How To Integrate Digital Signage With Other Business Systems Using APIs 

Faith Ngaruiya
May 13, 2024

How To Integrate Digital Signage With Other Business Systems Using APIs 

Digital signage by itself can be considered a conversation starter, mainly because it’s a magnet for consumer attention. It’s the relevancy of the message to the intended audience that keeps the conversation going. Usually, this relevance comes from giving the consumer additional information that helps them on in their journey. That could look like stock levels for a given product, customer reviews, or personalized recommendations based on their browsing history. If you take your business as an example, different departments often operate with separate data and systems that can be useful in increasing dwell time. 

You can think of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) as intermediaries that allow your signage system to request and receive data from other departments' software systems. Such integration takes your signage to the next level. This article will guide you through this process, we'll cover the fundamentals, different integration methods, and best practices.

Laying the Groundwork for Your Integration

Define your Integration Goals

Before getting technical, you want to define what you’d like to achieve with the integration. Consider the kind of data you want displayed on your screens. This could include sales figures, inventory levels, real-time social media feeds, news updates, or other relevant information. Do you want to automate content updates based on specific triggers or changes in your data sources? Do you envision adding interactive elements to your signage, such as touch capabilities that connect to product databases? Who will view your digital signage displays (customers, employees, etc.) and how can this integration tailor their experience?

Auditing Your Systems

The best way to find out if a particular system has an API (and how to use it) is through its official documentation. Look for developer sections of websites or dedicated support portals. You'll find clear explanations, code examples, and even pre-built integrations for common use cases if you're lucky. If an API exists but the documentation is lacking, you might need to contact the software vendor directly for support. And what if the system you need to integrate doesn't have an API?  This is where decisions about hiring a pro come into play, as workarounds or completely custom middleware might be needed. 

Another thing to note is that not all APIs are created equal, even if well-documented. Some APIs only allow you to read data, while others will let you both read and write.  Ensure capabilities match your integration goals. Also, take note of any usage limits or rate restrictions, because they can impact the feasibility or design of your integration.  For example, if the API only allows you to fetch stock levels every 10 minutes, you might not be able to achieve truly real-time signage updates.  Being aware of these limitations up front lets you adjust your goals accordingly or explore alternative solutions if necessary.

DIY or Hire a Pro

The level of customization needed and your team's tech skills are the main deciding factors here. Don't underestimate the time a seemingly "quick and easy" integration with Zapier can suck up, especially if you run into limitations or need to modify data coming from your systems. 

On the other hand, a developer who's unfamiliar with your specific business or the intricacies of digital signage integrations might require a steeper learning curve. The sweet spot might be a hybrid approach. An internal developer familiar with your tech stack can handle the core integration, while a specialist consultant can provide guidance on optimizing the signage software's capabilities or handling more complex tasks.

Choosing Your Integration Methods

Ready-made Connectors

If you're looking for a user-friendly way to get started, platforms such as Zapier, IFTTT, and others have pre-built integrations between popular services. Setting up simple integrations can often be done in minutes without writing a single line of code. This makes them fantastic for prototyping or testing ideas quickly. 

Ready-made connectors make it easy to set up common scenarios like getting Twitter notifications on your digital signage, updating a spreadsheet when a new sale happens, or displaying customer reviews from your website on in-store displays.

API Management Platforms

A common point of struggle for businesses is managing multiple API integrations, especially when those integrations involve retrieving data from different sources. Imagine you have a retail store with separate APIs for your point-of-sale (POS) system, your customer relationship management (CRM) tool, and your loyalty program. An API management platform will simplify communication among this system from a central environment. 

An API management platform can also act as a security gatekeeper that ensures only authorized applications can access sensitive customer data.

Direct API development

If your business process or the way you want to use your signage is unique, you might not be able to achieve this with pre-built solutions. In the case you’re using older or less common systems that may not have support for ready-made connectors, Direct API development will help you extract the data you need from those systems. 

Your developers will then write code that communicates directly with the API, asking for specific information that is needed. This code will then transform that data into a format your digital signage can easily display. 

Troubleshooting and Testing

Expect Hiccups

Integration projects rarely go smoothly on the first try.  Anticipate running into issues with authentication, data formatting, or errors returned by the external API.  The good news is that these obstacles are usually well-documented.  API providers have troubleshooting guides or FAQs that address common errors and how to resolve them.  For instance, an authentication error might indicate a typo in your API key, or a permission error could point to a missing access level in your credentials.  Carefully review the error messages returned by the API and consult the provider's documentation to identify the cause and solution.

Documentation is Your Friend

Good API documentation is a lifesaver when something goes wrong during integration. It explains why issues might occur, helping you identify whether the problem is with your code or with the external system. The API documentation also outlines any limitations of the system you're connecting with so you can proactively work around them. 

Keep detailed notes of unexpected behaviors, workarounds discovered, or undocumented quirks as you work through the integration. This becomes a custom map that supplements the official documentation and saves time if the issue crops up again during future updates.

Testing Throughly

It's best to test your integration in a separate, practice environment so you don't accidentally disrupt anything for your customers. Take into consideration all possible situations, for instance: 

  • Can it handle the crowds? Imagine a busy sale or a surge in customer traffic. Can your integration keep up without slowing down or breaking? Test it under heavy load to make sure it stays performant.
  • What about the unexpected? What happens if a product is completely out of stock, or its name is so long it throws off your display layout? Test these edge cases to make sure your integration can handle anything your systems might throw at it.

Key Takeaways

  • Before diving in, outline what you want the integration to achieve (sales data, social feeds, interactive elements, etc.). This focus guides your choices.
  • Determine if the systems you want to connect with have APIs and how to use them. Official documentation is your best resource.
  • Ensure the API allows the necessary data access (read-only vs. read/write) and be aware of any usage restrictions that might impact your plans.
  • Assess your team's skills vs. the project's complexity. Tools like Zapier can simplify things, but complex projects might require a developer.
  • Select the integration method that suits your needs: ready-made connectors for simplicity, API platforms for robust management, or direct API development for maximum customization.
  • Use a separate environment to test your integration under different load levels and potential data scenarios to ensure its stability and adaptability.
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