Tuesday, 31 October 2006
APW (Waukesha, Wis.) – With operations in eight countries, APW manufactures enclosures for electronics, such as computer servers, audio/visual and telecom. At APW’s world headquarters, we met with Dave Hammer in business development. He explained how the company started in contract manufacturing for OEMs (metal fabrication, assembly, integration, supply chain), but in recent years has increased manufacturing of branded and standard products for customers. With operations in Anaheim, Calif., the company introduced its I-engage kiosk division in 2005.
D2 Sales (Mequon, Wis.) – At D2, we met with owner and founder Sandy Nix. Before starting the company, Nix was a VP at Frank Mayer & Associates where she spent seven years developing a specialization in technology and motor sports. Nix and her team of about a dozen employees bill themselves as "outside the box" when it comes to kiosks. High-profile projects include 1,200 kids’ entertainment kiosks for Burger King and interactive lounges for Yahoo! In describing her company, Nix said: “We’re business consultants and the kiosk is the means by which we deliver the solution.”
Frank Mayer & Associates (Grafton, Wis.) – Allen Buchholtz, Dave Loyda, Dave Zoerb and Cheryl Lesniak gave us a good overview of their company, which designs and builds merchandizing and point-of-purchase displays. The 75-year-old company is now headed by Mike Mayer, grandson of founder Frank Mayer. FMA built its first kiosk two decades ago and they told us they’ve learned much over the years. FMA has won many awards, notably for BMW, Giant-Carlysle and John Deere kiosks. (Related story: Old company, new kiosks: Frank Mayer and Associates turns 75)
Maysteel (Menomonee Falls, Wis.) – At Maysteel, we met with Andy Allen, business development leader, and Doug Odell, market manager. Founded in 1936, Maysteel is a contract manufacturer with 850 employees and over 550,000 sq. ft. in three locations to serve the self-service industry. Maysteel offers custom self-service solutions including integration of electrical and mechanical components along with vertically integrated sheet metal fabrication capabilities. Additionally, Maysteel’s
is dedicated to design, prototype, and pilot production. Clients include Diebold, Corporate Safe Specialists and DVDPlay. In addition to self-checkout stations and DVD vending units, Maysteel has built self-ticketing and fare collection systems for mass transit applications.
Touch Automation (Milwaukee, Wis.) – Touch Automation, founded by CEO Don Blust four years ago, focuses on one thing: DVD vending kiosks. We met with Tom Driscoll, operations manager and Steve Young, business developer. Touch Automation’s kiosks uses impressive robotics and come in configurations holding approximately 900 to more than 4,000 DVDs, serving one to eight customers simultaneously. Circular RFID tags and remote monitoring are used to manage inventory. The kiosk enclosures are manufactured and components integrated at a plant just outside Chicago.
Imperial Multimedia (Baraboo, Wis.) – CEO Fred Lochner founded Imperial in 1998, after he built a career with foodservice distributor Sysco. Lochner told us of a time when he went horseback riding, got caught in a storm and had a difficult time getting back due to the poor trail map. That spurred him to develop an outdoor kiosk for parks to dispense accurate, up-to-date information on trails, and print maps upon request. He hired Larry Fisher, a senior “imagineer” from Disney, to help. The company is now rolling out kiosks at 31 parks for the Virginia Department of Conservation & Recreation in the spring of 2007. The kiosks contain a deep level of content about the parks and surrounding areas. The kiosks contain photographs of thousands of scenic locations with their GPS coordinates noted. The company has a website specifically for the project to help promote advertising and sponsorship opportunities.
TD Fischer Group (Wausau, Wis.) – President Bob Fischer gave us a tour of his company, which makes promotional displays and custom exhibits. We also met with Nick Halfman, director of design & engineering, who showed us examples of their work. At TD Fischer, they use a 3-D modeling program called SolidWorks. Conceptual designs of displays looked like photographs as designers applied materials to realistic effect. Fischer unveil a new kiosk venture soon.
StrandVision, LLC (Eau Claire, Wis.) – StrandVision is a digital signage company started by Mike Strand after he sold his successful bar code software business, StrandWare, five years ago. StrandVision offers web-based software to support the digital signage platforms used in business and industry settings, such as Bush Brothers (Bush’s baked beans) and Bombardier, or in bank branches, such as the Bank of Ann Arbor.
Bailiwick (Chaska, Minn.) – Bailiwick specializes in voice and data wiring, electrical, site preparation and deployment of IT systems, primarily for retailers who have a nationwide presence and are deploying in multiple sites. Since 1995, it has been installing devices like POS systems, routers, switches and kiosks. Account Manager Andrew Lillehaugen explained how the company has developed a database of 400-500 companies through which it provides these services across the country. In recent years, Bailiwick launched Division K with skilled kiosk specialists.
