What is the best digital signage software to choose?

Because you have to choose between proprietary or open source.

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Looking for help when it comes to pick the best digital signage software for your business?

Many newcomers are attracted to the idea that open source digital signage softwares are free and more reliable than ever. There are at least 100 of those available for download (like Concerto, Screenly, Sharp SDSS, ScreenHub or Mango Signs to name only a few). They are also widely spread and already used by thousands of "serious" organizations. So, what's good for them is certainly good for you too. Right? Well, not so fast.

1. They will cost you money (at a certain point) : Yes, the key advantage for your organization might to save money right off the bat because digital signage devices are already expensive. On the other hand, you need to know that an open source software doesn't come with a user manual and support. The only way for you to deal with bugs or to learn how to use the software efficiently will be to try things, read forums, hire a knowledgeable employee, etc. Each time you face an urging problem, you are on your own. Chances are that you will have to hire a freelancer, an employee, or a digital signage agency to help you to get the job done at a certain point. Those suppliers are used to fix problems but it comes at a cost when you're not using their proprietary software. On the long term, they will convince you to switch to save money instead of paying a standard $125/h fee for instance.

2. They are not exactly reliable : Going in-house involves that yourself and your collaborators have full access to the source code. Any modification, patch, update or add-on modifies the way the software work. Such a lack of confinement leads to problems like instability. Asking for help on online communities won't work because you will have created a unique setup that requires hours to understand. You will need to hire an expert to go deep and figure out what to do in order to fix the problem. Can your organization afford to have a fleet of dynamic terminals and interactive booths turned off for days until that expert solves the problems?

3. They require frequent (manual) updates : Paid digital signage softwares like ViewNeo, ITESLIVE, EasySignage, Yodeck, SignageLive, Xhibit, Rise Vision, Scala, Voolsy, Command Center HD or Xibo come with automatic updates while an open source product requires to understand what module needs to be updated. Failing to understand what to pick will transform your software into a super heavy platform that consumes a lot of CPU power and memory. At the end, it will slower the way your devices operate and the time required by yourself and employees to setup/display/manage content.

4. They don't display all kinds of formats : When it comes to brand surveys, advertising from your social media, connect tv stations, streaming corporate videos, dynamic messages, etc., there are formats that can't be converted or that require a license. Since an open-source digital signage software can't buy licenses, it provides a huge advantage to private developers that deal one on one with format owners to make it work for you. And they can customize a cheap monthly package that includes the specific formats you need and nothing more. The second problem about format incompatibility is related to preventing you from having business partners. The fact is that dynamic devices like video walls, touch screens and interactive kiosks are very expensive and a good way to afford them is to rent screen time. But what your partner can't display his content because your free open-source digital signage software doesn't have the right plug-ins? You may waste thousands of dollars every month by not succeeding to share your displays (especially if your equipment is in a location where foot traffic is high all week-long).

5. They can cease to exist tomorrow : If the developer loses interest in his personal project (or hobby), the software will stop to evolve and become obsolete. Using a free but discontinued version will force you to start learning, installing and using another product to operate your displays. Are you willing to take that risk? Another question : will your content compatible with your future digital signage content? Since you have spent dozens (hundreds?) of hours creating engaging, informative and catchy contents, if migrating to another solution means losing everything, you could have regrets (and waste money).

6. Extremely low level of security : It's easier for hackers to spy on you or infiltrate your equipment because developers don't have security in mind. They are only interested to build something that display contents. And even if they wanted to raise the level of security, it would require them to buy licenses for antivirus, virtual firewalls, commercial/military grade encryption technologies and so on. On the other hand, a digital signage supplier that "rents" a software may even offer you an insurance in case of security breach, data theft, phishing, etc. Dealing with vulnerabilities is not an easy fix when your tool comes with open doors. Some free softwares have malwares or advertising modules that help developer to generate a steady stream of income. They can be very good a hiding backdoor Trojans and you will never find them. It's also very difficult to monitor the health of your network and playback media players with that option because they don't possess performance and overload gauges. In other words: if a cyber criminal is currently using your screens, you might only find out when you face it (physically).

5. Difficult to use and understand : Those guys behind your free software are not paid developers that have spent thousands hours to create an easy 7o use interface. They work for fun and/or to make some money through hidden advertising modules or asking for donations. They don't know your specific business needs and won't customize a solution that is perfectly operational and easy to understand for your staff. They don't create products that will make you save time either while commercial digital signage software make money BECAUSE they are user-friendly and designed to be used by unskilled people. It helps them to offer a desirable interface during their demos, then to close the deal.

8. Lack of professional and engaging templates : Good luck to create engaging content using free templates because those were often created in only a few hours of work (or even minutes) by hobbyists. If your goal is to get a high level of engagement, odds are that your low quality templates will ruin the user experience to a certain point. Do-it-yourself templates also look out of date and won't come with sophisticated features like polls linked to your social media pages, motion detectors, or facial recognition capabilities that helps your device to interact with people. Basic templates are generally the worst approach to catch attention. What you need is a catchy template built by experts and dedicated artists to entertain, interact and inform people living in the digital age. Your objective is to deliver a message while obtaining a desired action at the same time. On the web, they say that content is king. In the digital signage industry, content AND engagement is king.

9. No multi-screen compatibility : If you are new on the digital signage scene, you need to know that depending on the location (mall, restaurant, public transit, airport, city sidewalk, etc.) you won't be allowed to choose the size of your screens. There are rules and bylaws. For example, it might be a good idea to rent an outdoor space for your interactive booth where there are festivals all year long. But the dimensions available are odd and will for your manufacturer to build a very unique booth. Your screen could be triangular or oval shape. The only way to create and manage content on such a weird design will be to use a software that allows you to fit responsive content on different platforms and at the same time. Successful companies are those that take advantage on the best AVAILABLE environments.

10. No workflow management : Everybody's goal is to deliver the right message to the right audience at the best time. The best proven way to achieve it is to allow multiple content providers to integrate contents and interactions in real time. If you go the "free" route, there won't be any interoperability between several users because each of them will have to use a slightly different software (installed on their own computer, tablet or smart phone) instead of a cloud-based "master". A master digital signage software can be used by up to 100 different people (called "multi-user access") at the same time without compromising logic, stability and/or security. If your organization needs more than one person to manage your data, announcements, prices, news, awards, surveys, etc., a workflow automation system will improve your performance while an open source will complicate your processes, feeds and delays.

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Manufacturers and developers of a digital signage software made simpler to manage touch screens directories, city and mall digital way finding applications, real estate interactive booths, menu boards and more.

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