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Monfort College of Business: High-Tech, High Involvement

The Kenneth W. Monfort College of Business at the University of Northern Colorado is one of only five undergraduate-only programs in the U.S. to have AACSB accreditation. They are also the only business school to have the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award from the Office of the President of the United States and the U.S. Department of Commerce – an award given to public institutions that perform “above and beyond current trends in their industry”. So when they wanted to communicate better with their 1,000-strong student body, they wanted a solution that was contemporary and modern.

“We consider ourselves more high-tech and wanted to essentially wow people as they came in,” says Chris Vegter, Director of Academic Technology and Information Resources. “Old-fashioned big placards were tacky and no one read them.” They decided to combine two Visix products – AxisTV digital signage software and MeetingMinder™ room signs. “The different levels of control were a deciding factor,” Vegter says. I try to give as much control as possible to others – they control and schedule content, though not for longer than two weeks, as we want to content to be fresh.”

Seven Visix media players in the Monfort College use AxisTV to send bulletins, PowerPoint, Flash, weather tickers, and news, RSS, and cable feeds to large-screen displays around the property. Three additional media players extend their reach beyond the College itself – in the library across the way, in the student union, and at the satellite campus in Loveland, 20 miles away. Vegter explains, “One media player tells the story of Kenneth Monfort and the College, and the rest display things that help make it all into a community. We’ve also tied it into an event scheduler, so people can get everything they need from the displays.”

Monfort has also added 20 MeetingMinder™ room signs to display content and inform students of who has sponsored their classrooms. “We have a lot of technology in these classrooms. One is sponsored by Wells Fargo, another by Coors Brewing Co., others by local accounting firms, even the University itself. We used to have rather expensive plaques we put up and had to change, but now it’s all digital.”

Vegter relies on the Monfort community for content creation. “Students and staff create content – could be print adverts saved as picture files, a few small video presentations for folks who couldn’t attend a class or seminar, or Flash messages for more active presentations.” Incorporating audio and Dow graphics pulled from the web helps make it all flow and gives a sense of continuity. The process is simple. “I get an email, or maybe someone has gone to one of our points of contact in the library or another building, we create an account, train them on the system  – which takes 15 minutes – then they create and publish their content, we approve it, and up it goes.” He says he tries to walk them through the process from an audience perspective. “I ask them if they would stop to read it. If it’s no good, then we’ll work together to fix it.”

The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. “People walk in and are impressed – we’ve got a display behind some old Roman columns and they look at those, and then at the signs, and there’s this blending of old and modern, and they say ‘Wow!’ Then they look some more and get information that is actually useful.” What about older systems of communication? “We have one bulletin board left and people ask me why I even bother with it anymore.”

Vegter knows their Visix system has been effective because they run measurement exercises. “We ran a test – get a free flash drive if you respond NOW – and we got ten in five minutes! We also had an early closure due to snow one day and used the alert mode, which was very successful.”

Student involvement is up as a result of the integrated communications approach, with survey responses rising and student club membership on the rise. Monfort is also looking into ways to get their system to generate income. “The marketing club is working on a plan to sell ad space to local businesses.”

“What we’re doing is an ongoing process,” says Vegter. “We’re putting information and content in the hands of the students, getting them involved any way we can and making something they can be proud of. We ask them what they want and then, if feasible, we do it.”

“It has been fun,” Vegter concludes, “we are preparing business students today to be the business professionals of the future, one step at a time.”