|| The Perspective
Tuesday, 30 May 2006
Editors usually wait until the end of the year to pick favorites, but I've seen so many fascinating self-service innovations in my recent travels, I’d like to discuss some of the most interesting solutions to surface so far in 2006.
Government: Pay-Ease is continually upgrading its ACM (automated commerce machine) to include more new features. They’ve found a healthy market for the machines in government applications, like paying parking tickets and printing parking permits. They’ve also been testing check cashing applications. Soon, rumor has it, they’ll find another healthy market for card-printing on-demand – and it’s not the flooded loyalty card market that similar machines keep splitting. Find more information at www.pay-ease.com.
Healthcare: Dr. Jack Goldstein in Pawtucket, R.I. developed AutomationMed, a medical tracking system that’s deployed not only in the lobby of his clinic, where patients use it, but in the examination rooms as well. Goldstein can input medical data as he diagnoses patients. Over time, it tracks outcomes data to correlate which treatments are most effective for which problems. The program’s question fields can be swapped around for other medical specialists. The data is stored in universally recognizable formats, designed to be mined for medical research. What’s more: a doctor can cross-reference his accounting databases to see which treatments are most profitable. The software can be purchased at www.automationmed.com and deployed on a kiosk or waiting room computer.
Retail: The LiveSupport customer service software by Experticity, which Microsoft included at their Retail Systems booth in May is revolutionary for stores that want to offer sterling information without losing the personal touch. Meanwhile, Clarience 1:1 by Retaligent Solutions Inc., which I first saw at the NRF show in New York and, more recently, at Retail Systems in a newly upgraded form, is the end-to-end solution of choice for retailers needing to offer human service with high-tech empowerment.
Networking: Ventus Networks’ secure cellular financial network is a novel system. The company’s engineers have devised a way to keep their virtual private network from dropping off of the cellular system even as the signal gets rotated from tower to tower. Ventus remotely manages the ATMs on the network from their corporate headquarters in Connecticut. From there, technicians can monitor a number of key indicators from up-time to signal strength. The most recent upgrade of their cellular router can accept any kind of cellular network chip.
Payment: The Verifone MX870 mini-kiosk is an upgrade to the typical price checking kiosk which customers are used to seeing (or, often, not seeing, due to their size). The MX870 solves much of the invisibility problem many mini-kiosks suffer by offering sound and full-color video. It also offers Triple DES secure payment and signature capture capabilities.
These are just a few of many great self-service solutions, and the rest of the year will certainly yield many more.
Monday, 22 May 2006
There are many myths and misconceptions surrounding the use of biometric fingerprint authentication. Why? People are apprehensive about biometrics and fear that biometric fingerprint readers are not secure. They are under the impression that biometric fingerprint readers can be fooled by fake fingers, or that the technology takes too long to implement and use. But the truth is, biometrics is still a more reliable and secure means than password protection for ensuring the security and privacy of digital assets.
While passwords are still the most pervasive tool used to secure today’s organizations, they are also the weakest link when it comes to securing corporate assets. Too often passwords are lost or shared between employees resulting in increased network vulnerability and internal fraud. In addition, as the number of passwords per employee increases, the likelihood of them being forgotten also rises, resulting in increased IT help desk calls.
So let’s debunk the myths and misconceptions here, and get rid of the apprehension about biometrics.
- One of the most common misconceptions is that fake fingers can easily fool a fingerprint authentication system. However, with currently-available technology, the optical reader scans the fingerprint and uses an algorithm that can detect three dimensional structures so photocopies, transparencies or latent images of a fingerprint will not be accepted as valid.
- People fear that companies are storing fingerprint images. Enterprise authentication applications , such as Digital Persona software, do not store an actual fingerprint image, but rather identifies data points on the finger to create a stream of ones and zeros that is a unique representation of the fingerprint.