3M Digital Signage (St. Paul, Minn.) – 3M, with $21 billion in worldwide sales, entered the digital signage arena with the acquisition of Mercury Online Solutions in Bainbridge Island, Wash., offering network design, implementation, hosting, monitoring and service, as well as easy-to-use content management software. Kelly Canavan, market development manager for 3M's Graphics Market Center, explained how 3M, with its focus on innovation and process improvement, is developing a new approach to address the key marketplace need - measuring and improving ROI for digital sign networks.
Smarte Carte (St. Paul, Minn.) – At Smart Carte, I met with Arthur Spring, senior VP of business development and international operations. Smarte Carte owns and operates carts in hundreds of airports around the world. Several years ago, they began offering lockers for rental and now those lockers are automated with touchscreens. The company has since branched into stroller rentals at 300 shopping malls and, most recently, cell phone charging kiosks called Charge Cartes. With 1,200 employees (only 70 at headquarters), Smarte Carte has a large network of employees at virtually every major airport in the U.S., Scandinavia, Spain, China and Australia/New Zealand. Expect to see more innovative airport offerings from Smarte Carte in the near future.
Mix & Burn (St. Paul, Minn.) – Mix & Burn President Bob French explained how four years of development has resulted in the ability to deliver 40,000 CDs worth of music through a kiosk so customers can select and burn customized CDs. Compare this to the typical store, which only carries 5,000-15,000 titles. French told me they actually got their start before Apple launched iTunes. While the company doesn’t make a kiosk per se (the content is delivered through an IBM Anyplace Kiosk), it has worked with Signifi, which made a combination photo and music kiosk. Mix & Burn’s principal investor is also its principal customer: Trans World Entertainment, owner of music stores FYE, Sam Goody, Suncoast, Coconuts and others. Mix & Burn’s new offering is The Filling Station – a kiosk that allows users to download music to MP3 players and cell phones.
Next stop: Southern California.
Tuesday, 24 October 2006
The definition of self-service is extremely broad.
Even the word kiosk, while much more focused, still has two meanings in the popular vernacular, and as long as sunglasses are sold in the middle of mall aisles, that situation won’t change. But given that it only has two meanings, it’s not hard to discern in which the users of this site are interested.
Self-service, on the other hand, takes into account a plethora of things. This can create a vast gray area for an association touting dedication to the study and advancement of self-service and we want you, the readers and members, to tell us what interests you most in the world of self-service.
Here’s an example of where it gets complicated: vending machines. Obviously, traditional coin-operated vending machines are customer-facing, self-service devices. What’s more, they’re some of the most successful self-service machines ever deployed.
We would not include vending machines in the definition of “kiosk.” Number one, they are not PC-based devices with operating systems locked into kiosk mode. Number two, they don’t have touchscreens, aren’t networked, and don’t have many of the other components we associate with our definition of kiosk.
Except when they do.
Now, in Europe, one can find Coke machines with touchscreens offering pay-to-play games. They are vending machines and entertainment kiosks. More commonly, vending machines are now being hooked into broadband networks so they can be remotely managed and process cashless transactions – two more personality traits they have in common with kiosks.
Typically, we’d cover the newer, more kiosk-like vending machines and eschew the traditional machines, given that the modern machines are probably more relevant to you.
But here’s a tougher scenario: The Internet is the most successful self-service commerce device in history. Log into eBay and, suddenly, your home computer has almost everything in common with an in-store kiosk. It’s facing a customer. It’s transactional. It’s running on a computer. The software interface is branded. The customer has as much control as possible over the transaction including some say in the prices of most items. The only difference between this and a kiosk is the location and the fact that your home Web browser probably isn’t running on an OS in kiosk mode.
So I might ask myself – are you readers interested in a story about running a successful eBay store? And I’d tell myself no, given that our data tells us most of you already work for an established company trying to deploy self-service, rather than being the kind of part-time entrepreneurs who’d most often read an article about starting an eBay store.
But, with it being the case that most of you do already work for established businesses, a smarter question would be if you’re interested in news about Internet self-service. Odds are you get it somewhere else already.
These aren’t the only items in the self-service gray area.
Automated telephone customer service, for example, also resides somewhere in the definition of self-service, as does pay-per-use public WiFi. Are you interested in reading more about those? What do you think self-service is, and what parts of that definition would you most like to read about here at SelfService.org? We’re here to serve you, so drop us a line to let us know. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us what you think.
Monday, 16 October 2006
David Dill is an educated man with a simple idea: Giving voters proof that their votes were counted correctly. ATMs have receipts, so why not print receipts for voters after they’ve used an electronic voting machine?
