CASE STUDY

Smart Signs

How Cirrusmio created IoT-Enabled Digital Signage for a Global Technology Manufacturer

“Signage in the modern retail environment must be rich enough to capture modern consumers, dynamic enough to provide relevant content second-to-second, and easy enough to centrally manage across a thousand stores.”

- Dave Hempy, Senior Engineer

OVERVIEW

What is digital signage?

Digital signage systems deliver customized media playlists to one or more digital screens, enabling a network manager to display information to a targeted audience at a specific place and time.

Digital signage is often used to present a custom-tailored content mix, including product promotions, news, and upcoming events. Screens can be mounted on walls, ceilings, shelving systems, aisle endcaps, or integrated into freestanding displays and kiosks. Digital signs are used in a wide variety of applications ranging from targeted retail advertising to internal employee communications and remote training.

Unlike  traditional signs, digital signage allows the user to quickly, easily, and inexpensively customize messages and quickly deliver that information to multiple  displays at once. In addition, because there is no need to climb ladders, digital signage optimizes employee safety as well.

What is the “Internet of Things”?

Simply put, the Internet of Things means that any device with an on/off switch can be connected to the Internet (and/or to each other). This includes everything from cell phones, coffee makers, washing machines, headphones, lamps, wearable devices and almost anything else you can think of.

IoT is expected to grow significantly in the next several years. As broadband internet becomes more readily available, we are seeing more devices with wifi capabilities and built-in sensors are being created. The cost of this technology is decreasing, and smartphone use is growing steadily.

So what is the business value in Internet of Things? There are several examples. If your car had access to your calendar, it could tell you the quickest route to take. If you’re caught in traffic, it might send a text to the other party that you’ll be running late. If your alarm clock was connected to your coffeemaker, you could have a fresh pot brewed by the time you wake up. If your office equipment could sense when it was running low on supplies and automatically order more, your productivity would be uninterrupted. Besides making everyday life more convenient, IoT technology can be applied on a broader scale to create “smart cities” which can help increase energy efficiency and reduce waste.

What is the future of IoT?

Cirrusmio’s client, a Global Manufacturer of Digital Display Devices, wanted an effective system for managing cloud-based digital display device for one of their large accounts. The business challenge was to enhance the shopping experience and to improve customer engagement.

To meet this challenge, every in-store device needed to have the ability to be measured and controlled. This included enabling every device with geo-location and bi-directional communication between the devices and the cloud.

In addition, the project required complete health and lifecycle management on all devices. This included a flexible data capture model that could be used for storage, analytics, and advanced reporting.

Other elements included:

  • Extensive APIs to support integration
  • Multi-Tenant Identity
  • Asset Management
  • Role Based Access Control

BUSINESS CHALLENGE

Enhanced In-Store Experience

The market for products related to the Internet of Things will increase 19 percent in 2015, and one of the biggest growth areas will be digital signage in retail stores. Digital signage is expected to grow from $6 billion in 2013 to $27.5 billion in 2018; a 35.7 percent, five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR).

The number of connected digital signage displays around the world is predicted to grow from 25.4 million in 2015 at a growth rate of 20 percent, approaching a total of 64 million in 2019.

Cirrusmio Solution

In collaboration with the client, Cirrusmio set an ambitious objective of not only delivering a low-cost, easy to use, future-proof and scalable solution, but one that went above and beyond the customer’s expectations. Every complete IoT solution must include at a minimum the ability to a) connect devices to the cloud, b) manage devices remotely, c) collect operational and user behavior data from the device, on the device, and about the device, and d) the ability to store, augment, analyze and report on the data being collected in order to extract business insights from device generated data.

With this in mind, and considering the fact that most retail environments are now comprised multiple “smart” devices that are all sending data to the cloud, and potentially to each other, the decision was made to enable not only digital display device and content management capabilities, but the entire framework upon which to build an open, device-to-device and device to cloud retail IoT platform.

