A New Era in Digital Signage for AstraZeneca

A New Era in Digital Signage for AstraZeneca
Biopharmaceutical company’s Delaware-based U.S. Corporate Headquarters get a new digital signage network, screens and audio to match.
By Dawn Allcot

Most, if not all, Sound & Communications readers remember a time before digital signage (and HDTV monitors, for that matter) existed. But technology in this industry advances quickly and we’re already seeing the next generations of digital signage solutions. Some early adopters may even be ready for an upgrade of their systems to enjoy the expanded capabilities, better ease-of-use, and enhanced flexibility of today’s digital signage hardware and software. This was exactly the case for the global biopharmaceutical firm, AstraZeneca, who recently called on West Chester, Penn.-based audio visual integrator Advanced AV to completely replace and update the digital signage systems in their U.S. corporate headquarters, located in Wilmington, Del.

The company needed a versatile, easy-to-use system that could be used for internal corporate communications and branding along with emergency messaging services, with the goal of completely doing away with paper signage across a multi-building campus and improving the company’s carbon footprint with more eco-friendly technology.

In 2002, the Advanced AV team, headed by Digital Signage Market Development Manager Vince Faville, had installed a digital signage system from Magic Box in AstraZeneca’s corporate headquarters, using some of the earlier models of 4:3 aspect ratio plasma monitors to display content intended for internal communications.

Faville says, €Magic Box is a one-to-one solution. In other words, you have one Magic Box system, and you push that content out to multiple displays through distribution equipment.€

€At that time, the plasma programming was leading-edge technology,€ says Rebecca Everitt, senior manager of corporate communications for AstraZeneca.

But the old system didn’t give the client the ability to show multiple unique messages on different screens, to separate the screens into zones to share a variety of information at one time, or the ability to make real-time updates to the programming. It also didn’t give members of various AstraZeneca departments the ability to create and upload their own content.

€In the past, when someone wanted to put content on the screens, they would send the corporate communications department an email with the information,€ Faville relates. €It would need to be formatted for Magic Box, so they would have to send it to the production team to re-format, taking up a lot of valuable time and resources. Now, anyone designated as a content owner can create content using a template established by AstraZeneca’s communications department. Authorized content owners receive a unique log-in to the system, so they can create content to be approved by the communications department and then delivered to the digital signage system.€

This was one of the requirements outlined by the client. Other features the client requested included the ability to:

Make real-time changes in content, as spearheaded by the communications department
Display full-screen alerts as part of an emergency system
Plan programming in advance and target information to different locations and during specific times
At the same time, the original 2002-model, 4:3 aspect ratio screens were beginning to show signs of image burn-in (which older-model plasmas are prone to do after time), and were not as eco-friendly as today’s models.

AstraZeneca’s Everitt explains, €We wanted to replace and upgrade the aging campus-wide plasma communication system with a digital signage solution that provided greater flexibility and timeliness in message delivery to our employees, while using less energy, generating less heat and reducing paper use for communications.€

Environmentalism, or steps toward a €greener€ workplace, was a project objective for the biopharmaceutical firm, according to Everitt. The company knew how much time, money and natural resources was being used with the printing and hanging of paper signs across the facility, many of which remained on the walls for a short campaign before being replaced with a new message.

Advanced AV, acting as a consultant at the beginning of the project, shared several different solutions with the client, and AstraZeneca decision makers liked the flexibility, customization and ease of use of the Tightrope Media Systems digital signage solution. The system includes a player PC mounted behind or near each display and outfitted with Carousel’s proprietary licensing software, and Carousel Enterprise Server software, which resides on a virtual network and is managed by the Information Services (IS) department.

€This system allows us to provide creation and editing rights to more people in the business and it’s very user-friendly,€ Everitt says. €We can split the screen into zones, so multiple types of information can be shown at the same time. Various file types can be uploaded without distortion of quality, eliminating the need for file conversions and allowing for real-time communications.€

Faville adds, €The client ultimately chose Tightrope because it seemed to fit best in their workflow. Since they can get messages out easier and more efficiently, they’ve done away with all those posters.€

The Tightrope system provides the capability to display five different €zones€ of messaging on one screen, and it can custom-size content to fit any of the zones automatically. The client can also pull content from corporate RSS feeds and other external data to display on the screens. €We were very excited,€ Everitt says, €about the ability to split the screen into different zones so multiple types of information can be shown at the same time, such as video in one section of the screen and weather and upcoming events in another part.€

Selling Digital Signage
Often, when audio visual integrators are pursuing a big digital signage project, the key challenge is in customer education. Prospects have to be sold on the benefits of digital signage and integrators must explain the vast capabilities and applications of the system before the project is a €go.€

This was not at all the case with the digital signage upgrade for AstraZeneca’s U.S. corporate headquarters. €AstraZeneca was different because they were already familar with digital signage but they were looking for a €better mouse trap,’€ Faville says. €Advanced AV installed the original system with the best product available to meet their needs at that time. However, with computers becoming more powerful and prices of digital signage solutions dropping, we were able to offer a much better solution today.€

Faville worked closely with Advanced AV project manager Tory Holmwood, applications engineer Peter Claffey, the architects and the AstraZeneca IS department, along with other AstraZeneca staff, to implement the Tightrope Carousel server and equipment, along with 27 LCD flat screens and audio for video throughout the space.

Everitt notes, €The success of the project was due to a cross-functional team, including people from Corporate Communications, Facilities, Information Services, Engineering, and Procurement, working together to identify the best solution to fit our needs, from both a functionality and compatibility perspective. Each team member served as an expert from their area to help guide the project to success.€

Keeping Cool and Other Challenges
The challenges to this project, as Faville explains them, were related primarily to IT infrastructure and design elements. The client was sold on the solution; the challenge was to implement it in a way that it would operate properly on the company’s network, and so that the technology would blend in with the architecture.

€What the architects say will l