A Networked Signage System for a Community College, Part 2Johnson County Community College has a digital signage network that covers the 234-acre campus. 4/26/2010 2:37 PM Eastern
A Networked Signage System for a Community College, Part 2
Apr 26, 2010 6:37 PM, By Bennett Liles
Editor’s note: For your convenience, this transcription of the podcast includes timestamps. If you are listening to the podcast and reading its accompanying transcription, you can use the timestamps to jump to any part of the audio podcast by simply dragging the slider on the podcast to the time indicated in the transcription.
Johnson County Community College (JCCC) in Overland Park, Kan., has a digital signage network that covers the 234-acre campus and extends beyond with an emergency notification system and a lot more features. David Little of Keywest Technology is here to wrap up all the technical details of the installation.
SVC: OK, David, in part one, we were talking about the Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kan., and the campus-wide digital signage network that Keywest Technology installed. It really looks interesting the way they’ve got this set up. Obviously, they can do scheduling, and we’ve talked about the way that they’ve got the screens divided up into two rectangular areas for information and a crawling ticker along the bottom. The displays are serial controlled for turning them on and off and basically controlling the hardware?
Little: Yeah, that’s correct. We really did specify professional displays, and for multiple reasons. And one reason was because of the RS-232 control that is built into the panels, and so we’re controlling the displays—turning them on and off. We’re doing two things with the RS-232: We’re controlling the displays by turning them on and off through our system, but interestingly enough, we’re also reading the display so that we know, rather, it is on or off and, of course, that’s being used just in case it does accidentally or purposely get turned off. There’s an alert that goes back to the operators. [Timestamp: 1:53]
OK, so that’s what, serial carried over Cat-5?
OK, so you’ve got your own hardware conversion situation for that?
So, yeah, MediaXtender carries video, audio, 232, IRall that.
And what make of displays are you using on the network?
We have in there 48 of the 42in. Hyundai displays and then there’s 22 of the 46in. Hyundais, and there was a small number of the LGs put in as well. [Timestamp: 2:27]
I can see that that’s a pretty extensive network, and from what I saw—I went to their website and I looked around and some of the articles that I saw about it—it looks like you’re not very far no matter where you are on campus. You’re not very far from one of these displays, so in any kind of a rapid-fire situation, say an emergency, they do have some kind of an emergency notification system in this?
Right, and that really points to another reason Keywest Technology was chosen to build this system—was basically based on the ability for us to modify our server system so that it would tie into the colleges emergency messaging components that they just had acquired. So this is part of a new public address system that they installed on the campus, and this entailed building some of the prescripted emergency templates for their contingency preparedness against tornados and fire alerts [and] things like that, but it also included a direct tie-in to their campus-wide public address computer. This is the computer that they’re able to type in a message and it sends SMS messages to the students’ phones, that same system. [Timestamp: 3:40]
Uh huh, we’ve got that on the campus where I work, and suddenly all the phones come alive and fortunately so far…
...it’s just been a test. But yeah, that is out in Kansas, and that’s tornado alley, I guess they call it, and you can have something come ripping through there with very short notice, and I guess the public safety people are in charge of taking charge of that, right? They can take over control of the network?
Yeah, the campus is big enough that they have a public safety officer, and that’s what she does full-time. See, it was all about crucial seconds. I mean, it’s amazing that with emergency announcements seconds actually matter, so besides the ability for them to type their own message into this new public address system, it also monitors the national EAS system, of course, which we can respond to those alerts as well—which is similar to what you would see on television. [Timstamp: 4:34]
You explained a little bit about how the software works. How are the playlists edited and updated? Do you do that with the Media Creator application?
Well, Media Creator, the function of the Media Creator is the character generator, so that’s just the name of it. The actual content management is really done by the MediaZone editor, and besides the template manager that I have previously mentioned, it also functions for assembling playlists and scheduling them so all the content management is really done with the MediaZone editor. [Timestamp: 5:08]
OK, does this work with PowerPoint at all?
Of course. PowerPoint’s outside of MediaZone, the editor, but we’re compliant with most of the common media files that are being used out there. And when I say compliant, what I mean is we never convert to any video or any file format. We play all formats in their native resolution because we’re really blending pixels rather than actually creating a file format ourselves so we can play PowerPoint natively on our system and schedule the files. [Timetamp: 5:38]
Now they’ve got a lot of different channels, obviously, on this thing. What are carried on the special interest channels? I think [that’s what] they are calling them.
