The Perspective 
Monday, 25 September 2006
On Friday, it was announced that JD Events, owner of KioskCom, will purchase the Self-Service & Kiosk Show from NetWorld Alliance. The agreement not only transfers ownership of the show, but forges a strategic partnership between the two companies.
 
NetWorld, which publishes online and print publications for the self-service and food service industries, including this website, had entered the show business two years ago with the acquisition of Kiosk magazine (now Self-Service World) and The Kiosk Show (now The Self-Service & Kiosk Show) from industry pioneer Lief Larson.
 
In 2005, KioskCom and NetWorld held two shows, which meant there were four shows in one year specifically for the kiosk and self-service industry. Some exhibitors complained that this was too many, especially since they were also participating in vertical market shows. Shortly after JD Events bought KioskCom from IQPC in mid 2005, NetWorld CEO Dick Good and JD Events President & CEO Joel Davis got together to discuss the situation.
 
Sorting out the complexities of this situation took time, but Good and Davis kept up discussions, culminating in Friday’s announcement. There were more details to work out than what might be readily apparent: media coverage, awards, conferences and the Association.
 
Good informed the officers of the Association via conference call two hours prior to the distribution of the press release. The officers welcomed news of the agreement as they could see the benefits to both the industry and the Association.
 
At the beginning of this year, JD Events worked hard to recruit deployers to join the KioskCom Professional Society, an organization announced at its spring 2005 show. Part of the agreement is that the 65 members of the KioskCom Professional Society will be integrated into the Self-Service & Kiosk Association to form the basis of a user group. This is not the only good news for the Association. KioskCom will recognize the SSKA as the industry’s Association and will provide a booth and meeting space for annual membership meetings and advisory board meetings at each of its shows.
 
As part of the strategic partnership, Davis will join the Association’s board on Wednesday in San Antonio. Lawrence Dvorchik, well known in the industry as general manager of KioskCom, will be joining the Membership Committee as it meets Wednesday night to discuss the plans and launch of our deployer membership program, which includes assimilating the members of the KioskCom Professional Society.
 
The self-service industry will now be unified like never before: There will be one recognized show (KioskCom, held twice a year), one recognized Association (SSKA) and the full force of NetWorld’s media to support both.
 
I look forward to seeing many of you in San Antonio. For those of you who are attending, don’t forget to stop by the Association’s booth to learn more about our new program for deployers and our marketing campaign, “The Best Service is Self Service.” Please also join us Friday morning for breakfast and the Association’s annual meeting. Prospective members are welcome to attend. There you will learn about the SSKA’s accomplishments over the past year and plans for the coming year.
Posted by: David Drain AT 02:25 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, 18 September 2006
After attending The Self Service & Kiosk Show in Orlando, I can’t just walk past a kiosk anymore. I look at them. And I look behind them. And I wonder what is used to ensure it’s working when needed.
 
When the ATM didn’t work at my bank after a thunderstorm, I wondered: what had they done to ensure customers could use the ATM? It was Sunday and the storm was on Saturday evening. Had it been down that long? 
 
Last weekend, after enjoying a brunch at a local resort, I had to stop at the kiosk in the lobby that was deigned to provide information on local destinations. The screen was black, but did flicker when I touched it or moved the mouse. I wondered what might have caused it to not work or if measures were taken to ensure it would work when someone who really needed it came by.
 
It’s hard to imagine a device any more out on an island than a kiosk. Maximum uptime is critical in order to fulfill its designed purpose of self-service, and yet they are usually unsupervised. 
 
Quality power is the lifeblood of any electronic system and is vital to achieve the desired performance and uptime. Still, power issues remain a mystery in many industries, even – in many cases – with seasoned technical personnel. The impact on microprocessor-based products have come more to the forefront as technology is designed to deliver more functionality at higher speeds.
 
To begin understanding and evaluating power issues, it is important to understand the three basic levels of impact on a system: disruptive, degrading and destructive. It is important to know that these levels can occur on any conductor, whether it’s a power source, network cables or phone line when connected to your system.
 
Disruptive power disturbances cause over 80% of the issues you will encounter, according to numerous power studies. According to Florida Power & Light, over 60% of the various power issues are created inside of a facility from a variety of sources. The sources can include elevators, heating and cooling systems, all the way down to the most fundamental equipment plugged into the internal power grid. Usually disruptive events manifest themselves in unexplained system lockups and result in service calls without the owner finding the cause.
 