- People often make the assumption that someone out there has the same fingerprint they do, when in fact the chances of it happening are extremely slim. It’s estimated that the chance of two people, including twins, having exactly the same fingerprint is less than one-in-a-billion.
- There is concern around how biometrics addresses people who don’t have fingerprints. Truth be told, there is a rare skin disorder that affects very few people in which they don’t have an identifiable fingerprint..
- Organizations are often hesitant to deploy biometrics because of the concern short lifespan of the reader itself. In general, fingerprint sensors are designed in mind to last as long as the user’s PC lifecycle . As for specific durability, the Digital Persona optical sensors, for example, can withstand over a million touches with proper use and maintenance of the product
- Some believe that utilizing biometrics does not allow for multiple users, or that it simply takes too long..Indeed, multiple users can be authenticated on one terminal or computer in a shared computing environment, and it takes just a few hundredths of a second (in our case) to acquire, process, and verify a fingerprint once it has been scanned.
- Often people think that a PIN is more secure than a fingerprint system. Not true. A 4-digit PIN code has only 10,000 combinations allowing a hacker to easily cycle through these possibilities. Whereas, a reliable fingerprint system, such as from Digital Persona, having 1/100,000 (0.00001%) false acceptance rate requires the hacker to present 100,000 unique touches to break the system.
So as you can see, despite these myths, fingerprint authentication avoids many of the security issues associated with passwords and tokens and is less susceptible to human error. Fingerprints cannot be “guessed,” shared or written down and users don’t have to think up a “strong” fingerprint, so the security of the metric doesn’t depend on human effort. People cannot forget their fingerprints like they do passwords, which helps to eliminate IT help desk calls. Because biometric technologies use a physical characteristic instead of something to be remembered or carried around, they are convenient for users and less susceptible to misuse than other authentication measures.
Vance Bjorn, Chief Technology Officer and Co-Founder of Digital Persona, co-developed the core algorithm and technology. As CTO, he is responsible for evolving the features and technology of Digital Persona’s product line via business development activities and the development of prototypes.
Monday, 15 May 2006
An easy way to compute demand is to look around for a big line of people. If the people in the line have money, and the line occurs constantly in a certain circumstance, you’ve found a good venue for the next big thing in kiosks.
That’s what made the most successful kiosk in history, the ATM, so successful: a lot of people who definitely had money (given that they all had bank accounts) were tired of standing in line, and the banks wanted to save the man hours it took to service them all.
Since then, grocers, retailers and airports have done similar things in similar situations and realized similar benefits in cost savings and service increases. We can now look at a few different verticals and see more next-big-things on the way.
Common use check-in: Airport self-check-in has become so successful, the kiosks now have long lines of their own. What’s worse, service at the airport, aggravated by security concerns, is deficient compared to other service industries. Airports themselves tend to be crowded, making space optimization a priority. Enter common use check-in kiosks. Imagine everyone in that big line diffused across every check-in kiosk in the building, each unit featuring the ability to check in a passenger on any flight from any airline there. The crowd disappears, customers are more satisfied and space is no longer wasted.
The driving force behind this concept is the International Air Travel Association, which has developed the Common Use Self-service Standard (CUSS) to facilitate integration and communication of airport check-in kiosks. The IATA has made CUSS integration one of its top priorities, with a stated goal of persuading 15 more airports to implement it in 2006. Major industry players like association-member NCR’s subsidiary Kinetics, which builds the majority of airport check-in hardware, are vying for a slice of the CUSS-compliant kiosk market.
Hotel check-in: Already, major hotel chains are deploying kiosks allowing guests to check-in from the airport instead of the front desk and print room key cards on the spot. This expedites hotel check-in, reducing lines at the front desk and freeing up hotel staff for other tasks. It’s especially useful for travelers doing a short stay, with very little luggage in tow, who can go straight to their destination (for example, the floor of a convention) without taking an extra cab ride to the hotel and standing in line to check in first. And they need not only be at the airports: on-site check-in kiosks will help alleviate lines at peak arrival times.
