AEM Screens: Questions, Answers and Lessons Learned
At One Inside we have the chance to collaborate with our customer SBB, the Swiss Federal Railway, on innovative projects.
These projects blend many channels and sources of information to provide travellers with up-to-the-minute information throughout their journeys.
These are next-generation omnichannel experiences.
There is one particular project that we want to highlight today, the “CMS customer information”.
The aim of this project is to deliver valuable customer information to different screens at train stations, among them Smart Information Displays – touch-screen based kiosks that will be available on several hundred train stations all over Switzerland.
On the solution side, Adobe Experience Manager is used as the base content management system, and AEM Screens, Adobe’s Digital Signage solution, is used to deliver content to the various screens.
You may be wondering:
- How to leverage a digital signage solution?
- What is AEM Screens?
- What lessons did we learn from the project?
We will answer all those questions and more below
What is AEM Screens?
Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) Screens is a digital signage solution allowing you to publish dynamic content and digital experience to a vast variety of screens and displays at your store, premises or at train stations.
The beauty of AEM Screens is that it is part of the Adobe Experience Manager solution, Adobe’s powerful CMS.
It enables marketers and content editors to work from a single place, create content for the website, mobile channels and as well push assets to displays.
The aim is to manage all assets for any channel from one simple and intuitive interface.
The video below is a replay of a webinar held in January 2021, where we detail our project with the Swiss Railways.
Later in this article, we share the audience questions, together with more insights about AEM Screens and its integration in a large enterprise ecosystem.
What kind of displays and screens can you manage with AEM Screens?
Any kind of screens, menu board, touchscreens, widescreens and more can be used with AEM Screens. You can then deliver unified and useful experiences into physical spaces.
In the project done for SBB, the Swiss Railway, we introduced 3 kinds of screens:
- Smart Information Displays (SID): Their main purpose is to replace the paper timetables and network plans and offer information in an interactive way at the train station.
- E-Panels (ad screens): During large disruptions, ad screens can be used to provide customer information.
- Inspiration Desks: Located in Traveler Information Centers, inspiration desks inspire customers to buy leisure trips.
What are the key features of AEM Screens that you used in this project?
There are several features that we used and would not want to miss:
- Configuration: It’s very easy to connect a new screen to the system and provide it with a new configuration. For example, this is how we configure the Smart Information Displays (touch-screen based kiosks).
- Content: AEM Screens is directly integrated into AEM Sites and AEM Assets and can use the same content that is used on the website or in other channels. It’s easy to navigate to a specific screen (just choose the train station and then the corresponding screen(s)) and add content to it.
- AEM Screens Player: AEM Screens has its own player that runs on the media player hardware that delivers the signal to the screen and acts as a client for the AEM Screens CMS. This setup allows us to provide any kind of information to a screen – be it a loop of nice images and videos, a single-page-application that interacts with the user through a touch display, or service disruption information pushed to the screen within seconds.
- Flexibility: AEM is basically a hybrid CMS (a mixture between a traditional and a headless CMS with a digital signage package attached to it. Because it’s heavily based on open interfaces and standards, we were able to find an interface to connect to every backend system and every screen we wanted to. This was crucial more than once during the project.
What is the impact on content creation, or how easy is it to use existing assets with AEM Screens?
AEM Screens is part of Adobe Experience Manager, the famous content management system for enterprise.
AEM Screens uses the same user interface and functionality for content management as AEM Sites – the functionality that allows creating websites – so that authors feel at home immediately.
Existing assets can be used either by dragging and dropping them manually into channels where they get immediately published to the screens.
Or existing web content can be reused by re-rendering it to a screen-optimized design (using specific stylesheets) – for example, you don’t want links to external sites that a user at a touch-based display can tap on.
For the project with SBB, most of the content we push to screens is automatically consumed from backend systems, enriched with additional assets, and rendered for the specific screen, all automatically.
Is it possible to build interactive and personalized experiences with AEM Screens?
Yes and Yes. Actually, we already built an interactive experience with the Inspiration Desks to be rolled out in all-new travel information centers at large train stations in Switzerland.
It’s based on a single page application (SPA) that uses Angular and loads data (from AEM Sites) asynchronously.
The SPA runs in an AEM Screen channel and can be replaced by an idle channel that shows images and videos when nobody is at the desk.
Interaction with the SPA happens through a touch-based screen limiting some functionalities (e. g. no keyboard entries), but this is not a huge problem. QR codes are used to get content to the user’s mobile phone.