Degrading power disturbances contain enough energy to microscopically erode an integrated circuit and its components. One description of degradation is weakening components, much like rust attacks metal. Degradation will lead to premature component failure if not taken seriously. It may be headed off by paying close attention to disruptive events.
 
Destructive power disturbances occur when an electronic device is overwhelmed by a large-amplitude, high-energy power event. Typically, lightning and thunderstorms are the culprits. Additionally, over voltage can occur from storms that cause power line damage and construction accidents. In one case a freight carrier backed into lines attached to a building and the over voltage passed to everything inside.
 
I encourage all companies deploying microprocessor-based products to take the time to understand power issues, recognize symptoms and know what technology will protect and condition. Your uptime may depend on power conditioning, which addresses multiple issues. You may not know which power problem you need to address or when, but using proactive solutions to prevent power problems will make keeping your kiosk on an island less of a frustration and more of a vacation.
 
For more information, including a collection of online articles, e-mail Dana Davis at ddavis@smartpowersystems.com.
 
 
Dana L. Davis is the National Sales Manager at Smart Power Systems.
Posted by: Dana Davis AT 02:24 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, 12 September 2006
The 2006 Self-Service World Market Survey creates an interesting portrait of the self-service landscape. The report details responses from companies that have deployed self-service devices. Some of its findings are surprising, given what we see every day.
 
HR kiosks. The survey (published by NetWorld Alliance, which owns SelfServiceWorld.com and SelfService.org) showed that self-service for human resources is underutilized. I believe that’s the case because they don’t have an obvious, up-front return. They’re not transactional; they don’t sell anything. One cannot say, “We’ll install X number of HR kiosks in our stores which will net Y number of transactions, creating Z number of dollars per day.” Without the obvious revenue case, they take a back seat in the industry to ATMs, ticketing kiosks, and sales-and marketing devices.

start quoteOne of the hardest things to find in our innovative industry is a good statistic, especially as companies exploit self-service technology to build custom-branded solutions.end quote

-- Bryan Harris,
Editor, SelfService.org

 
Also, the return on investment of an HR kiosk seems twice removed. For example, when confronting an operations executive with the case that HR kiosks reduce the required man hours to seek, train and organize employees, the time savings to managers who would otherwise be processing background checks and vacation days by hand doesn’t seem like such a direct benefit. After all, the company will still pay managers to be doing something during those hours. It’s a little short-sighted, but it’s how people think.
 
Yet, HR kiosks are valuable. Given their instant background-check capabilities, they make it easier to capture, evaluate and hire qualified employees. What’s more, they solve compliance issues for companies that require standardized skills testing for safety and equipment training. There are plants now with machinery that will not start for employees that aren’t properly trained and tested to use it. Also, they can slow turnover, expedite rehiring, and increase managers’ productivity time – three benefits valuable to any company. It is hard in contrast to quantify “increased manager’s productive time” as a figure in a quarterly report.
 
Internet kiosks. Reading further, I’m surprised “Internet access kiosks” rank as the No. 1 deployment, ahead of POS systems and ATMs, and I think the numbers come from a semantic misunderstanding. I (and many inside the industry) think of an Internet kiosk as one with which users can browse the Web. I’m skeptical those machines out-number ATMs. Very likely, individuals took that question to address that type but also those that merely access a deployer’s Web site or Web-based interface as part of their routine functionality.
 
Wayfinding. I’m also amazed that more respondents deployed wayfinding kiosks than did ticketing, price lookup, photo kiosks, airline self-check-in, gift registry and pay-at-the-pump, given the seemingly scant appearance of wayfinding kiosks and the ubiquity of the others. This is a purely anecdotal observation, but given that I’ve never seen a wayfinding kiosk in the field and I frequently use ATMs and pay-at-the pump, it seems strange to me that there are that many wayfinding kiosks in the field.
 
Digital signage. Digital signs, loyalty and interactive marketing machines are all high priorities in the next 12 months, and as much so in the next five years, according to deployers. As we increasingly see convergence with the digital sign industry, or digital signs used in conjunction with kiosks or conferencing equipment to make them interactive, this statistic reinforces the notion that kiosks and digital signs are at least marrying, if not becoming one.
 
