In my 13 years with Cisco IT, the Cisco Digital Signs project was the first where content, not technology, was the biggest challenge. We decided to introduce digital signage primarily for employee communications, such as events, announcements like benefit enrollment periods, news, and volunteer opportunities.
The actual physical implementation requires very little effort from Cisco IT. Our Workplace Resources organization simply connects a Cisco Professional Series LCD Display and Cisco Digital Media Player in each location, and they’re up and running within an hour. We locate most signs in employee areas, such as break rooms. Just two Cisco Digital Media Manager systems, in the U.S. and India, support all digital signs in 96 offices in 8 countries.
The bigger challenge is how to collect and distribute fresh, relevant content and make sure that screens aren’t blank for part of the day. The result is our Cisco Now program, a joint effort between Cisco IT, Employee Communications, and our Workplace Resources department. The program team developed a simple web-based tool that employees can use to submit content. They indicate whether the content is global, regional, or just for their own site. Then they choose from one of several looks and provide beginning and ending dates for the content to appear.
The Employee Communications group approves and schedules content, keeping each article on the display for about 20 seconds. They update the playlist three to four times a week.
So far, we use our signs primarily for images, text, and flash animation, which are cached near the signs themselves and as we are not streaming live video across the WAN, has no real impact on the Cisco network. However, we’ve successfully conducted our first live video broadcast of a companywide meeting to our globally distributed Digital Signs, using unicast transmission. We already have bandwidth for video carved out for this live streaming video for other services like downloaded videos from Cisco Show and Share, and live Enterprise IP TV, using multicast and caching of content with Cisco Application Content and Networking System (ACNS).
The only thing that’s kept us from adding more video is, quite simply, the echoing when multiple digital signs in the same physical area are all playing audio at the same time.
We’re also starting to use digital signage in new ways here at Cisco, increasing the value of the initial investment. For example, we’ve added larger Cisco Professional Series LCD Displays in our Executive Briefing Centers to display content for our customers. (This content is managed separately from the internal content in the Cisco Now program.) We’ve placed displays outside certain conference rooms, to show the room schedule and show who is using the room. Soon we’ll be adding a touchscreen interface so that people can reserve a conference room right then and there. We’ve also placed a few digital signs in public areas inside Cisco buildings. When employees and their families visit our Health Center in San Jose, for example, they can view information about healthcare specialists on digital signage, reducing brochure costs and paper use.