Medical check-in: Relieving lines for patient convenience is only part of the reason this technology will soon become widespread. It can improve patient safety by making medical records more portable. For example, after medical data is gathered by a kiosk it can be downloaded onto a USB thumb drive in a standard (i.e. XML) format that a patient can carry on a keychain or lanyard. If that person shows up at a hospital incapacitated, caregivers can quickly access his or her complete medical history.
On the back-end, these kiosks can offer complete treatment and financial tracking, including the cost and profit of treatment for different patients and illnesses.
Of course, there are enormous crowds of people who aren’t as easy to see, and finding them is a little trickier. For example, c-stores have realized that many customers often don’t use banks. About a third of American residents fit this category. Financial kiosks, offering services like billpay and money-order printing, have become widespread as they try to draw more foot traffic into stores, where the high-margin items reside, since another successful self-service solution, pay-at-the-pump, has deterred many drivers only to the gas – a low-margin item.
Now companies are catering to another big crowd of people with money: immigrant workers wanting to send money home. According to The Pew Research Center, 40 million money transfers occurred from the United States to Mexico in 2003, totaling about $16 billion. Now, financial kiosk companies are trying to capitalize on that market.
We’ll see many more next-big-things advancing rapidly as well: pay-by-phone, biometric payment and RFID, for example. For now, deployers line up to service the crowds.
Monday, 08 May 2006
Editor Bryan Harris and I continued our mission to spend one week a month visiting members, this time to Connecticut and Rhode Island. It was a highly productive trip as we were able to visit with nine companies over three days. For each of us, it was our first time to visit these small, but beautiful states. Here’s a recap:
The JD Events staff, left to right: Jessica Tendler, Joelle Coretti, Lawrence Dvorchik and Joel Davis.
JD Events, Trumbull, Conn. – First up was JD Events, organizers of the annual KioskCom show. Since the Las Vegas show had recently been completed, we found a relaxed and easygoing staff who welcomed us warmly to their office. Lawrence Dvorchik, who works from New Jersey and normally spends Mondays in the Connecticut office, drove up on Tuesday instead so he could meet with us. We met in JD Events President Joel Davis’ office. On Joel’s wall is inscribed the words “The great pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do,” which Joel says captures his competitive spirit. Following our meeting, we had lunch on the patio in the spring sunshine at a lovely Spanish restaurant called Barcelona.
Ventus Networks President and CEO Keith Charette with SSKA executive director David Drain.
Ventus Networks, Norwalk, Conn. – At new member Ventus Networks, we met with president/CEO Keith Charette, and Lynda Barton, office manager. Keith explained that Ventus developed a method to use cellular networks for wireless Internet connections to self-service devices like ATMs and kiosks. Cellular towers are made to be shared, he explained, and users are passed from tower to tower and sometimes dropped in the process. Ventus invented a way to maintain that connection. They started manufacturing routers when they could not find the product they needed to make it work. The networks are encrypted and remotely monitored. We stood in the control room and viewed a live connection with an ATM in a Houston CVS.
Pitney Bowes, Stamford, Conn. – At the corporate headquarters of this Fortune 500 company, we met with Anne Coyle, director of new business development. Everyone knows Pitney Bowes for their mailing systems. They also have 1,900 certified technicians in the field who are trained in installing, maintaining and repairing systems that consist of CPUs and printers, like most kiosks. Pitney Bowes is the authorized provider for Datamax, Dell, HP, Lexmark and Zebra. Out of Pitney Bowes’ last 15 acquisitions most have been software companies, demonstrating the firm’s diversification. The company will also be releasing a postal shipping kiosk shortly that should make waves in the industry.