Dill launched VerifiedVoting.org in 2003 to promote the practice of giving voters and election officials a paper back-up to go along with the widely-deployed e-voting machines of the last few years.
The 2000 presidential election raised the interest in how we vote to an all-time high. After the hanging-chad debacle in Florida, federal legislators passed the Help America Vote Act, which included billions of dollars to upgrade election equipment and improve practices. The advantages of e-voting over the old systems include a faster process, ease of use and more accurate results.
A February report on the 2004 election by the CalTech/MIT Voting Technology Project attributes one million saved votes to improved voting equipment and procedures after the 2000 election.
Residual votes are ballots cast in which a voter fails to vote or machines fail to record them. In each election, a few people go to the polls but choose not to vote (experts estimate it to be about half of one percent). In the 2004 election, the residual vote was 1.1 percent, down from the 1.9 percent in the 2000 election.
While e-voting machines show provable results in some cases, discrepancies with their record keeping in recent elections have caused more public scrutiny and suspicions about the equipment that was designed to improve obviously flawed and outdated systems. Perhaps in the rush to adopt technology that was a vast improvement over levers and punch cards, the comfort of paper was too quickly overlooked.
Adding to this worry is a recent report by the Brennan Center for Justice. While acknowledging that e-voting systems have yet to be infiltrated, the report cites the potential for systems to be hacked. Elections officials could gain the public’s trust of these new systems by using these guidelines:
• A paper trail. Both voters and officials need this assurance to independently verify the results.
• Uninterruptible power supply. An electronic power conditioner (think of a sophisticated surge protector) and a battery backup can keep systems running even if the power isn’t.
• Wired connections. Some states (California, Minnesota and New York) have banned wireless components from e-voting devices.
• Training. Poll workers should be required to train for a certain number of hours before working the polls.
• Well-designed forms. Just as poorly designed paper forms have confused voters, e-voting forms must be well laid out.
• Secured equipment. Stop “sleepovers,” periods of time before the election during which poll workers keep the machines, oft en at home. This only opens the process to potential tampering.
• Availability of paper ballots. In the uncommon occurrence of system failure, paper ballots can be used as a last resort.
In discussing e-voting with colleagues, one said he couldn’t understand why we don’t vote online. He commented that banks had figured out how to make online banking safe and asked: What’s more sensitive than people’s money? Obviously, voters would have to be authenticated. Another colleague suggested assigning each voter an ID number and allowing them to choose a PIN. Advances in biometrics also provide hope for authentication.
VerifiedVoting.org summarizes the goal of this debate well: “The right to have one’s vote counted properly is a cornerstone of our democratic system. Making sure that our election systems are reliable and publicly verifiable enfranchises voters and increases public confidence and participation in our political process.”
Monday, 09 October 2006
One of the questions that frequently floats about our newsroom revolves around the user-friendliness of the Internet, and in particular, online ordering. We editors like to debate whether the Internet is a friend of the kiosk, or a bitter self-service enemy.
There are two perspectives on this.
One side goes like this: The Internet competes with kiosks because people won’t go to the store to buy what they can have delivered to their homes.
That theory ultimately portrays consumers as a group who, by and large, would prefer to do product research and purchasing from home, using databases to compare specs, research product reviews, select a vendors and pay, all from the comforts of home.
The other side goes like this: The Internet compliments kiosks, but sells in a different way.
Subscribers to the latter school of thought, of which I am one, see the Internet as a different marketing tool meant to accomplish a similar task. I’m dubious on the notion that many people within convenient driving distance to a large retailer buy either small or large purchases online.
For small purchase like a DVD, CD or video game, there’s no reason to wait three days for it to arrive in the mail when a 10-minute trip yields instant gratification. For a large purchase, like a big-screen TV, most people want to see it before carting it off.
My observations from here on are based on anecdotal evidence, and I would welcome any response based on demonstrable hard data.
Consumers like to do research online, to find the best intersections of price and quality, whether they’re making big purchases or long-term obligations – like buying new washers or cell phones. They probably notice other things, too, like which stores have the best selection and, in general, the best prices. Then they go visit the vendors that seem to have the best products that offer the best deals.
Then they enter the store, and this is where the kiosks take over. It might be that they see a comparable model sitting next to the TV they priced online and want more information. So lacking their home computers, they turn to the info kiosk, which also is trying to sell them all the wiring they need.
Or, better still, while in the store, these shoppers encounter kiosks and digital signs marketing something they didn’t even think they needed. The Xbox 360 comes to mind, given its branded kiosks that flex their graphical muscles as would-be buyers walk by. Wouldn’t that make a nice addition to the big screen TV?
