of operation that could be called “equal yoking” was never instituted.

Many suppliers presented their solutions while meeting the end user eye-to-eye. They were eloquent in presenting the “how” of digital signage that they would bring. They described the trunk, legs, tail, tusks and other parts of the elephant with which they are familiar in great depth, while overlooking the importance of establishing why an elephant is important to the enterprise.

A stronger positioning for the supplier would have been to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the end user to determine how the future could be different.

An “equal yoking” would result, as when beasts of burden are joined by a yoke placed around the neck of each to harness and direct their individual contributions.

Each of the end user and the supplier have a role to play. As each oxen or pulling horse in the yoke is entitled to expect the contribution of the other, lest they go in circles, so it is with end user and supply organizations.

Clarifying, refining and even validating the description of benefits that are to be derived is a mutually beneficial effort. The end user gets investment validation while the supplier is provided the opportunity to describe how their solution will maximize the benefit.

A wise procurement executive in a retail organization explained it simply as we were about to go into interviews of a short list of possible turnkey solution providers. He said “I just want to learn one thing… are they here for our benefit, or for their own”.

The best advice to end users is to define the business value and understand what “content” will be presented to achieve the greatest benefits. Then, technology selection can be made with the focus on fair and reasonable total cost of ownership over the operational life of the technology ecosystem.

End users should not become the swine toward which the best of suppliers will not cast their pearls. Those who bear little burden for describing their intentions will loose the benefits of being equally yoked with suppliers that are most capable of delivering highest value.

The best advise to suppliers is to appreciate that digital signage is a business tool that must serve the interests of multiple stakeholders, each of which must have comfort in the benefits that will be realized against a total cost of acquisition and operations. It is on this basis that the industry continues to grow, and the best of suppliers are rising to the top.

Lyle Bunn is an independent analyst, advisor and educator related to digital place-based signage who has assisted hundreds of organizations, published over 350 articles, whitepapers and guidebooks and helped to train over 10,000 end user and supply professionals. Lyle@LyleBunn.com


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