Selling Machine Partners, Old Lyme, Conn. – Alex Richardson, managing director of consulting firm Selling Machine Partners and current president of our association, picked us up from our hotel in New Haven and showed us around the campus of Yale where he received his MBA. As founder of Netkey, Alex’s team won over 40 industry awards. He now consults to several big names in retail on deploying a self-service or assisted selling strategy through multiple channels. Over dinner, Alex asked Bryan and I about our impressions of the industry since joining it a few months ago. We both responded enthusiastically about its interesting nature and growth potential.
Practical Automation, Milford, Conn. – Bob Donofrio, sales and marketing manager, gave us a tour of Practical Automation’s manufacturing facility. In business for 40 years, the company started manufacturing thermal printers about 15 years ago. Bob told us that about 95% of airline check-in kiosks use Practical Automation’s printers. He said that we will begin seeing the wide format ticket more often since it holds more paper and prints faster than the long format. Since the kiosk printer market is quite competitive, I asked Bob how they differentiate themselves. His response was that in addition to high quality, the firm’s engineers work directly with customers to develop custom solutions. They are also one of the few (if not the only) company to manufacture in the USA.
Netkey, Branford, Conn. – Miller Newton, CEO, and Bob Ventresca, director of marketing, gave us an impressive presentation on Netkey’s software solutions provided to Fortune 500 companies such as Target (8,000 kiosks), JC Penney (1,800 gift registries), Home Depot (a gift card kiosk for malls that was completed in eight weeks from concept to completion), Swift Transportation and BMW. Netkey developed Borders’ popular “Title Sleuth” kiosk, which has been in use for over five years and is being rebranded as “Borders Search.” Bryan asked Miller what he saw as the next big wave. His answer: postal self ordering, digital merchandising (interactive, not passive) and human resources.
AutomationMed, Pawtucket, R.I. – After touring Connecticut, we traveled up to Rhode Island to meet with an orthopedic surgeon named Jack Goldstein. While Dr. Goldstein has an active practice, his passion for years has been developing medical automation software and a medical kiosk that collects data from patients for medical outcomes or “pay for performance measures.” All the patient rooms in Dr. Goldstein’s office where outfitted with a computer so the doctors and nurses could input patient data directly into the system without the paperwork. Also tied into the network is billing information, so not only could he tell you who, when and what a patient came in for, but he could tell you the outcome, cost of treatment and the amount of the invoice.
MontegoNet, Portsmouth, R.I. – On day three, we met Tim Kearns, MontegoNet’s director of marketing. He showed us some of MontegoNet’s kiosks, including the iBank line for self-service banking. We also saw a kiosk they’ve developed for Care Pages, a company that offers a free website to help family and friends post updates and messages for someone who is in the hospital. Tom Smith, president and co-founder, and Rick Wessels, EVP of marketing and sales, talked to us in between meetings they had going on that day. We knew we would see them later as we were invited to the company’s 10-year anniversary party later that evening. (See related story, MontegoNet celebrates 10-year cruise).
Swecoin's Kevin Kent with SSKA executive director David Drain.
Swecoin, Middletown, R.I. – Just down the road from MontegoNet, we visited the U.S. office of Swecoin, a Swedish manufacturer of thermal printers. At Swecoin, we sat down with Kevin Kent, director of business development. Kevin explained that Swecoin focuses solely on kiosks and has the largest market share in Europe with 25% of its worldwide sales coming from the U.S. Swecoin printers can be found at Disney World and in Coinstar’s popular coin counting kiosk. With inkjet technology from HP, Swecoin has recently developed a high-quality, letter-sized color kiosk printer (up to 4800 dpi), capable of printing up to 15 pages per minute. Printers are key components in a kiosk. If the printer doesn’t work, or is out of paper, the kiosk is broken in the eyes of the consumer.
My next road trip will take me to jolly old England where I will “hire” a car and attempt to drive on the left side of the road. Britons beware.
Monday, 01 May 2006
Every year businesses spend millions creating and promoting brands and trademarks. These brands convey the essence of their products, creating and reinforcing customer perceptions. With the proliferation of kiosks and interactive devices, businesses now have a new marketing tool. When it comes to kiosks, businesses can expand branding into an interactive experience — adding dimensional depth and texture to their product.
