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U British Columbia Promotes, Expands Digital Signage

The effective use of a large outside digital display inspired the University of British Columbia (UBC) to undertake a much larger digital signage scheme with a dedicated Web site, cross-department leadership, and a continual search for "great content." The program will allow campus divisions--"units"--to coordinate messaging; develop, share, and use high-quality media; and deliver emergency messages across the campuses.

Initially, the institution put up a large outdoor digital sign in a public area, which called for the need to manage the content displayed. UBC's public affairs, media group, and IT divisions worked together to develop content and guidelines and to implement a year-long pilot with smaller signage placed in administrative and academic areas.

That led to the latest initiative. UBC recently bought 300 licenses for Haivision Network Video's CoolSign player and began encouraging units to participate in the digital sign program. CoolSign is a suite of products for facilitating the use and management of digital signage. The player specifically provides playback of media and real-time data from a central location; the players can be synchronized to show the same media across many screens simultaneously.

The university, with about 54,000 students, is promoting the implementation of the players first at its Vancouver and Robson Square campuses; but plans are also underway to include its Okanagan campus and university-affiliated teaching hospitals.

"Establishing an efficient centralized communication system connecting campuses was both a priority and, given the university's extensive geographic and demographic network, a real challenge." said Wilson Lo, senior systems analyst for UBC. "We knew from experience that the university needed a system that would enable delivery of emergency warning messages when they matter most. We also wanted a solution that would support daily provisioning of UBC content to our staff and students across all UBC campuses."

"Digital signage offered us an easy solution for overcoming the physical distance spanned by the university while managing centralized content from a single administrative center," said Lo. "CoolSign provides these benefits and also serves as an intuitive, easy-to-maintain solution that scales well. Within a year the whole project has moved quite quickly, from pilot to deployment, and we expect it to move just as fast in the near future."

Administrators overseeing the digital signage network manage and control content maintained in a central repository with the use of the CoolSign Network Server and Network Manager. The Manager is a graphical interface for loading and managing content, doing scheduling, monitoring the network, and performing remote configuration.

A given campus unit that decides to implement the signage is expected to supply the flat panel displays and their installation, a display PC, a manager PC, and the time and expense of content creation. The university will supply the server infrastructure, licensing of CoolSign, and related components. It's also providing extensive training to participants--both staff and students--so that they know how to work with the system.

Users will be able to control the contents displayed on their signage, with the stipulation that at least five percent of it be "branded content," as defined by the university's public affairs office. Public affairs is also supplying digital assets that units can subscribe in order to fulfill this requirement. Those assets will be pulled from the campus' Web portal, its strategic vision materials, university reports and events, daily media summaries, and similar sources.

In the future, the university expects to add mobile control to the digital signage network to allow users to push content to physical displays on campus via their mobile devices.

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