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Digital Signage: What to look for in CMS software

Photos courtesy Agosto

By Linda Hofflander
As digital displays become more common in retail, food-service, educational and corporate environments, the marketplace has been flooded with new and revamped software applications for sharing visuals and information. In the digital signage sector, content management system (CMS) software enables users to determine what appears on which screens and when. In some cases, the content must be created and customized within the CMS. In others, the user can create content with a wide range of creative applications and in various formats, then import it into the CMS.

It can be challenging for sign shops to narrow down the options and determine which CMS software is the right fit for their clients. Certainly, one size does not fit all. It is important to compare features and select those that fit the demands of a given project.

At best, a CMS streamlines the digital signage workflow, making it relatively easy to display highly engaging content. At worst, it is more like a labyrinth to use, fails to offer key features, offers limited to no scalability and will quickly become outdated.

Further, some CMS options are free, some have paid add-ons and others follow a subscription-based business model. There are web-based applications that store content stored on the cloud, as well as directly downloadable programs that instead cache content directly in on-site media players.

In general, today’s CMSs are much easier to use than their predecessors. Where instruction manuals used to be inches thick and it could take weeks to train personnel, there are now many highly intuitive user interfaces available.

Despite this trend, one of the top complaints from digital signage operators is the difficulty of using a CMS. Some poorly designed interfaces remain on the market, which make it look like users need to write code.

The interface should be easy to navigate, such that anyone responsible for creating and/or scheduling content can understand it with only minimal training. This is especially important for small to medium business (SMB) clients, which tend to have fewer personnel available for the task.

Harbour Air Seaplanes uses a cloud-based CMS to display content in its terminals throughout coastal British Columbia, including this new facility at Victoria Harbour Airport.

Content creation methodology
The content creation methodology will vary from one CMS to another. As mentioned, sometimes the software will require the creation to be performed within it, in which case it is particularly important to check how intuitive that process is and which common file types is supported. Unless users are highly tech-savvy, for example, the tool should allow them to drag-and-drop content into the various zones of the screen.

In other cases, where content can be imported into the CMS from outside programs, the degree of technology integration should support creative tools the users are already familiar and comfortable with, whether Google, Microsoft or Adobe products. It should be simple to import from these programs.

SMB clients may also want access to premade templates and a library of high-quality stock images they can freely use for their digital signage content.

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