College Planning & Management

JAN 2013

College Planning & Management is the information resource for professionals serving the college and university market. Covering facilities, security, technology and business.

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DIGITAL SIGNAGE: YOUR CONTEMPORARY INFORMATION CENTER a medium that they can connect with and understand," says Ryan J. Cahoy, managing director of Shawnee, KS-based Rise Display, Inc., which provides complete display solutions for educational facilities. "They want today's Xbox 360 and Twitter students to feel, when on campus, that they are in a hightech, tech-savvy environment." How Easy Is It to Use? "As recently as 18 months ago, administrators' first concern was cost — justifying the Return on Investment (ROI)," says Gene Ornstead, director of Product Marketing at Walnut, CA-based ViewSonic, a leader in display technology innovation. "Prices have come down now, and digital signage isn't a big capital expenditure investment anymore. Now, the first question administrators ask is, 'How easy is it to use?'" Specifically, administrators' concern is investing in digital signage that won't be obsolete in six months, with the functionality and services they need for their facilities. They want to know how to use it to achieve its maximum benefit. "In some cases," says Ornstead, "administrators have decided to hold off making a purchasing decision because they have become confused as they have learned more about software and services. As the industry brings forth easierto-use software and interactive signage, ease of use is less of a concern." For maximum benefit, Cahoy recommends involving the right people. That means having staff ready to effectively place, install, and manage the physical signage and having staff ready to create and update the messages. Gearing agrees, strongly recommending implementing a plan for content management that ensures a measure of control and consistency. How Much Does It Cost? The second question administrators want to know is the cost. Ornstead's 62 response is that administrators don't need to start big, and they don't need to worry about the equipment becoming obsolete. "Display technology has gone through its transition of becoming light, thin, and ENERGY STAR-rated," he says. "There will be higher resolutions in the future, but today's full high-density that gives brilliant imagery won't change any time soon." Ornstead indicates that a 42-in. commercial-grade television costs less than $500, and his firm's media player with software is less than $500. "The cost of entry is not that painful," he sums. Cahoy observes that, at the other end of the pricing spectrum, an interactive videowall could cost $100,000. He encourages administrators who are just starting out to not bite off more than they can chew. "If administrators know what their most important need is and want to make a sound decision to create a solid foundation with the ability to add displays," he says, "then the initial purchase is not as daunting." In addition, some of the initial investment cost is balanced by less printing, which also results in higher student involvement and more positive outcome. Ongoing costs don't have to be painful, either. "There are a lot of degrees of ongoing costs," says Cahoy, "from free to several thousand dollars. It comes down to determining what capabilities a university has in-house and how much they want to spend." How Do I Determine Placement? Typically, digital signage is placed in multiple, high-traffic locations for the greatest viewing opportunities. This includes different colleges, such as science and math. It also includes public areas, such as cafeterias, student centers, and libraries — areas where students congregate. Ornstead notes that, often, signage includes a wayfinding display with an interactive map so that COLLEGE PLANNING & MANAGEMENT / JANUARY 2013 students and visitors can locate where they are and where they need to go. Tell Me About Interactive Signage "The general trend is toward interactive signs, although passive displays remain important on campus," says Cahoy. "People are comfortable touching display technology and its cost has come down significantly, so touching a sign… adds a whole new degree of usability and functionality — it creates an experience for the user." Digital signage can be updated in real time, whereas regular signage can be challenging to keep updated. Plus, it can include so much more than names: It can tell stories. "Because it's easy to keep current," Cahoy says, "sub niches within universities are gravitating to interactive signage with specific uses that solve problems." What's My ROI? There's no direct ROI for digital signage — it's an expenditure that adds value to the student experience. When asked about ROI, Gearing notes that it is hard to measure but, then again, so are many other things: "I can write a press release and send it to 50 publications, and it may not get picked up. Does that mean I shouldn't have written the press release? I believe people need to be informed, and digital signage is an information tool, understanding that people have a choice when it comes to being informed. Still, I like the immediacy of digital signage, and I fi nd it's more attractive and effective than a bulletin board full of 8-½-by-11 fl iers." "For communication to be effective, it needs to be two-way," sums Gearing In fact, she's looking forward to advancing to interactive signage to solidify two-way communication. "I think digital signage is a good investment; it gives students information, and that's a good thing." CPM WWW.PLANNING 4EDUCATION.COM

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