To begin I would like to state I am not stupid enough to believe the development of digital menu boards or digital signs are nearly as important as the development of computers. However, I do believe it is valid to make some comparisons.
If you are old enough to remember when personal computers first became available you know it took a long time for most people to start using them, even in business. In the beginning, we were told the primary benefit was to save time and reduce costs. What we later learned was they did not save time. Instead, they greatly increased our individual capability, capacity and quality of work. They allowed us to do much more, more quickly and more accurately. Computers allowed us to do many things we could not do without them. I delayed using them because it seemed like too much work to download the data and get the programs set up. Today, I don't think we could survive without personal computers. Try taking them away and see what happens.
I can remember a few years ago when every executive had a secretary; now there are very few. As an example, it would take me all day working with my secretary and several other people to get a large proposal or important document composed, typed and ready to be delivered by overnight service to a customer. I can do the same thing today by myself, do it better and have it delivered in a matter of minutes.
Let's compare personal computers to digital menu boards. Think about how much time and how many people it takes for a restaurant chain to make changes to the content in a traditional menu board system and have it displayed properly in the restaurants. It takes several weeks or a couple months. With digital menu boards it takes a matter of hours. One person can do it easily, better and the content is more effective. Consider how much more you can do with digital menu boards than with traditional boards. I won't list them here, but the list is long. These are features you can compare with computers.
A true test of the value of a new technology is to see what would happen if you take it away after people have used it long enough to utilize its full capabilities and have them switch back to the old technology. Consider what would happen if you took away personal computers today. It would be a disaster. Although it would still be difficult to find someone utilizing the full capabilities of digital menu boards, how do you think they would react if they had to switch back to the old technology? Although I would say McDonald's has not used its digital menu boards long enough to utilize their full capabilities, it is the best example I can think of. Ask its management how they would feel about replacing the digital boards in their McCafe units with the old menu board technology. It would be a huge problem.
I believe digital menu boards will eventually replace all the old boards, and many new capabilities will continue to be developed and utilized.
/ Vertigo Group USA president Scott Sharon has decades of experience in the sign and menu board industry, and nearly another decade in digital signage. He's a longtime proponent of, and innovator in, expanding the deployment of digital menu boards in QSRs. Sharon also is a Team Leader for START, the Strategic Technology Alliance for Restaurant and Trade.