Many customers have been burned by the naive assumption that the high upfront cost for their video wall was all they needed to think about when making a purchase. Some video wall vendors even encourage this way of thinking and use it to justify their high upfront costs.

In reality, video wall solutions require maintenance, upgrades, refreshed content, re-calibration, etc., and with powerful new features and resolution expectations being created every day and it is important for AV professionals to understand the TCO advantages of various different solutions on the market and be ready to discuss them with their customers.

A Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) approach helps identify and analyse the cradle to grave costs of various solutions, enabling companies to make better and more informed purchase decisions.

Helping customers understand the money they are spending and the flexibility and savings this will bring them down the road is a vital part of a consultative sales process.

This article will help video wall systems integrators know and understand different TCO factors as they relate to video wall decisions so they can better position their solutions when engaging with customers.

Understanding TCO and how to talk about it with your customers will give integrators a leg up on their competition.

TCO Factors

TCO includes expenses incurred in purchasing, deploying, maintaining and upgrading the solution infrastructure both directly and indirectly.

Helping customers see both the tangible and hidden costs in the various options under consideration will help position the product accordingly.

Purchase Price of the Solution

There is no question that customers are easily influenced by lower upfront costs. Often the least expensive video wall solutions are integrated into the display or into a small “black box” that attaches to the display. We call these hardware solutions as they typically offer a limited feature set, are typically unintuitive to use and are often limited in resolution and/or number of displays.

Typically with hardware solutions customers need a separate PC playing the content which incurs a significant time and maintenance cost (most enterprises have an understanding of their per-PC TCO cost, but this one will likely be a different image than the others or may be in an awkward physical location to get to hence the cost of this PC may end up being vastly larger TCO than is typical).

The biggest hidden TCO cost of these hardware-based solutions is the risk that they may not be sufficiently flexible to accommodate future nice-to-have or must-have requirements creating expensive workarounds or potentially even complete replacement, creating a very large potential increase in TCO.

Software based video wall solutions typically offer major advantages in terms of ease of set-up, a more advanced feature set, as well as a constant stream of new features and functionality, ensuring customers can keep pace without having to replace.

A further level of advantage can be achieved through software ‘appliance’ based solutions (such as the Userful Network Video Wall) where customers don’t need to maintain an operating system, but still gain the efficiencies, scalability and cost advantages of using industry standard PC hardware.

Eliminating the proprietary hardware lowers upfront cost but also facilitates support costs as well as eventual upgrade costs as all you need is a standard Intel PC/server.

Installation and Configuration

While installation is usually considered an upfront cost, it is not uncommon to have to move or alter a video wall and taking a TCO approach can also point out important advantages of one product vs another even on the initial install.

Video wall solutions can easily consume hours on alignment, adjustment, routing the cabling and configuring individual displays.

Sometimes expensive extra-long HDMI cables and specialised enclosures and cable routing systems can be an un-forecasted cost (one that is eliminated with network based video wall solutions).

Some solutions require extensive labour hours, or specialised personnel to deploy, that translates into higher costs, which could be avoided by purchasing a simpler, more flexible system.

System integrators should keep in mind that if a solution is complicated to deploy it is often going to be complicated to maintain giving customers an overall increase in TCO and risk of downtime.

Service and Support Costs

Service and support is one of those hidden costs that customers fear.

It’s important for any system integrator to know what their products ongoing support burden is as well as that of the competition.

Consider the complexity of the system. Proprietary systems usually require specialised service skills, which have limited availability and are more expensive.

Consider the cost of replacement parts for proprietary hardware and the downtime while waiting for these (even the future availability of replacement parts). Anything proprietary may not be around in a few years.

Hard to come by (or expensive to inventory) replacement parts translates into greater downtime.

Facility Operating Costs

Facility operating costs include things like power consumption, the cost of cooling systems, dusting any player devices that have fans, rack mounts, facilities required to house and deploy the system, amongst other costs.  This even includes cleaning the displays from dust or fingerprints as well as periodic colour re-calibration.

Video walls that can be configured to turn off at a set time each night and start-up at a set time each morning can cut power costs in half and can extend display life.

Low-power devices with no fans can eliminate ‘behind the screen’ maintenance, which is the most expensive type of maintenance.

Choosing a network delivery approach can keep video wall servers in a cool low-dust server room, increasing hardware life and eliminating the need to open up a locked enclosure to access the video wall server.

These maintenance costs quickly add up to thousands of pounds during the lifespan of a video wall and wise selection of a video wall solution can keep these costs to a minimum.

Content Creation and Management

They say ‘content is king’ and truthfully showing the right content at the right time is the main reason the customer is installing the video wall in the first place.

Being able to easily switch between content sources (for example from a smartphone or web-browser) or even being able to show multiple content sources simultaneously on different sections of the video wall can easily double or even triple the customer’s content exposure value.

Premature replacement of a video wall because it hasn’t been able to grow with the customer’s needs is the biggest TCO risk in a video wall deployment. Thoughtful discussion up front of where the customer might want to go in the future can help eliminate this risk and give one system integrator an advantage over the competition.

Today’s content can range from standard video formats to slideshow presentations, interactive web-content (i.e. HTML5, etc.), web streaming, live TV/Satellite and even HDMI/SDI sources (i.e. Cameras, laptops, etc.) as well as managed content from a CMS.

Solutions like the Userful Network Video Wall natively support all these content sources, allowing easy configuration and delivery to the video walls.

Some video wall solutions are limited in the content they can support (e.g. some common video wall solutions cannot support real time dynamic content) meaning any customer that purchases that solution is boxing themselves in and potentially increasing total costs should they decide to use real time or dynamic content in the future.

As the world gets more connected and communicative, the ability to display real time content is increasingly important.

Conclusion

Identifying and understanding the factors involved in TCO helps a system integrator guide customers in their decision making process.

When selling a solution as expensive as a video wall, customers have a lot invested and they will listen attentively to those who can speak in an educated way about the costs they can expect both today and tomorrow.

Hidden costs represent significant expenses, sometimes even exceeding the tangible costs.

With TCO in mind, the biggest thing system integrators need to avoid is recommending a system that can’t grow with the customer.

Remember, the competition may be one step ahead and recommending a solution that will grow with the customer.

One of the major advantages of software-based video wall solutions is they accommodate this kind of growth and expansion over time.

System integrators who understand how to communicate TCO as it relates to video walls will have a leg up on those who don’t.

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