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The Changing Role of the CMS

This is a Guest Blog Post by
Richard Slawsky

With companies already using a system to manage website content, is a separate CMS for digital signage really necessary?

By Richard Slawsky | Contributing Writer, Digital Signage Today

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Digital signage deployments have typically consisted of four main components: The hardware used to display content, the content itself, a content management system, and software used to display the content on those screens.

Traditionally, content management systems were included with the media players that were part of the hardware package. The number of content management systems on the market is at least equal to the number of companies selling media players, likely topping several hundred different packages, with Web-based applications increasingly dominating the market.

But that move to Web-based content management systems raises an interesting question. With many deployers of digital signage already operating their own website, what is the role of a separate content management system?

 “The value of a content management system is diminishing,” said Geoffrey Bessin, chief marketing officer for Toulouse, France-based IntuiLab, creator of IntuiFace, the leading no-coding platform for creating, deploying and managing
for any audience or vertical.

Users interacting with different touchscreens

“Pretty much anybody with a website already has a system in their back office managing content for that site,” Bessin said. “It’s very likely that companies already have what could be called, although they don’t think of it that way, a content management system. If that’s the case, why add a second content management system, reproducing what is already being managed?”

Is it a CMS?

One of the value adds of a content management system is its ability to connect the digital display with a deployer’s back-office system and reference sources of data. Anything that contains content, such as a database or similar application, can be tapped and displayed on the screen in real time. That content could also include outside data sources such as weather, news tickers or anything else accessible through an API.

In addition, information from the displays, particularly interactive ones, can be pushed to the back office to help govern what type of content is displayed. A temperature sensor attached to a digital display might prompt a clothing retailer’s network to show advertisements for sweaters when the temperature drops below a certain level, while an interactive display might be prompted to show more detailed information about a certain product if a customer taps an image of that product on the screen.

But often, content management systems either limit the type of content that can be displayed on a screen or charge a subscription fee for accessing that content. What many deployers don’t realize, Bessin said, is that the back-office systems they already have can function in the same way as the traditional CMS. 

What many deployers don’t realize, is that the back-office systems they already have can function in the same way as the traditional CMS. 

“The deployer may not call what they have on their own premises a CMS, but in a way that’s what it is,” he said. “It used to be that back offices were clunky and weren’t meant to be accessible and there really was no third party information available. Things are changing and infrastructure is maturing.”

The amount of data available via the Web is staggeringly huge, and circumventing the CMS can open the floodgates for a host of new content for digital signage. 

“Pretty much everything these days has an API,” Bessin said. “I can get the weather, I can get the news, I can get traffic, I can get sports, I can get anything through APIs, often for free,” he said. “If my signage deployment requires use of a signage vendor-supplied content management system and ties deployment and management to that content
management system, it makes it much harder to leverage all that other content sourcing
stuff out there.”

But why bother?

Left hand using an Interactive touch-screen

Although it will likely take a bit of tweaking to use a deployer’s back-of-house systems to manage digital signage, there are a few key benefits to doing so. The main benefit, and likely to most important to deployers, is the cost savings. 

Leveraging existing infrastructure to manage a digital signage network can eliminate the licensing fees typically associated with content management systems and the cost connecting
those systems to outside data sources. And using a vendor-specific CMS to link to third-party data sources is not just costly, but redundant as well. There’s no need to use that CMS when a deployer can use their own system to connect with those sources directly.

“Nobody would argue that you shouldn’t be able to connect to external data sources,” Bessin said. “All signage providers are recognizing the existence of third party data sources like news and weather, and that they need to come up with a mechanism for accessing that information and making it available. Typically that’s a professional service. You pay them to build it. With IntuiLab’s product, for example, you can do it yourself.” product first incorporated the ability to communicate with external APIs at no additional cost several years ago, Bessin said. 

“Occasionally we’ll see something in the news about these two companies partnering so that one signage provider can show third party information,” he said. “It’s always been frustrating to see these expensive plugins enabling a user to access data when we offer the same capability at no extra cost.”

“It’s always been frustrating to see these expensive plugins enabling a user to access data when we offer the same capability at no extra cost.”

In addition to the savings achieved by eliminating licensing fees, eliminating redundancies means fewer IT people are needed to manage the various systems. And disconnecting a vendor-supplied CMS from the process of deploying content makes it easier to manage multiple content management sources and incorporate them in a single experience. 

Ultimately, managing digital signage content with a deployer’s existing systems can provide a future-proofing benefit that may not be available with a vendor-provided CMS. 

“If you’re using a CMS that was provided by a signage vendor, what happens if you change your mind?” Bessin said. “If you’re using your own infrastructure and you change your signage provider, you still have all your content. On the other hand, if you become dissatisfied with the relationship and it’s their CMS, you’re starting from zero.”

Is the CMS dead? 

With the benefits offered by managing digital signage content with a deployer’s existing back office management system, is there still a role for the types of content management systems provided by digital signage vendors? Five or 10 years from now, will a CMS still be part of the packages digital signage vendors provide?

The short answer is probably yes, just in a diminished role. As digital signage becomes increasingly affordable for even the smallest players, there will likely still be a need for a vendor-provided CMS.

 “There are always going to be small clients who don’t have the back office system or it’s not very mature, and they need a provider to give them a CMS,” Bessin said. “We’re not saying the CMS is dying, we are saying the value of that CMS is decreasing significantly because it’s very likely these days that your client already has their own system and wants to leverage third party information to bring it all together.”

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Richard Slawsky
Richard Slawsky

Contributing writer, Digital Signage Today

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