Monday, July 24, 2017

Just five years ago, in most cases it was enough for a neat DS software to be able to display images, videos and a ticker. The appearance of HTML pages was already a big plus and even today some software still can't.

Nevertheless, these times are long gone. Networks require the use of sensor technology, audience measurement and proof of play, companies want dynamic content from the big jungle of their existing data and suppliers and merchants want interactivity and evaluations.

With this plethora of functionalities, most DS software on the market are overwhelmed or the licenses quickly become very expensive, the operation very complex. Older networks can often not be upgraded at all and the new desired software is missing the one function, which is absolutely obligatory. With the purchase of a large number of licenses, some software vendors can be convinced to add these features but that takes time, is expensive and usually ends in ever more error-prone builds.

Middleware meets all your needs

The solution for all these problems is simple: middleware.

What is middleware? According to Wikipedia, the definition is: "Middleware is a layer in a complex software system that enables the exchange of data as a" service provider "for other otherwise decoupled software components."

To put it simply: middleware builds bridges between different software that otherwise could not communicate with each other. Most of the time the DS software is the target and a server is the source because the middleware is supposed to contribute content. But the DS software can also be the source, to access and evaluate playback data for example.

What does middleware do?

In the simplest case, data and contents are "translated", for example data from a database is read, processed and forwarded as HTML or JPG to the playing DS software. In more complex cases it may also be necessary to communicate with the source or the target and, for example, to address an API (interface) – if there is one.
Occasionally you also have to get rude and use operating system resources to force the DS software to do what the customer wants.

For example, a middleware connects an external audience measurement system with a player and its playlist and provides the customer with prepared evaluations, in which content and viewers are associated.
Or sensors are being queried (temperature, air pressure, proximity) or external hardware (card reader, cameras) and their data affect what content is being played. But also weather data from Yahoo or results from sports events could automatically change the play-out of content. Social media content can be retrieved, modified, designed and perfectly adapted for digital signage to be integrated into the program. In many cases, it simply involves the integration of unsupported formats, but the King's discipline is the provision of data and behaviours from corporate networks – here the complexity of the solution usually involves the connection to the source and a middleware is absolutely necessary, because the data and IT structure does not allow direct integration into the DS system.

Especially the need for such solutions regularly leads to the emergence of new DS software solutions, which are developed for a specific purpose and then "decoupled" and offered on the public market. A year later, you usually hear nothing more about these products. Such scenarios could be solved more easily and cheaper by using middleware, because the use of a specially developed middleware has many advantages.

Advantages of middleware for the customer

First of all, the main components source and target (mostly the DS software) remain unchanged.
You can build on standard software, which is often used, tested and stable. Standard software changes can usually be applied in the form of updates, increasing availability and security. Especially with already rolled-out networks you save a lot of money, because usually no onsite operations are necessary and no 1,000 new licenses should be purchased.

In addition, the middleware must meet only a clear, precisely defined field of application and therefore can be developed lean, fast and cost-effective. With middleware, the customer has the source code under control – adjustments can be made quickly and unbureaucratically without the participation of other manufacturers. Other features in the future also require only the use of

Advantages of middleware for software manufacturers

For these, middleware is usually more interesting than the development of customer-specific features in their standard software. These special developments make the standard software more cumbersome, harder to maintain and thus more expensive. Projects can be handled faster and cheaper with middleware, thus increasing the chance to get the contract.

Last but not least, the flexibility of the middleware is unbeatable when the source or target (i.e. the server database or the DS software) change, because then only one part needs to be adjusted and we don’t have to start from the scratch. So yes, there is a Swiss army knife for DS and DooH integration – Think Middle!