In my work with software and various new tech companies, the term “future proofing” comes up a lot. Simply put, future proofing a technology means making it resilient enough to last through the many fast-paced changes which will come at the tech through the years.
Nothing is really “future proof.” The smartphone you purchased will likely be the slowest device on the block in a couple of years. After four years, it’s likely developers of apps won’t even support the phone’s operating system (as apps will be developed around faster phones with bigger memory and better connectivity). Computers last a little longer, about 5 years on average before the need to upgrade starts becoming too difficult to ignore. Cars are great as an average car will likely last you about 10+ years with proper maintenance (though you won’t get the benefits of newer safety technology and better gas mileage).
The more “industrial-grade” a technology is, the more “future proofed” people expect it to be. Today we’re looking at future proofing your Digital Signage (DS) solution’s control system (specifically software vs. cloudware… which is better and why).
- lives on a hosted network, no external internet connection required (typically)
- secured within the local network (few worries about content access, firewalls, etc.)
- content is usually hosted on a local server and can be quickly updated from within the organization
- once the initial software is purchased, there are few costs (aside from maintenance programs) required
- quick changes aren’t typically easy – the content manager needs to be on-site or have remote access to the computer(s) controlling the DS system
- local area networks are just that, local – national campaigns and program management for DS are harder to manage and dependent upon people at the location to update and ensure content is current (and working)
- Content hosted on the local server can be lost if the server fails and backups aren’t always as reliable as we’d like them to be (especially if the IT person forgot to change and/or check the backup recently)
- Initial purchase price on software licenses can be really high. Many organizations want to test out integrating DS into their communication format (for employees, local/national clients, and the community at large) but the initial buy-in price is so high the sticker shock drops DS as an option (even for a small scale trial)
- In addition to software purchase costs, the hardware (application server, transfer server, and other systems required to run the system) can be costly and require maintenance
- Software is only as good as the hardware it’s on (and as reliable). Unfortunately, operating systems (like Microsoft, Apple, and others) don’t check with developers before major changes. They warn people when possible, but often an operating system security update (definitely recommended you don’t skip those) can crash your software solution and leave your DS with a lot of “dead air” and no content on the screen…
- not reliant on any operating system; most cloudware controls are versatile and can be accessed through a web browser and/or mobile device app.
- content is (usually) stored both on the cloud and the player running the display
- controls are accessible from any location, any web-based device (with secured login/access)
- when hardware improves, the cloudware doesn’t require a compatibility check, the player can usually be immediately adapted for the new hardware available.
- Cloudware usually has a low setup fee and monthly subscription rates: good for the quarterly P/L (profit/loss) statements and easy to start testing solutions and quickly scale up/down as needed
- The only hardware required is the player and display components (display(s), mount(s), cable(s), etc.)
- cloudware is only as reliable as the hosted/localized servers the provider uses
- many control solutions are either overly complex or too dumbed-down (simple is good, dumbed-down is not)
- many “Free!” solutions are anything but when you want to get any type of usable DS system setup, the hidden costs quickly add-up to a lot
- There are a lot of new companies out there and it’s difficult to tell who’s the “real deal” and which ones may be gone in a fortnight… (to be fair, this is also true of software)
The most important key things to watch for with DS are: reliability, adaptability, and access. Software is going to the wayside. There’s too much changing, too quickly for software to keep up. Clients don’t have time to constantly update their software and current technology is about access “here & now” through smartphones, smartwatches, smart everything. Having a not-so-smart software solution can be a DS killer. Especially when you’re looking to start someone small with a test program and then be able to grow fast, cloudware wins out with the scalability and affordability for organizations.
The best way to “future proof” your DS solution is to make sure it’s something that isn’t reliant upon what tech is available now, but rather the solution should be adaptable to what may come along in a few years, months, or even next week. Reliable, adaptable, accessible… if your solution isn’t achieving the trifecta, your competition likely has something that does…
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