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“Big-brand marketing messages and locally generated content are now living in perfect harmony,” says digital signage pathfinder Pixel Inspiration, adding Scala to its roster of class-leading content management technologies
Case study executive overview: The story so far
Four years ago, the majority of digital signage networks were built to provide owners (retailers, site owners and network operators) with central control over all content, where regional and local variations such as product, service, price or promotion were managed and distributed from one operations center to preselected groups of sites on a broadcast frequency that followed promotional calendars or trading patterns.
At that time, content management systems were almost entirely enterprise-based and required dedicated computers and software to run services in each site. This meant that while operations centers had access to the equipment in each site (and therefore had control over each venue’s broadcast), for site owners to change a price, flag an out-ofstock item or enhance a promotion, physical requests had to be routed through the operations center where physical changes to content were made and then re-published to the site in question. This laborious and comparatively costly process could take over a day to facilitate the broadcast of updated content.
It was at this point that Pixel Inspiration (Pixel) identified that opportunities existed to provide individual site owners, managers and staff with the capability to access, manage, create, control and showcase content created by them at individual site level and publish the content onto a digital signage network simply, quickly and directly. Among other benefits, this would enable site managers to update their screens to reflect their trading requirements and to ensure that their customers received the most relevant, appropriate and up-to-date information available at the time of publication, just some of the many dynamic messaging capabilities digital signage offers for marketing communications purposes.
In doing so, Pixel also recognized that in providing site owners with managed access to the network, opportunities existed to lower process management costs, speed up content refreshment, and provide site owners with ownership over their networks.
This realization and the resultant solution was groundbreaking at the time because Pixel was able to offer customers the ability to compose, modify and update content based on a simple, secure, customizable Web page that acted as the Web-based “front end” that then communicated with enterprise systems that were already installed in both the central operations center and at each site. This provided local control over a centrally managed enterprise solution and was arguably one of the first iterations of what we know today in the digital signage marketplace as “software as a service,” or “SaaS.”
Between 2004 and 2008, Pixel applied this rationale and developed its SaaS services for brands including Knight Frank (estate agents) and Adecco (recruitment services), and more recently in offering customized solutions to Thomas Cook (travel & leisure) and BB’s Coffee & Muffins (quick service restaurants). Pixel also engaged with corporate clients in supplying dynamic signage networks for internal communications which offered departmental managers the opportunity to update their own content on a needs basis.
High tech, low input
The commonality between the brands that received Pixel’s early SaaS solutions was a desire by their marketing and communications teams to provide both a centrally branded and managed messaging framework while at the same time offering individual stakeholders (store managers, for example) the opportunity to customize certain parts of the broadcast to ensure that the content was both timely and relevant for the benefit of customers and staff.
This requirement informed the development of Pixel’s Web-based front-end service which provided customers a branded, managed environment from which a variety of stakeholders with different levels of authority and interest could access, create, schedule and upload content to the network within the wider “master” programming schedule via a range of options provided to them through Pixel’s frontend design.
For example, a Web-based front end would offer a store manager the opportunity to create a range of different messages (e.g., price reductions, special offers or “limited time only” deals) using nothing more than a PC with Internet access and a suitable browser. After a simple login process the user is provided with a series of options relating to content creation, management and publishing, based on a series of predefined templates.
In this example, text is entered and images are posted via a local or corporate gallery and animated, if appropriate, to complete a message that is accurate and brand-compliant. Once the system completes its checks for consistency, usage and spelling, it is immediately published to the network for immediate playout or for playout at a predefined future time. While it is a sophisticated, managed service, it is no more difficult for most users to use than posting a blog on a Web site, and in many instances staff can selftrain quickly within the rules of the design and from help provided by online wizards.
Innovatively, the approach taken by Pixel was to enable its Web-based front end to work seamlessly across a range of content management systems based on both enterprise and SaaS platforms. This meant that regardless of the technology platform sitting in the background, the customer-facing foreground system provided usability and functionality to the client without overcomplicating the relationship by placing technical barriers in front of usability, speed and efficiency.
