We were late this year in posting our predicted trends for the near future, and as a consequence, we have changed them somewhat to incorporate the implications of the Corona pandemic that probably is going to influence the global economy until 2022.
The trends we see for the rest of 2021 and 2022 are as follows.
Bang for the buck
In general, the trend for most organizations this year will be to get the most out of the available budget. The COVID-19 crisis has just started, and it is already clear that it will have graver financial consequences than the financial crisis of 2008 or the Great Depression of the thirties in the previous century. These economic consequences mean that organizations will have to cut spending, which will have the following implications for their use of digital signage:
For organizations new to digital signage, the price will be a leading factor**.
- Organizations already using digital signage will move to cheaper solutions preferably allowing them to keep using their current hardware.
- Ease of use will be vital since it reduces time spent creating and managing content.
- The 80-20 rule; organizations will aim to spend 20% for a product that covers 80% of their needs; the focus lies on efficient and effective solutions.
- **Pay for what you use; not a lump sum at the start but a small monthly fee for "signage as a service" that can be up or downsized quickly.
- Re-use, whether enabling re-use of existing hardware or reusing new hardware when it is no longer needed. Re-use of content and data from other systems also saves money.
- Flexibility in supported use cases; one solution that can be used to communicate in the workplace to customers and personnel but also works when personnel works remotely and when interacting with customers changes.
The old adagio can capture all these smaller trends; "more bang for the buck"; in times like these, everybody needs to get more done in less time with fewer means.
The second trend for the coming years has been developing for a few years and is therefore not difficult to "predict"; a greater variety of screen sizes and shapes. The most notable innovations in this area over the past years that will continue in the years to come are:
- Increasing the size of screens with simultaneously increases in screen resolution and brightness
- A variety of screen technologies that each are finding their usage, whether as the default for a specific use case or niche products;
- OLED, LED, QLED, mLED, QD-LED,
- translucent, composed, and curved screens,
- using sensors to enable interaction in touch, movement, facial recognition, etc.
All these innovations allow for delightful interactions. Not only using bigger, brighter high-resolution screens but also small screens - strategically placed - that will allow more personal interaction.
For all these screens, the best value lies in low maintenance costs (energy consumption) and the possibility of driving them with generic hardware. The last allows for the broadest choice in software for use with these screens. That, in turn, ensures the best integration of the screen in the processes and systems an organization uses, enabling the highest return on investment.
Interactivity and personalization
The third trend we expect to become more important this year is interaction with and personalization of signage screen content. The simplest form of this is, of course, the use of touch screens. We expect an increase of touch in big but, more importantly, small screens since small screens allow for more personal interaction.
In light of the COVID-19 thread, producers of touch signage screens have already started production of screen stands with integrated disinfectant dispensers. However, we expect that other means of interaction developed and perfected in the last decade will become strong alternatives to touch; mainly gesture- and voice technologies and smartphone interaction will be considered safer and thus preferred by consumers.
The changes that the Covid crisis brought about illustrate again that defaulting to one specific technology (in this case, touch) to achieve a goal, i.e., interaction, can turn from being an advantage into a challenge or even a liability very quickly. Supporting multiple methods of interaction reduces this liability. Which also increases the likelihood of a successful interaction for disabled people.
The added value of interaction and personalization for both the content creator and their audience is gigantic:
- More specific information for the viewer
- More eyes on the screens
- Better retention of the message
- More integrated brand image that best fits the viewer and is consistent over all channels
The added value of interaction and personalization means solid motivation to add these two elements to digital signage screens. However, interaction with a screen alone does not achieve personalization; more critical is data integration. Relevant data can be time and date, location data, weather data, the product on display, and data about the person in front of the screen.
Organizations use an increasing amount of channels to distribute information. For example, many organizations use digital signage to disseminate information at specific locations to increase effectiveness.
The diversity mentioned above of screen sizes and capabilities means screens will replace more and more traditional signage. A simple example is touch screens that adorn more and more meeting rooms nowadays. Whereas in the past, the sign only identified the room and possibly indicated whether the room was occupied. Nowadays, it also shows the schedule of future meetings and allows making reservations.
Another meaningful trend is so-called information radiators**; screens mounted in areas where personnel either works or gathers that show relevant information about an organization. This information often takes the shape of dashboards or multimedia presentations.
To enable displaying this type of information, it is essential that the signage platform supports integration with applications used by the organization, showing this information in an easy-to-understand way. In addition, showing these dashboards on signage screens gives more return on the investment in these business applications.
Communication to their target audiences has become more and more diverse for most organizations. Having more communication channels means that organizations can address their audience with more focus, but in most cases, it also means that the channels that they use have diversified and have changed over time. Therefore, ensuring that the brand image and "stories" are consistent over all channels is not trivial.
Digital signage that integrates with an organization's existing communication channels lifts the burden of adding another communication channel. In addition, by its nature as a means of collective communication, digital signage is very well suited to highlight other communication channels.
##Security and privacy
Several of the trends described above point out the importance of integrating digital signage with systems already in use by organizations. Communication tools and business applications contain valuable information essential to communicate inside the organization. Linking these systems will make the digital signage system and the systems used as data sources more valuable. This integration might also lead to higher risks in terms of security and privacy protection since if one of the integrated systems is hacked, both systems' data might be stolen.
Possible security risks are why there will be growing pressure on information-sharing applications such as digital signage systems to have best-in-class security and policies for privacy protection. Some things to consider when it comes to these subjects:
- The European GDPR and the CCPA of California currently enforce the strictest privacy protection rules. Compliance with these should be mandatory for all applications you use.
- Users' authentication should comply with current industry standards; easily maintainable user accounts with the quick withdrawal of user rights.
- Communication between systems using current industry standards and quickly withdrawn access rights
- Data from internal data sources never leaves the local network.
- No firewall changes are necessary to make the digital signage system work.
- Playback should be restricted to specific devices or IP addresses and secure using HTTPS.
What about AI and Bitcoin?
The internet is abuzz with talk of new technologies such as AI and Bitcoin. The last is not something that will influence digital signage shortly. Artificial Intelligence, however, is making its way into every industry and creating splashy headlines. We certainly see a role for this technology. It will tune content shown in specific circumstances to specific audiences to lead to more effective communication and better sales. The time frame for this to happen such that the return on investment is viable for most organizations is still a few years out.
Getting back to the current economic situation and the outlook for the next two years, making digital signage more cost efficient by reducing costs and leveraging existing systems will have a far more significant impact than trying to wrangle a few more percentage points of efficiency out of signage by investing in costly AI solutions. At least for the great majority of companies and organizations.