If we can identify a user standing at a screen, for example through NFC tags or another method, all personalization functions that are available within AEM can be used, including personalization and optimization provided by Adobe Target.
Basically, anything that can be done on a website can be done with AEM Screens as well.
Is it possible to integrate analytics with AEM Screens?
Yes. Actually, that is exactly what we will do, at least for the interactive screens, such as the Inspiration Desks (touch-screen enabled desks with travel tips and useful information about Switzerland and the SBB).
For the Inspiration Desks, we want to learn how users use them. Which content is interesting to them, and which isn’t.
In addition, we want to display QR codes that bring travel tips to mobile phones. If someone then buys a ticket after reading a travel tip, we will see his first interaction on the Inspiration Desk.
Did you use AEM Content Fragment and/or Experience Fragments with AEM Screens?
Yes we did. We used AEM Content Fragments to configure centrally managed information blocks displayed on various screens.
It’s a great out-of-the-box mechanism offered by AEM Sites. Our team configured this mechanism for the purpose of AEM Screens easily.
As you can set up specific permissions on the Content Fragment feature, we allowed a few content editors to create fragments and edit content.
The screens manager can then pick the content (fragment) they want to display on their screens.
Is it possible to use an API Gateway with AEM Screens?
We don’t use an API gateway, we use the APIs that Adobe Experience Manager provides.
AEM provides a lot of interfaces, and mostly we use REST APIs exchanging JSON objects, as all other systems are able to understand them. It’s easy to implement such an interface.
How to manage multi-language displays with AEM Screens?
As you are probably well aware, Switzerland has 4 official languages, 3 of them are used by SBB, together with English at airport train stations.
Basically, each station has its “home” language. All communication on said station shall be in its home language, and maybe a second language.
However, it’s not that easy to find out in which languages to communicate on each station.
Our solution is able to support all languages (de, en, it, fr). How many languages a message is submitted in doesn’t matter – we will rebroadcast the message in all languages available.
The SBB employee in charge of service disruption information at the Traffic Control Center decides which languages to use.
Have you used a CDN?
Yes, we have, but only because Adobe Experience Manager is already used for the website, and therefore has a CDN (Content Delivery Network) already. We can use already existing setups and workflows.
If we had had to build the system from scratch, we probably wouldn’t have used a CDN, as all the consuming systems are basically located within the SBB network, and only a small amount of images are used.
In fact, the Smart Information Displays use AEM Screens’ functionality to cache images and other content locally, so that they can provide content even if the connection to the network is lost (offline functionality).
What’s the acceptable latency between someone making a change in the CMS and the corresponding displays being updated?
Speed is essential, especially during a service disruption. Not only because everybody is waiting for information, but also as information can and will be updated quite often, for example when busses are available or other connections are re-routed.
Once the SBB employee at the Traffic Control Center sends out a message, it’s processed in the CMS in less than a second.
The E-Panels, for example, poll the CMS every 20 seconds for a new message and need about 5 to 10 seconds to switch from advertisements to a disruption message.
All together it takes about 30 seconds from the publication of the message to its presentation on the screens.
This is much faster than the current system, and in the near future, we might bring it down to a few seconds for other screens.
Who is the main target audience for the digital signage solution considering that most Swiss people have smartphones with the SBB mobile app installed?
Most of the travellers have the SBB mobile app or at least a smartphone where they can get information from the website.
But imagine a larger train station full of people during a large service disruption. There needs to be information, and the information needs to be accurate, fast, and consistent.
That’s what we’re working on. You’ll always be faster looking at a monitor than searching for your next train on your mobile phone.
Furthermore, we plan to integrate the website and the mobile app as additional channels into the solution to ensure that the same information is served to all users.
For what kind of other use cases could AEM Screens be used?
There are many use cases imaginable – basically all use cases that involve a display, be it a touch-based interactive screen or a simple, passive display.
Any information can be put onto a screen, be it advertisements, information about the operative situation of a railway network, or timetable.
It gets interesting when one starts to combine sources: A (big) screen is still quite an investment, therefore if it can be used for multiple purposes – e. g. ads during idle times, a timetable during rush hours, and a service disruption message during service disruption – basically multiplies the value of a screen.
AEM Screens lets you configure different channels with specific content and allows you to manage these channels based on schedules or other rules, even manually, so that you are always in control of what is displayed on your screens.
If you want to know more, we’ll gladly tell you everything about AEM Screens and discuss your scenario. Don’t hesitate to contact us.
Senior Consultant Digital Marketing