Pathfinder Pixel adds Scala to its roster of class-leading content management systems
In 2008, Pixel wanted to enhance its already well developed proposition to its customers and further innovate by offering a service to clients that spanned both SaaS and enterprise solutions so that regardless of the client’s size, type or requirement, Pixel could offer a fully joined-up and future-proofed solution.
Scala’s selection was based on the range and competencies of products in the Scala portfolio, namely both Scala’s enterprise solution (Scala5) and software as a service offering (known as Scala as a Service, also SaaS), informed by Pixel’s previous years as pathfinders in SaaS applications which further drove their ambition to offer a “better than best-in-class” solution where technology is an enabler rather than a barrier to customer usability.
Both of Scala’s core products provided the right end-to-end platform from which Pixel could continue to offer a joinedup solution to customers across multiple platforms and at the same time offer a clear migratory route between SaaS and enterprise, thus ensuring the network can grow with the customer and offer continuity in service and features without incurring significant redesign and development costs.
As a result and in the first of many such installations, in November 2008, Pixel selected Scala to streamline the management and broadcast of content across the highresolution displays installed at the international conference and exhibition center Manchester Central (GMex).
Pixel Inspiration and Scala: Working together to deliver Manchester’s GMEX network
GMEX : The challenge
Manchester Central wanted to implement a flexible branding system for their convention center’s new reception and lobby area. The center plays host to hundreds of events each year, and with the rapid turnaround required between each, there was little opportunity to create specific branded event, ticketing, advertising or coming soon information for the foyer area. After seeing Pixel’s implementation of flexible branding at Manchester Airport, Manchester Central decided that a digital system would provide the capabilities they required. It was important that information in this digital system could be updated rapidly, without the need for time-consuming external graphics and agency support. An additional environmental challenge that needed to be accounted for was that the newly developed foyer received significant amounts of daylight and consequently the solution needed to work within these conditions.
GMEX : The solution
The solution is based around six seamlessly joined front projection DNP Supernova screens, which provide excellent levels of contrast and viewing angles in high ambient-light conditions. The six projectors are connected to two Scala players hosted in the buildings server room, which in turn connect to Pixel’s hosted Scala Content Manager Service. The players were configured to provide a high-quality image across a wide (and irregularly sized) four-screen panorama.
GMEX : The benefits
With the implementation of this dynamic and customized solution, Manchester Central is now able to update its foyer information in near-real time, allowing them to flexibly brand the environment and provide helpful wayfinding information based on each exhibition or event’s needs. What’s more, they are able to utilize the solution as an advertising platform, generating revenue where appropriate. Importantly, much information can be updated without requiring any graphics skills, through the use of dynamic templating courtesy of Pixel and Scala’s combined high tech, low user input model.
About Pixel Inspiration
Pixel Inspiration, “The Digital Signage Agency,” was founded in 2004 by four individuals, each having industry experience in the key areas of advertising, marketing, managed IT services and technical consulting. Pixel’s approach in the market is unique, focusing on the digital signage audience, environment and communication needs of clients, rather than solely what brand of hardware or software to use. Their solutions engage with their audience through a fundamental understanding of the environmental, psychological and technical aspects of their situations.
Their portfolio of services revolves around four key areas:
1. They design, develop and manage content for digital signage
2. They provide clients with the ability to update content by themselves, without technical or design skills/ knowledge
3. They help clients define technical solutions and select the right digital signage system
4. They procure, install and support the necessary infrastructure for a client’s requirements
Pixel constantly monitors the progress of the most mature and proven software and hardware digital signage platforms to help clients select an appropriate technology that provides not only reliability, visual clarity and the wow factor, but the tools needed to effectively and efficiently communicate with an audience on a day-to-day basis. Pixel works with the UK’s leading brands and organizations including 3M, HP, Millennium Hotels, Adecco, The Institute of Directors, Manchester Airport and Thomas Cook.