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Digital signage systems taking off among IT vendors, VARs

Cisco, HP, Intel, Microsoft now pushing digital signage solutions

When people started talking up digital signage systems four or five years ago, the focus was mainly on the display and the noise was mostly from monitor makers.

Now, some of the biggest names in tech, including Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard, Intel and Microsoft, are clamoring over the market potential and many IT solution providers see big upside opportunities.

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Intel, for example, demonstrated a 7-foot, 6-inch multi-touch Intelligent Digital Signage concept solution at the National Retail Federation trade show in New York in mid-January. The technology will use video analytics, which can sense who's looking at the screen and serve up content accordingly, depending on age and other demographics. The company has also forged a strategic relationship with Microsoft to build an open platform for digital signage applications. The platform will use the Intel Core i7 Processor, Intel remote management technology such as vPro, and Microsoft Windows Embedded Standard 2011; the first fruits of the alliance are due to reach commercial availability by the second quarter of 2010.

"The reason why there is a lot of emphasis on retail is because about 60 percent of signage goes into this market today," says Jose Avalos, director of digital signage for the embedded communications group at Intel. "But we are looking at multiple markets for this technology, such as hospitality, banking, healthcare and transportation."

According to market data cruncher ABI Research, sales for digital signage software, hardware, installation and management services were predicted to grow by more than 33 percent in 2009, despite the recession. Estimates for 2013 call for revenue to hit around $1.4 billion. Intel also points to forecasts calling for about $4 billion in digital signage advertising by 2014 as a sign that digital signage systems are going mainstream.

"If you look at the United States as far as digital signage goes, we haven't even begun to scratch the surface," says Rod Tiede, president and CEO of Broadcast International, an enterprise communications services integrator in Salt Lake City..

Tiede says that potential lies in solutions that range from the 5-inch displays that vie for pedestrians' attention in elevators to information displays at retail banking operations to the massive digital billboards found in New York's advertising mecca, Times Square. Most mainstream digital signage systems use screens that are about 42 inches in size, according to Intel's Avalos.

Services opportunities in digital signage systems

The services potential for digital signage systems lies not only in integration, but in management of the network or communications system used to deliver content, says Tiede. Many solutions today are direct-attached to a digital media player, others are refreshed via a hard-wired or wireless broadband connection. Content services, everything from creating the content to encoding and archiving it, represent another services opportunity -- one that will require skills development or partnering strategies by traditional IT resellers hoping for a piece of the market.

Bob Olwig, vice president of corporate business development for World Wide Technology, Inc., a networking integrator in St. Louis, Mo., says although his company does not plan to invest heavily in digital signage systems during 2010, it has seen growing interest in the technology.

"We do not have a focus on digital signage right now, but we have worked on some customer projects that were primarily UC/collaboration-focused and some digital signage was a small element of the project," Olwig says. "The projects we've been involved with have been in the healthcare market."

Extending UC, video expertise into digital signage systems

Thomas Wyatt, vice president and general manager for the digital media systems unit at Cisco, says traditional IT resellers with a practice in unified communications or collaboration may find digital signage systems a natural extension of video-intensive communications applications. Those with knowledge necessary to help optimize video delivery over the network are well-positioned, he says. Cisco does not require certifications for resellers interested in selling Cisco Digital Signs, but it does have a special program for those wishing to specialize in digital media solutions.

Katherine Toups, manager for displays product strategy for Hewlett-Packard, likewise sees this as a growing area of interest for some HP resellers. She says the company offers SmartChoice bundles that include digital signage displays, an ultraslim desktop, a wall-mount unit and signage software application. Those offerings include the HP LD4200tm 42-inch Widescreen LCD Interactive Digital Signage Display, which is a touchscreen model and is meant for interactive applications, and the LD4700 Widescreen LCD Digital Signage Display, which is meant more for advertising and promotional activities.

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