Branding Options 1-2-3
Stock units are generically produced and warehoused for future orders from existing inventory, meaning that the branding opportunity consists essentially of limited paint color options and a logo decal. Even though limited in scope, this still can be a good opportunity to maximize the value of an economically priced, quick to market option.
Semi-stock units are generally modular, allowing for a range of equipment alternatives. Sometimes semi-stock units allow for design iterations that provide more color or brand options, customized wraps, decorative overlays and different finishes. This allows for more unique and identifiable signage within the design’s parameters. A good option for smaller quantities, allowing for a near-custom look with stock quantity minimums.
Custom units are purposefully designed, engineered and built for each specific project. They offer the client absolute control over the entire unit’s look and feel. The client is the exclusive owner of the enclosure design, so that enclosure never will be used by a competitor or for any other project as a stock unit may be. Use of materials, colors and graphic elements is almost limitless. While this process can be economical in larger production quantities, it is generally more costly than stock or semi-stock for small quantities. While the client needs to allow additional time for the development cycle (four to eight weeks longer than for stock), the return on that time investment is a unit purpose-built to promote the client’s brand and product.
As an industry, kiosk deployers already acknowledge the importance of creating branded kiosk software. Even the most basic kiosk software tool kit allows for customizing the user interface and integrating client logos and graphics. So if we understand the value of a branded interface, then why do we as an industry so often overlook the value of branded enclosure design? Branding is a powerful tool that can be integrated into almost any kiosk, and when done well, can significantly increase its effectiveness and value.
Kiosk enclosures fall into three basic categories: stock, semi-custom and custom, according to the level of branding. However, while it is easy to see high-profile, custom designed enclosures as examples of good brand integration (and some of them truly are outstanding), it is important to note that an effective, integrated brand message is not necessarily limited to custom work. Most enclosures — stock, semi-custom or custom produced — can effectively convey the intended message when the client simply follows a few basic steps during the planning phase of the kiosk project.
Step 1: Articulate the message. In the same way that step one in making a business case for any kiosk project is to define the ROI (return on investment), step one for the marketing aspects of the project is to define the ROP, return on perception. The client needs to define what perception they want the customer to have when they see the kiosk, use the kiosk and what they will take away and remember of the experience. Whatever the client wants to convey (for example: strength, fun, service, excitement, safety), the manufacturer can’t build it until the client defines it.
Step 2: Create a collaborative environment for the vendors. To obtain a fully-integrated experience for the user, vendors need to work together to share brand assets. Too often clients fall into the trap of “which to do first — enclosure or software?” The most effective methodology is to develop each in tandem, with a free exchange of ideas between the software developer and hardware/enclosure providers. This produces an integrated solution where the software and hardware become a seamless experience for the user.
Step 3: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Keep it simple — and that means everything. Sophisticated technologies in both the software and hardware realm offer a dizzying array of possibilities for functionality and design. The kiosk that tries to do too much and offers too many options can easily become overwhelming and leave users confused to the point where they do nothing and walk away. The same holds true for branding and design elements.
The brand standards manuals of most companies are a treasure trove of colors and graphics, making it tempting to use it all. Don’t. Integration of different materials is a hallmark of good design, and most well-designed branded kiosks will consist of a mix of appropriate materials, like metals and plastics with a range of finishes and graphic treatments. But restraint is key in creating an effective message — one clear message is the most powerful, so it is important to define one concept or message the kiosk is to convey and stick to it, regardless of how many trademarks and taglines are in the company marketing manual.
Integrating thoughtful branding into kiosk and interactive projects is an import element in elevating a neutral transaction into a loyalty-building, brand-enhancing experience for customers and prospective customers. The necessary elements likely already exist within the client company, and with some planning and good communication of expectations, every kiosk can be elevated from a plain box to an effective brand-building device.