The Division of University Housing at UW-Madison has been using Visix’s AxisTV software since 2010. They transitioned to the new AxisTV Signage Suite platform in the summer of 2019, and since then the system has been expanded to include 13 departments, with plans for further expansion.
The Division of University Housing wanted to send targeted, focused communications to each building where students reside, primarily the dorms that house 7000+ students during the school year. One of the main reasons they chose an enterprise-wide digital signage system was the need to combine location-specific communications with campus-wide alert capabilities.
An early discovery was that adding attractors to the screens greatly increased student engagement with other messages. These attractors include weather, bus route information and an RSS ticker with local and campus news. All of these use automated content feeds that populate without user intervention to reduce the burden on content creators.
Content is created by three groups: the marketing department creates content that’s relevant for all housing locations, as well as campus-wide communications and alerts; students create content for their own housing locations; and dining staff create and update digital menus in the cafeteria as their offerings change or supplies run out.
By tailoring content to individual housing buildings, the department ensures that students see what they need to, and are not overwhelmed by information that isn’t relevant to their location.
Publishing other daily and weekly communications helps knit the campus together into a more cohesive whole, fostering a sense of community and culture. By allowing students to be a part of the creative process, they are more invested and engaged with university communications.
Announcements & Alerts
Campus-wide messages created by the marketing department are in playlists that show as many as 30 messages, and may stay up for the entire semester or academic year. This allows them to repeat general information for the larger audience who tend to linger near screens for ten minutes or more.
Delivering timely alert communications in an emergency obviously has the safety of the students, as well as staff and visitors, foremost in mind. They’ve devised a visual system for messages to quickly cue viewers about the level of urgency. Alert messages are either green – needs to be seen that same day; yellow – needs to be seen within the hour; or red – needs to be seen within five minutes or less.
Students create content using templates that were designed and shared by the Senior Systems Administration team. Senior Systems Administrator Scott Hubing elaborates, “They’re quite comfortable using Photoshop and Illustrator, so they use those apps to create their content (usually a PNG file), load the content into the templates, and schedule messages to show on location-specific displays for two weeks.”
These screens show playlists that have only seven or eight timely messages. Because students are often transitory through these spaces, having shorter playlists helps increase the chances they’ll see all of the messages.
Dining staff manage digital menus displayed on screens for each area of the cafeteria. These advertise food and drink items currently on offer, as well as nutritional information and other announcements.
Dining halls are open year-round, and adding menu boards allows for more timely dining updates, increased promotional opportunities and a more modern dining experience. It’s also been shown in multiple studies that menu boards lessen perceived wait times and improve the overall customer experience.
Hubing says, “We thought it was important that the people who actually work there be able to update the content as needed. This makes sure the diners get correct information immediately.”
In addition to messages and media, event schedules managed in the university’s calendar app are displayed on digital signs in multiple locations. During the summer months, when there are no students, the campus hosts a number of conferences and day camps, estimating around 15,000 unique visitors each summer.
Some of the longer conferences involve participants staying in the on-campus housing, and targeted communications for each building continue throughout the summer. The transition from business as usual during the academic year to summer activities is simply a matter of updating schedules in the calendar app and scheduling supporting content to playlists.
Why AxisTV Signage Suite
“The fact that AxisTV Signage Suite scales so easily, allowing for growth and expansion, is great advantage,” says Hubing. As the system expands to other departments, it’s easy for the Senior Systems Administrator to create built-in user accounts with single sign-on credentials, and different levels of access and content publishing roles. Because of the ever-changing pool of content managers, centralized user management is essential.
Because the team of content managers is large, varied and changes every school year, it’s essential that users can be trained to start producing content quickly. The user-friendly nature of the software was a key factor in choosing AxisTV Signage Suite. Hubing explains, “It’s extremely easy to create a message from scratch or using a template, or to import a file, and then schedule it in a matter of minutes. Most users can be trained on the system in just a couple of hours.”
Because many students return for subsequent years, the department offers an annual refresher course that includes returning content creators mentoring new incoming contributors. “This has proven an efficient way to onboard new students and give them hands-on experience creating messages,” says Hubing.
Hubing continues, “It was surprisingly easy to implement the system.” This is especially true since they deployed the new platform from the same vendor they had used before. “Firewall rules and other IT security issues had to be accounted for, but once those had been solved, getting the system operational was quite straightforward.”
“The key to success was spending two months beforehand planning out likely workflows and responsibilities, and creating templates for content creators to use for their messages.” They also purchased creative services to get branded layouts and templates ready for the unveiling. This enabled them to launch with solid processes in place, so they could pivot and adjust as needed.
When transitioning from the previous CMS to AxisTV Signage Suite, they ran the two systems in parallel for two weeks at the end of the academic year. This allowed them to finetune the workflows and messages, and ensure there would be no interruption in service.
Economies of Scale
When other departments expressed an interest in having their own digital signs (they’d seen them when they used the housing department’s meeting facilities), it quickly became apparent that it wasn’t cost effective for each to have their own servers and software license.
As a solution, Systems Administration now hosts the AxisTV Signage Suite platform on their servers, and other departments share the cost. Economies of scale have brought the price for additional users down to just $10 a year each for their share of the license. This allows more people to leverage the advantages of an enterprise-wide digital signage system at a very reasonable cost.
The university plans to add more departments to the deployment, extending the reach of the system and further driving down costs.
Their advice is summed up in the phrase “planning makes perfect.” Hubing summarizes, “If you plan out as much as you can in advance, it shouldn’t take more than two weeks to get a deployment like this up and running.”
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