Digital signage powers smart cities

As digital signage content management systems have become more versatile, public locations are increasingly finding opportunities to deploy interactive kiosks to display community information and paid advertising. Tourism sites and urban centers in particular are offering highly versatile interactive kiosks. The tourism authority in Blowing Rock, North Carolina has plans to install its first interactive kiosks to promote its tourist attractions. The two-sided, interactive kiosks from Meridian Kiosks will fit within existing wooden fixtures. "These units were designed to basically replace the notice boards that were in there," said Chris Gilder, founder and CEO of Meridian Kiosks. The company's Interact software allows the screen to display changing images. "You can change the whole look and feel of the solution," he said. Versatility drives 'smart cities' kiosks Such versatile signage is also helping to drive the growth in "smart cities" kiosks in urban environments. "A lot of the cities want to become 'smart cities' and give people a lot of information at their fingertips of what's going in the city, whether it's wayfinding, bus routes, trains, tram routes, etc., giving people up to the minute live information," Gilder said. "A lot of those are becoming interactive, which is great. This allows people to drive the content that's relevant to them very quickly." City governments are recognizing they can use interactive kiosks to make public transportation easier to navigate and make information accessible to citizens. They are also realizing that behind the scenes, kiosks can provide efficiencies through robust data networks, be they subsidized or funded through third party advertising. "If it's done well, it can integrate with peoples' mobile devices so they can take information with them as well," Gilder added. "It's much more effective if someone can take the information away with them." "The fact that they're providing visitors or local people with up to the minute information allows us to potentially tie in to alert systems, Amber alert systems, weather alert systems, other warning systems," he said. Other technologies drive growth The growth of smart phones is supporting interactive digital signage kiosks, Gilder said. "The fact that these can interact and talk with a person's mobile device is very powerful," he said. Other technologies supporting public kiosks include facial recognition technology, surveillance technology and analytics. Analytics give the sponsors information on how many people are walking by the signage and how many are looking at it. "There are a lot of technologies that can be packed into these smart cities digital signage kiosks," he said. Digital advertising networks are also growing. "The next phase of that for those companies and those networks is interaction," Gilder said, be it through signage or a mobile device. Gary Gilmer, a partner at Clarity Consulting, a provider of custom software development services, agrees with Gilder that interactive digital signage kiosks are finding more applications. "It allows cities to provide their services in a better way and collect information on how their residents can be better served," said Gilmer. "Governments are going to continue to invest in that space." Digital signage finds additional uses However, the "smart cities" and wayfinding kiosks that are making digital signage more omnipresent today do not reflect the full scope of change digital signage is bringing to kiosks, Gilmer said. Technology is also empowering small screens that can be found on retail shelves that expand customer access to retail or brand inventory. "Endless aisle kiosks are something that we're doing a lot of work with," Gilmer said. "It's more about getting in front of the customer and making sure they're aware of what other products you have and try and influence that behavior in real time." "How can we collect information about a small audience in front of a single device in a single location and then put content in front of those people that's going to affect behavior?" he asked. Digital signage kiosks will play a role in the expanding omnichannel, Gilmer said. Retailers and brands have moved beyond simply trying to get a web presence in the physical store. "When you thought omnichannel five years ago, that's what their thinking was," he said. "Where you've seen that evolve is, 'how can I have a more diverse product offering without carrying more inventory? How can I sell more things in a location without having to carry more inventory? How can I reach the particular demographics that location is serving without sending more merchandise to that location?'" Anonymous video analytics – knowing how many people are in front of a sign and what demographic group they fit into – is another expanding technology. There are a number of companies that have software that can gather this data. The challenging aspect of this technology is making it useful to the client. Digital signage is becoming more sophisticated about understanding the environment the sign exists in and adapting the content to be able to influence the audience in front of the kiosk, said Gilmer. Influencing behavior is more important than influencing a transaction, he noted. "How do we develop the right content, and how do we deliver it at the right time?" Gilmer asked. He said the larger retailers and consumer product manufacturers will take the lead on deploying anonymous video analytics. Another reason digital signage kiosks are important is that stores are beginning to sell more non-physical merchandise, such as music, video games and movies in the endless aisle, Gilmer said. While fully unattended stores have not yet arrived, when they do, digital signage kiosks will play an important role in influencing customer behavior, Gilmer said.