What I do think people buy online is middle-of-the-road stuff: $100 items like dorm room refrigerators and 17-inch CRT television sets. Many people wouldn’t drop $100 on an impulse buy — there’s enough potential wiggle room in the price that it could be a better buy, even with shipping costs. Also, quality’s not as important as price for a low-end durable good, and that relieves the necessity to see it first. A $100 stereo is a $100 stereo, plus or minus a few watts.
Another factor to consider is that shopping is a kind of entertainment. People shop with friends or kill time at stores before dinner and a movie. Given the savings rate in the United States, which is negative, I would contend that it’s more difficult to get consumers to stay home than it is to get them into stores.
There is one more school of thought that opposes mine. It says “Eventually, the Internet will come to the PDA or cell phone inside the store, and eliminate the need for kiosks.”
To me, that is like saying signs become obsolete when greeters pass out coupons. Again, it’s a different method of marketing. An application that customers can access via PDA in-store is relatively passive compared to a kiosk/digital sign combo that actively markets items in the aisles.
So, what do you think? Am I completely off base? Are Internet and kiosk channels constantly working at cross purposes? Is it silly to think most consumers wouldn’t buy their largest or smallest purchases online? Let me know at email@example.com. Share something good and your response might run here.
Monday, 02 October 2006
Years ago, as a young engineer I was brought into a program that would result in a very successful system used by some members of our armed forces. This particular system was the first of its kind, and the reputations of a lot of people were riding upon its success.
By the time they brought me in, a lot of money had been spent, designs had been drawn, and plans were being made to build and test the system.
During one of the program briefings, a senior engineer made a statement about how the operators would use this system. Being a bit wet behind the ears I raised my hand and asked, “How do we know that?”
When asked what I meant by the question, I simply observed that sitting around the table we had management people, engineering people, fabrication people, finance people and legal people, but none of the people who would ultimately use the system. The silence around the table told the whole story.
Fast forward to a couple of years ago, during a trade show for technology used in the fast food industry. During the show, a panel attempted to address the use of self-service technologies as they applied to fast food. The panel consisted of a moderator, four technology vendors and one analyst familiar with technology in that space.
One by one, the moderator introduced each of the vendors, who spoke about how their new product would revolutionize the way in which walk-in customers would buy fast food. They went into great detail about transaction speed improvements, 100% up-sells, and multilingual capabilities, all the while presenting a handsome ROI intended to woo the board and moneylenders.
When it was time for the analyst to speak, he praised each of the vendors and their various technology offerings. He then paused, and very simply stated that if 60-75% of a fast food operator’s business is through the drive-thru, then he’s more prone to opt for a solution that cuts 3 seconds off the drive-thru time than a kiosk that costs several thousand dollars and sits seldom-used in the lobby. The kiosk likely would fall below the IT budget cutoff line for most operators.
Just as I didn’t endear myself to the engineers, designers, lawyers and CPA’s in that briefing many years ago, so too the analyst didn’t endear himself to the vendors at that trade show. However, in each case, a truth was presented, and regardless of how unpopular that truth may have been to some, no amount of technological wizardry could overcome it.
In this age of technology, competing priorities, and left-field threats, vendors are as prone as anyone to being so busy doing the work that they forget to check up on some of the essentials. One way to help overcome this would be to practice a little of what we once called MBWA, or management by wandering around. Step away from the email, turn off the cell phone, and indeed leave the office and go out to watch how consumers are using (or not using) the self service technology that you and your competitors have delivered to the industry.
For that matter, go and actually use the technology as it is currently deployed. Take a notepad and a pen with you, and record your observations. Then, talk to your customers and ask them open-ended questions about what they’re finding, like:
- Has your customer had to implement any changes in operating procedures since the installation of your “plug-and-play” kiosk?
- How is that anodized aluminum cabinet holding up after being hit by a skateboard or two while deployed on a sidewalk in that seaside resort? (It looked so pretty when the kiosk was first delivered)
- What does the screen bezel look like after several consumers have tried (and failed) to balance their cup of moca frappuccino while operating the kiosk (after you decided not to incorporate a cup-holder in the design)?
- How well do consumers do as they navigate between your self-checkout system’s main touch-screen display and the payment device?
Granted, some humor may be found in these scenarios, but for the owner of your technology that is experiencing these in real life, they’re not laughing. Take seriously the answers to your questions, especially the ones you really don’t like, for they illustrate your greatest opportunity for solution enhancement.
They may not be solved with technology, but the result may be a keener understanding of the particular application (or non-application) of technology for your customers. Remember, the technology may be great, but don’t forget the whole business case.
Lee Holman is Vice President of Product Development. In addition to an MBA from Pepperdine University and a Bachelors Degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Maryland, Lee brings over 26 years of sales, product development, and engineering and management experience in the field of high technology, beginning with his work on nuclear subs for the US Navy as an undergraduate.