During the Planning Phase
You've written your business plan, made your pitch to management (or your friendly local investor), and picked out the vendors and products that you'll be using for your project. The next step is figuring out how to get all of that equipment bought, shipped and installed. Your favorite logistics company will surely offer at least a few services to help you get started, including:
- Project Planning: Give them your bill of materials and a list of installation sites, and your logistics company will produce cost estimates, Gantt charts and other planning tools explaining how long it will take and how much it will cost to get your equipment from point A to point B, installed and running.
- Site Surveys: Surely one of the tasks on the aforementioned project plan will be site surveys, where flesh-and-blood humans will physically visit each proposed installation site and check for power and connectivity, take photos of the venue (including any potential caveats), and make notes about installation-specific tasks that may need to be done. Good logistics companies will have some kind of centralized portal where surveyors can upload all of this data for client review.
- Training & Documentation: There's no point in making a plan if nobody knows how to execute it. Many logistics companies will create training videos and manuals that field technicians can use to guide them through the installation process.
During the Installation Phase
Once the planning is done, it's time to put your money where your mouth is, and get your screens deployed into the real world. This is where the most visible services provided by the typical logistics company come into play:
- Shipping Management: In the course of assembling your parts list, you might find it necessary to buy from several different vendors, some large, some small. So the first challenge you'll face is tracking all of the packages they're going to ship. They may come from different points of origin, need to go to different destinations, and may ship over a period of days, weeks or months depending on your schedule (and how you've written your purchase order). So what may seem like a simple task at first can quickly snowball into a complicated challenge.
- Warehousing: If you're installing your kit at 100 different venues in the same city at the same time, you probably won't need to utilize the warehousing services offered by many logistics companies. But if your install will span multiple cities or will take place over a number of weeks or months, it can be quite helpful to ship all of your equipment to one central point, and then have your logistics company re-ship to each installation site when the time is right.
- Palletizing: If your project calls for a particularly large amount of gear to be shipped to each site, you might opt for a palletizing service as well. This is exactly what it sounds like: the company will go through the list of parts needed for each install and wrap them up on a shipping pallet, making it easy for trucks to pick up completed "modules" for shipment to the installation site.
- Transportation:It goes without saying that your kit will need to be shipped to installation sites before it can be installed. While I don't know of any nationwide rollout services that have their own shipping arms, all of them have worked with ground freight companies before. And having dealt with large freight companies before, I can tell you that the inherent complexity of this process gives you an even greater appreciation for how UPS, FedEx, and other everyday shipping vendors somehow manage to get (smaller) packages to their destination as reliably as they do.
- Installations: This is certainly the most obvious and well-utilized of the services offered by a typical logistics firm. These companies maintain a network of installation technicians who are familiar with everything from hanging cabinets to running cables, and pick the right ones based on the skills required for your project and the locations that need to be serviced.
During the Maintenance Phase
Think you're finished just because you got your screens hung or kiosks installed? Think again. That equipment will need on-site servicing at some point, especially if it has moving parts. That's why many logistics firms will also offer:
- Periodic Maintenance: Many OEMs recommend a periodic preventative maintenance program to keep equipment in the field running in tip-top shape. Whether this means dusting off CPU fans or replacing mechanical parts depends on your project, and typically your logistics firm will ask for your help when developing a maintenance plan and timeline.
- Field Service:Even the most rigorously managed network will eventually suffer failures, so it pays to be ready with an on-site service plan that can put a qualified technician (and any necessary spare parts) on the venue's floor as quickly as possible. Of course, you'll pay for higher levels of service (e.g. same-day versus next-day), so consider the costs and benefits of each plan before choosing.
This just scratches the surface of the different offerings that may be available to you based on your specific project requirements, and obviously not every company you talk to will offer all of these options. But whether you're budgeting for your next project or just considering the scope of companies you may need to work with in the digital signage ecosystem, it's important to remember the folks that work behind the scenes doing the unglamorous jobs that help turn your project from a paper-and-pencil exercise into a real-world deployment.