- Media Solutions
- Cisco Meraki Wi-Fi
- Cradlepoint routers
Benefits: Assessed requirements, identified best technology, professional project management. Renovation to the first Welcome Center included adding concierge-style information pods, large screen monitors to which travel information can be sent from tablets at the pods, large screen monitors to display weather and traffic from across the state, and an electronic guestbook, to name a few.
Cisco Digital Signage Promotes Travel in South Carolina
- Industry: Tourism / State Government
- Location: Columbia, SC
Client Snapshot: SCPRT decided in 2014 to take greeting its tourists to a whole new level by implementing cutting-edge technology in its state-wide Welcome Centers. As soon as SCPRT and its ad agency scripted the optimal visitor experience, they turned to NWN to help architect and implement the ultimate solution.
The South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism (SCPRT) is a cabinet agency assigned to manage 47 state parks, and market the state as a preferred vacation destination. The agency is most recognized for its leadership role in promoting and supporting South Carolina’s number one industry – tourism.
In 2014, SCPRT recognized that tourists (referred to as ‘Guests’) to the state were relying on technology more and more to plan and manage their travel. At the same time, the State’s Welcome Centers were operating in what had fast become an antiquated approach. Typical for what is still in place across the country, Counselors stood behind large counters, and racks of printed brochures lined the walls for guests to browse and select. With a goal of providing “amazing guest services” by changing the way Travel Counselors assisted Guests coming into the State, it was readily apparent that technology would play a large role in any solution.
Over a period of several months, SCPRT and its advertising agency began to envision the future-state of its Welcome Centers. The agency promoted a concept of each Center becoming a “front porch” for visiting South Carolina – a metaphor one easily understands after any time in the State. Pivotal to the concept was better presentation and sharing of content through the use of Digital Media and Electronic Signage. As David Elwart, CIO for SCPRT explains it, they pictured an experience that would be part Apple Store and part Marriott GoBoard®. The renovation plans also called for a more open floor plan and better technology throughout. Yet the question remained, which technologies and how best to implement them. That’s when SCPRT began its search for a technology vendor, culminating in the selection of NWN to lead the technology sourcing, systems integration and project management.
NWN along with Cisco began by conducting a series of demos and presentation around the technologies that were most applicable. NWN worked in close partnership with SCPRT and its advertising agency, along with Cisco, AppSpace and other vendors. NWN produced a solution that not only identified the right technology, but also outlined the plans to implement the selected technologies in the context of many moving parts, including demolition and build-out, both inside and outside the centers. Core to the NWN solution was providing professional project management direction across all entities involved – not just technology.
NWN proposed a solution that complemented the new concierge-style information pods, with four large screen digital signage monitors to which travel information could be sent from tablets at the pods. It also included two large screen monitors to display weather and traffic information from across the state. Other renovations included a color-coded large-scale map of the state on the wall, new flooring, interior layout, and landscaping. Finally, an electronic guestbook system, utilizing a tablet, would be created for Guests to sign in, register for updates, and participate in surveys as to where they went and what they liked.
The technology components were standardized around Cisco Digital Media Players with AppSpace Content Management, and HP Monitors. Samsung Galaxy tablets would use Chromecast to throw content on the monitors from the tablets. The touchscreen monitor would run on an Intel NUC, allowing access to the website. The network would leverage Cisco Meraki Wi-Fi and include Twilio and Facebook for after-hours passcode information, as well as Cradlepoint Routers for use with Air Cards for the LTE Data network.
In addition, NWN would provide Project Management Services, overseeing all aspects of the technology integration, during the construction phases. This turned out to be one of the most valuable components of the solution for SCPRT. As with any project with many moving pieces, things can and will go wrong. That’s when it’s critical to quickly identify them, correct them and adjust the plan accordingly. With very little staff to support the implementation and already focused on scripting the experience and developing content, SCPRT came to rely on the experience and professionalism of NWN’s Project Manager, Susan Hallman.
As a result of the Digital Media Solution that NWN proposed and executed, the first newly renovated Welcome Center on I-26 was officially opened to the public on May 5, 2015. It is the first of nine across the state to be remodeled. The digital experience is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, for such welcome centers. Guests to South Carolina can now interact with relevant information, download what they need to their own portable devices, and most importantly interact with Counselors in a more meaningful way.
First and foremost, SCPRT met its goals for updating the Guest experience, as they envisioned it to be, in a relatively short period of time. The technology is intuitive, easy to use, and performs without issues. In addition, the solution was designed with the understanding that SCPRT is not a large organization, and therefore employs technology that does not require a lot of time devoted to managing it.
NWN architected a solution built on proven, reliable technology. It is a sound footprint for remodeling the remaining eight centers. Also, with the first Center up and running, SCPRT will use lessons learned from this remodel to apply to the other Welcome Centers in the future.
Perhaps most important, the project proved to be as complex and dynamic as everyone thought it would be. Multiple vendors and technologies, as well as client entities, architects, builders, inspectors, landscapers, utilities and more, came together to bring this remodel to life. For anyone who has ever remodeled a house, it is easy to appreciate the challenges that come with so many moving pieces. Yet through it all, SCPRT and NWN worked as one to overcome the challenges that did arise. Operating like gears meshing seamlessly, it was the overriding reason for the positive outcome that was achieved. As David Elwart, CIO with SCPRT stated, “Over the course of my 25+ years in technology, far and away Ms. Hallman is the best project manager I have ever had the pleasure to work with.”
Finally, with the new technology, SCPRT has been able to transform the way that it interacts with its Guests. Counselors no longer stand behind counters, instead they roam the floor with tablets in hand, interacting with visitors, leveraging the big screens, and engaging in a two-way flow of information that allows for ‘amazing guest experiences’, and a better understanding by SCPRT of visitor expectations and satisfaction.
It’s too early to measure exactly how the new Welcome Center experience may be changing the metrics for South Carolina tourism. Yet, there is a noticeable increase in enthusiasm for the both the Guests and Counselors. On one of the big screens, webcams broadcast live feeds from two of the State’s most popular State Parks, Edisto Beach and Table Rock Devon Harris, Visitor Services Manager with SC PRT said, “Guests have been heard to say, “Hey that’s where we’re going.” “We’ll wave to you when we’re there tomorrow.”
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