The modular approach to the solution was designed and developed using license-free, open source, industry standard cloud infrastructure and data management elements and considered the following functional components:

Connectivity to the Internet

It should be noted that, as of the time of this publication, virtually all new digital signage and TV monitors (including our client’s) are manufactured with built-in chips for Internet connectivity, remote device management, as well as wifi, bluetooth, NFC (Near Field Communication) capabilities for indoor signage, and cellular or LPWAN (Low Power Wide Area Network) for long distance, device-to-cloud and/or device-to-device communications for out of home signage. However, in early 2013 when our client embarked on this project, they were at the cutting edge of Internet of Things enabled digital signage. A contemporary solution, thanks to connectivity built into the chip, would not require any additional external hardware specifically for the purpose of IP or wifi network communications.

The first issue to be dealt with when making a “dumb” device “smart” is Internet connectivity to allow the device to transmit its operational data to the cloud – or to some local data store. For this the client had already decided to standardize on the Google Shuttle a small (5” x 7”)  ARM-based, Android PC media player with built-in Ethernet and wi-fi connectivity and an HDMI port to connect to the display device.

The Cirrusmio challenge was to develop the bi-directional device and content management “middleware” layer that resides in the cloud between the digital content media publisher and the device. Or in this case, any ‘publisher’ of data, such as another device or a business application, and the device. We built a modular solution that incorporates all the essential elements of an end-to-end IoT device and data management platform. The solution is now in production and day-to-day maintenance and operations are managed by the client.

Device Management  

Remote Device Management requires the automation all aspects of device operation including provisioning, role based access control per device, installation, activation, registration and the control of specific device functions such as on/off, reboot, power consumption controls and other actuators. The end-points can be controlled in real-time via a bi-directional connection, or via a polled interface. The server monitors the operation of the network of devices and automatically notifies the network manager of any anomalous behavior. The system includes a spatial database, making it possible to locate a device or group of devices within a given proximity.

Collect, Store and Manage Data

The platform provides a broad range of capabilities to acquire content and data from external systems including CRM, inventory and POS systems. Content and data can be integrated at both the server and the end-point enabling “edge computing” strategies. Effective meta-data organization means the correct data and content is published to the right end-point at the right time. The system offers control over the way content is displayed including device-specific scheduling and distribution of content. It can also also host independently developed software in order to perform specific functions such as reorientation and re-sizing of the content related to the form factor of the display. The metrics from end-points are logged and stored in a time-series database, and can be displayed or extracted as needed.

Reporting, Analytics and Visualization

The platform provides a reporting console for access to the data that is collected.  Reports can be scheduled and emailed, or accessed via web services for integration into operational dash boards and business intelligence applications. The network can be easily integrated with external analytics systems to support the analysis and refinement of the business functions including machine learning algorithms in support of predictive replenishment, predictive maintenance and automation of controls and messages based on user, device and environmental decision making factors.

Scalable, Reliable and ‘Future Proof’ Solution

Built on industry standard, open source, non-proprietary components, the Cirrusmio Big Data platform is capable of scaling to tens of thousands of connected devices and proven to scale linearly as the volume, variety and velocity of the data ingested, stored and analyzed increases exponentially.

CONCLUSION

The project’s primary goal was to effectively deliver and control customized media to a targeted audience. The solution had to be cost effective and immediately impactful on customers, whose in-store time may be limited. Finally, the solution had to be deployable on a large scale to multiple locations.

Success criteria included dependable 24-hour functionality and the ability to easily manage content in a central location. For the client, a no-fail system was essential to ensuring all customers receive the highest level of attention in a consistent manner, regardless of what time they visit the store.

“Depending on the client, marketing and digital signage needs can be very different”, said CEO Todd Willey. “Everyone’s situation is unique, which is why Cirrusmio solutions are always flexible and customizable.”

About Cirrusmio

Cirrusmio is an IoT Professional Services firm comprised of an eclectic group of fun loving hackers passionate about the Internet of Things revolution and the intersection of man, machines and the environment. The company is currently experiencing rapid growth through word-of-mouth referrals and a series of successful connected device projects including smart digital signage for a global manufacturer of digital displays, connected appliances for a global manufacturer of commercial and residential coffee brewing equipment, and a cloud based shop floor machine remote monitoring solution.

Cirrusmio

IoT services and solutions