There are some extra channels. So besides the main campus channels, which is around the core buildings, there are also local channels that are being used in their Regnier Center, which is an art museum, and right off the Regnier Center is a 5000-square-foot conference and meeting center, so that’s a specialty channel because of the events that are going on there. Then there’s also the gym where the Cavaliers have their sporting events. They have a non-site children’s center. There’s also a police academy and the off-site locations are also considered special channels. [Timestamp: 6:23]
A Networked Signage System for a Community College, Part 2
Apr 26, 2010 6:37 PM, By Bennett Liles
Now, do they divide up the control as to the channel that they’re on and certain people can control that, or how does that work?
Yeah, in every case, every building has their own assistants that really are in control of the channel for that building. When I say the channel here, let me just clarify because sometimes we think of the screen as being the channel, but I’m just talking about the media that’s being served out to the displays. In some cases, there is only—depending on where the building is located—there’s only one channel, but in the building, there may be three, four, five, six, or eight displays. [Timestamp: 7:00]
OK, how do they control who gets access? I mean, what’s the security situation on this? Is it part of the computer network security, or do you have your own sort of security and access hierarchy in the software?
Yeah, there’s a standard user name and password protection that’s employed up front just like on the Windows program. User credentials are associated with permission levels that vary from an administrative control of all functions on all screens to only monitoring access of screens on specific buildings or departments, so there’s an overwriting system that is only in control of a few administrators and that we use through the server, but individual departments gain access to their section of it through the MediaZone editor. [Timestamp: 7:50]
Can this system, say, send out email notification about various things?
The InfoZone server does send out emails. However, the emails it sends are basically for monitoring purposes. So for example, if there was a screen that went down, the server would know it within a few seconds. It would inquire to the monitor. In other words, it would actually try to turn the monitor back on. It does that automatically. It even reboots the player after the player says, “Hey, I am working fine,” and then it tries to turn the screen on. If all of this fails, then the software will send an email to the administrator letting them know that one of the screens is down. So all of the emails that we support are basically for the support of this system. They don’t go out to the public. [Timestamp: 8:40]
OK, and all of that goes over the serial connection to the monitors. What is that, just a standard three-conductor-line interfacing at the display with a 9-pin D-sub connector?
Yeah, right. It’s standard RS-232 ...
... at that point from the monitor. But the RS-232 is read back into the individual players, and then the players have a small client that runs on them, and then that’s what communicates to the server, and that’s all done over the network. [Timestamp: 9:07]
OK, you said they had several, 20-some odd monitors already in the display network when you came in and started this. How long did it take you from, say, the concept when they came to you and said this to the completion of where you have it right now?
I’m not exactly sure how long JCCC wrestled with the concept internally, but I would say at least a year from the earliest talks with us to full implementation. [Timestamp: 9:36]
So what’s been the reaction so far, I mean, from the users?
The benefit of working directly with a digital signage company is there’s a steady stream of tweaks along the way, and it’s all about getting everything just right for them. There’s certainly a learning process to determine—what they want to do and how they want to do it—and that’s evolving over time, so their goals change as they go, and we’re changing our software to make sure that we can meet their goals. The overall reaction, though, of course, from them has been extremely positive, and one of the things that we have noticed is the degree of ownership between the individual departments and they’re absolutely taking full advantage of the screens in each department and pushing out information. I think they love the idea that they no longer have to publish and print all this information but that they can get it out in such a quick and timely fashion. [Timestamp: 10:36]
Yeah, like we were saying before, I think once they see it in action, everybody kind of wants to get a piece of it.
That’s right. That’s correct.
Does Keywest have any kind of plans for doing this again down the road or what’s up on the horizon for doing these things?
Well, yeah, absolutely. I mean, the MediaZone product, and when we combine it with our InfoZone server, it really does give us the ability to provide some really really powerful management tools and features and abilities for significantly sized networks. But this whole design concept has redundancy built into it, which we really haven’t talked about, and so we can ramp up not only the efficiency of different operations within the center of getting the information out and for communications but also reliability. Reliability is really important to people as well. And that’s one of the things that a lot of people have hesitation on with digital signage is that, “OK, this is all well and great and it’s cool, but we're really concerned about the reliability of it.” So we’re trying to address the reliability issue with the InfoZone server, and that’s why we built some of this artificial intelligence into it so that it can automatically do some diagnostics and things like that—automatically alert the administrators and these types of things. So we’re really expecting to announce here in 2010 some additional contracts that will actually make the JCCC installation look fairly small. [Timestamp: 12:00]
All right, sounds good David. David Little with Keywest Technology and the installation of the campus-wide digital signage network for Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kan. Congratulations on the success of the installation David and more success to Keywest.
Thank you, Bennett, and I really do appreciate the opportunity to discuss it.