Perhaps the best conclusion this report illustrates is that we need to do many more reports on the kiosk industry. One of the hardest things to find in our innovative industry is a good statistic, especially as companies exploit self-service technology to build custom-branded solutions. And that’s why this information is important, and these questions need to be asked.
Posted by: Bryan Harris AT 02:22 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, 05 September 2006
As the self-service industry grows, kiosks will be called to serve a wide variety of vertical and horizontal markets. While kiosk interfaces develop in myriad ways, browser-based applications are still appropriate in many deployments.
 
Browser-based content is any application that can be displayed using an Internet browser such as Microsoft Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox. This can include simple HTML, Java applications, videos, or any application that runs on third-party snap-ins like Flash.
 
You may be surprised at what will run in a browser. While not necessarily ideal for kiosk use, most Microsoft Office applications such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint run in Internet Explorer.
 
Existing Applications
Most new applications are browser-based for several reasons.
 
Most are for a company’s Web site or are in some way integrated with it, and browser-based applications solve many system administration and support headaches.
 
A typical client/server application requires that client software be installed on the user’s computer, and that requires that the installation process be able to handle differences in operating system versions and hardware capabilities. Also, the installation of one application can sometimes break an existing application.
 
All of these issues increase helpdesk support costs. If the application is browser-based and installed on the company’s intranet, installation and configuration headaches are reduced because a browser is all that’s required.
 
With so many browser-based applications, it is only natural that some will be deployed on a kiosk. So why not rewrite the application using a kiosk-specific development platform? Because it's not always possible.
 
Some browser-based applications are developed by third parties, and you don’t control the source code. The human resource market is a perfect example.
 
Dozens of browser-based HR self-service vendors are out in the marketplace. They deploy their software on the end-user company’s server or using the ASP model on their own server. In either case, the end-user company has no access to the source code.
 
Most common, however, is when a company develops a useful and resource-rich Web site before it realizes its ROI would be enhanced if users other than pure Internet users could access their site.
 
The retail market is a great example. Many retail companies have excellent Web sites that would provide value to their in-store clients via a self-service kiosk. The cost to develop a parallel application solely for kiosk use would be prohibitive. Government and banking/credit union markets also have excellent Web resources that make sense to deploy to kiosks.
 
New content
Browser-based development tends to cost less because the development uses industry-standard Web-based tools that a large pool of developers already know how to use.
 
Browser-based applications also provide more flexibility in terms of where the application runs. High-bandwidth static content can easily be hosted on the kiosk, while low-bandwidth dynamic content can be hosted on a centralized server.
 
The rapid adoption of service-oriented architecture, which at its core uses Internet-based technologies, is very easy to implement within a browser-based application.
 
Software issues
A major difference between a typical Web application and a browser-based kiosk application is the length of time the browser is running. A kiosk browser runs months on end, unlike a quick open-and-close Internet browser. That difference raises the bar for quality. A poorly-written application or plug-in that crashes often or leaks memory is only an annoyance to an Internet user. On a kiosk, those issues are crises.
 
Hardware issues
An easy way to ruin a kiosk project is to match the wrong hardware configuration with a browser-based application. In dual-use applications: i.e., Internet/intranet and kiosk, it is highly unlikely that the application will be useable in a pure touchscreen environment. In that case, provide the kiosk user with the same tools (a mouse and keyboard) used for the desktop version.
 
When the browser-based application is designed properly, there are no issues with deploying a touchscreen-only kiosk. And if it makes sense from a business point of view, then the same application can be deployed to the Internet/intranet.
 
Browser kiosk software
Just because a kiosk application can be developed as a browser-based application using industry-standard Web-development tools does not exempt the kiosk from requiring specialized kiosk software. At a minimum, kiosk software is required to:
 
·lockdown the OS, browser and desktop
·elegantly handle browser errors
·manage the user’s session
 
More likely, kiosk software also will need to:
 
·manage attract-screen sequencing
·manage second-monitor content
·interface with specialized kiosk hardware like security mats, proximity switches, barcode readers and magnetic-stripe readers
·provide custom toolbars
·collect usage statistics
·monitor kiosk hardware
·Communicate with a centralized management server
 
The demand to deploy browser-based applications within the self-service space will only grow.
Posted by: James Kruper AT 02:21 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
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