A Digital Signage Case Study
Ashland University in Ashland, Ohio, is a unique and outstanding institution of higher education. AU has buildings spread over 120 acres, with a full time student population of 2,100. The challenge faced at AU and at universities around the country is to be able to communicate effectively with students on many levels and in a way they find inviting.
Like many institutions, Ashland University, in looking for ways to communicate with their staff and students, is turning to electronic methods of information transfer. This process is more effective, saves time, money and is a greener approach than posters and bulletins.
For a time the university tried monitors at multiple locations running several different versions of PowerPoint. The solution was less than satisfactory. There was no unification between the messages being broadcast. To make matters worse, messages were not vetted by the AU Marketing Department before they were released to the students. A new, unified approach was needed.
Curtis White, the Vice President of Information Technology at Ashland University, knew that a better digital signage system had to exist that was both affordable and easy to use. AU wanted to cover all the colleges, in numerous buildings, with differing needs. Ashland University needed a system that could span the campus yet seem small to the operators. Mr. White stated, “The system must allow individualized and building specific content to be displayed as well as institution-wide information for events and coordinated emergency alerts.”
Thomas Kemp, Director of Instructional Technology and Support was brought in as the university’s technical expert. “I didn’t want to worry about maintaining servers or software licenses. I wanted to simply be able to install a system into an open port on the network and have it work outside of my campus intranet. The system had to be as user friendly as posting a PowerPoint, be able to be managed remotely by several different users, be attractive and customizable for our institution.”
The system they choose was The Retriever Digital Signage System from DRM Productions. But the decision process at AU didn’t stop there. The IT Department brought together college heads and building managers along with Dr. Fred Finks, President of Ashland University and a team from DRM Productions to be sure the system would fulfill the need.
Team DRM laid out the possibilities that The Retriever could bring to the university. They also listened to the varying requirements of each college. It became clear that AU had to satisfy the diverse needs of the different colleges while still keeping the signage connected across the campus.
Ashland University made the decision to roll out the Retriever Digital Signage System at 6 locations to see how it would work. “In 2008 the university received several displays as part of a major donation. These systems were placed in key academic and administrative buildings for the initial phase of the digital signage project,” according to Curtis White.
Time has shown that The Retriever offered Ashland University what it needed. The university controls some of the signage across the campus while each college or building has content providers responsible for the remainder of the sign input and creation at specific locations.
The Retriever gives all users a detailed and growing list of animated backgrounds to place behind pictures and/or typed messages. This feature is engaged using simple drop down menus from a web site where all content is created. Each user is assigned their own set of screens that other users in the system cannot touch, except key administrators.
System wide or building specific users can also place weather radar, RSS feeds and holiday or special event information. They can place photos, advertise upcoming events and even notify students of class changes minute by minute throughout the day. Student organizations keep members informed while trying to build membership using The Retriever.
Each Retriever goes out to the web every 10 minutes to download or retrieve any new content which is then seamlessly integrated into the next round of screens displayed at each location. These changes can be made from any computer with internet access or smart phone.
Any type of content can be scheduled to play using an easy scheduling system built into The Retriever software. In addition, animated custom screen backgrounds were built by the graphic designers at DRM specifically for Ashland University highlighting key elements of the university. They even have one slide that displays the university clock with the correct time. University students and employees could also build still or flash images to place on The Retriever.
Of particular interest, especially to Ashland University President Finks, was the emergency alert possibilities of The Retriever. During the initial round of discussions about the system he stated that to be able to alert students to an emergency situation was critical. The Retriever fills that need and is one part of the emergency alert notification system that AU employs.
Tom Kemp has this impression of the Retriever, “From an administrative perspective Retriever’s hosted system is the perfect solution. I couldn’t be more pleased with the level of service and attention to detail that the DRM people have given us.”
Mr. White summarized The Retriever success at Ashland, “The Retriever interface makes updating and developing content much easier for the colleges, resulting in improved content. This ease of use, innovative features and willingness of DRM to work with us to expand the features to accommodate university needs has us expanding the system from the initial 6 buildings to 15.” In addition, the new football stadium and athletic complex is currently exploring ways to use the Retriever as well.
The Retriever is an agile solution fulfilling many communication concerns. It entertains and informs. It stays relevant to viewers with current content that in many cases can be automatically updated. The system remains organic in that it changes with technology. Every Retriever will always have the latest operational software and the newest content creation package. The goal was to develope a product that would give every user the ability to create professional looking signage. That goal remains at the center of all Retriever development.