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Software as a Service: Hosted Digital Signage on the Rise

Software as a service (SaaS), often referred to as a hosted application, has proliferated in many business application areas over the past few years--with Salesforce.com as one the earliest and best- 8/26/2008 8:00 AM Eastern

Software as a Service: Hosted Digital Signage on the Rise

Aug 26, 2008 12:00 PM, By John W. DeWitt




Students at Villanova University watch the campus digital signage network powered by Rise Vision's software as a service (SaaS) digital-signage content-management system.

Students at Villanova University watch the campus digital signage network powered by Rise Vision's software as a service (SaaS) digital-signage content-management system.

Software as a service (SaaS), often referred to as a hosted application, has proliferated in many business application areas over the past few years—with Salesforce.com as one the earliest and best-known pure SaaS applications. Two years ago, established digital-signage software maker Rise Vision—whose customers include Villanova University, eTrade Financial, and ING Direct—made the decision to "bank [its] business on software as a service" and rebuilt its entire digital-signage content-management system as a hosted application, according to Ryan J. Cahoy, the firm's managing director. In its latest move, Rise Vision announced a new program allowing third-party resellers to become private network operators of the Rise Display Network service. Digital Signage Update spoke with Cahoy to get his take on the advantages of the SaaS approach and the opportunity for AV integrators to offer their own branded, private-label signage solutions to customers.

Digital Signage Update: Hosted applications have been making inroads into the business world for some time, particularly for data-driven applications that don't require large amounts of bandwidth. The SaaS approach is not so common in the digital-signage space, where bandwidth requirements for graphics and video are much higher. What convinced Rise Vision that the signage market was ready for SaaS?

Cahoy: Our company had been doing digital signage for 15 years and had a sophisticated system. Two years ago, we took a new look at the whole thing—we said that the Web is coming along, bandwidth and hosted application capabilities are increasing, and Salesforce.com has gained tremendous ground with something as complex as someone's customer-relationship-management application. So we made a conscious choice to throw away everything and completely rebuilt our functionality for SaaS. Now we believe the industry is moving toward this approach. In conversations 18 months ago, users couldn't see someone else hosting their signage, but now we're seeing big shifts in mindshare towards software as a service. For us, it's reached that critical-mass point.

How difficult was the transition to SaaS? Has Rise Vision reached the level of functionality you were able to offer in a traditional installed-signage application?

We do quarterly releases of our software—our customers can get timed, predictable releases on a regular basis—and six months ago, we hit the critical point in terms of our core functionality. We may not have everything under the sun today, but clients know they are getting more and more functionality with each release.


Software as a Service: Hosted Digital Signage on the Rise

Aug 26, 2008 12:00 PM, By John W. DeWitt




What are some of the advantages you feel are provided by the hosted approach to digital signage?

By offering regularly updated hosted software, we can help clients get advantage out of signage that they can't predict yet. To give you an example from the educational market, we're on about 150 campuses around the U.S. Previously, emergency management alerts were not a feature of our product. But after the [April 2007] Virginia Tech shooting, we got tremendous numbers of requests for emergency management, and within three months were able to meet client demand and deploy it. And the advantage to being hosted was we didn't have to run around with CDs to update client systems—we just flipped a switch, and everyone was up and running in a day.

So what are the disadvantages to the SaaS approach?

The only significant disadvantage we find relates to connectivity. High-end government installations can be problematic where there is no access to the Internet. For example, the CIA or FBI have networks that are totally locked down—the SaaS model doesn't work without that accessibility via the Internet. Another place I run into this issue is at tradeshows and other events, and with networks that have a lot of mobile sites. In some cases of mobile signage, where it's troublesome to get Internet access, it can cause some grief using this kind of model.

How well does your SaaS platform work with wireless digital signage?

Wireless vs. wired—to us, it's mostly irrelevant. If you have wireless Internet, with a media player behind the screen that's wirelessly connected, the positive is that it's wireless. The negative is that you don't have as big a pipe, so that sometimes can cause problems with large video files.

What benefits do you offer to AV integrators who work with your SaaS platform?

For an implementer, our platform makes things easier for them. A lot of them are comfortable with the hardware, but the software was always the unknown, the scary piece of the puzzle. And when you're setting up servers onsite, there's a lot of complexity. With SaaS, you install, plug into the Internet, and let someone else remotely configure the network. So it reduces the challenges, and has really opened up the opportunity for installers to offer a complete system vs. the hardware only.

Moreover, installers are getting squeezed for margin on the hardware. But there's still decent margin for integrators on the software side of things, and if they want to pick up a broader-scale business, they can private label the software. This way, integrators can build a recurring stream rather than "hang and bang."

Talk about your private network operator announcement. How does it work, and how difficult was it to make this capability available on your SaaS platform?

A reseller or AV integrator can personalize the platform to make it his or her own digital-signage offering. On the back end, we'll still host and manage all the content, but it allows our reseller partners to put a personal face on it.

There were a lot of little tweaks to give them the ability to manage the portal—but from an overall architecture standpoint, it's not like building from scratch. And the neat thing we've done is build a scalable architecture—we can nest operators within an operator and have multiple levels of the hierarchy. From a service standpoint, resellers have access to the system to troubleshoot and resolve issues. No longer do they have to worry about PC Anywhere or VPN access to their customers' networks—those challenges are cut down by the SaaS model.

For more information, visit www.risevision.com.


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