The Perspective 
Tuesday, 29 May 2007
I’m not one to split hairs. I often find myself surrounded by people who want to argue the finer points of the finer things in life (“So, James, do you prefer Beluga or Sevruga caviar?” “Which Beatle do you think was the real genius – Paul McCartney or John Lennon?”). People love to obsess over minutiae, and I’m usually happy to indulge. My answers to those questions, in case you’re interested, are “whatever kind is available to me” and “George Harrison.”
Lately, this question has come up more often than it probably should: “Is digital signage self-service?” Or some other iteration, like “What does digital signage have to do with self-service?” or “What?! No respect for Ringo?!”
I digress. People are interested in classifying things, and people seem to be conflicted about whether they should consider digital signage an offshoot of self-service, or vice-versa, or not at all. My answer is simple but unsatisfying: Sometimes yes, sometimes no.
One of my regular haunts is a bookstore that’s just a few minutes’ drive from my house. My whole family goes there about once a week, momma and I get a coffee and take turns looking at books that interest us while the other one shepherds the kids through the Spongebob and Dora aisles. After about fifteen minutes, we switch places. It works nicely.
About a year ago, this particular bookstore put in some digital screens throughout the store, three of them in a very cool tandem installation behind/above the checkout counter, the rest scattered throughout the store. Aside from the obvious cool factor, the screens have steered me toward the occasional purchase that I otherwise wouldn’t have made. They’ve also reminded me about store discounts.
What the screens have done, in this instance, is take the place of the store circular – those little four-color handouts that sit in a stack by the front door. We used to pick one of these up and scour them for deals of the week, coupons, or anything else we felt we’d be remiss if we missed.
So, on perhaps a micro-level, the screens are doing my research for me, pushing the information to me rather than counting on me to “pull” it from printed material. But this argument holds true if such information is printed with ink or shown with electroncs, whether it's on a poster or a screen. Self-service? Only if the ad for Target in the Sunday paper is self-service, too.
When is it self-service? When it allows for true interactivity. When it's part of a system that does what all good self-service does: allow users to do for themselves what otherwise would require the involvement of others. Digital signage and self-service, hand-in-hand, are about communicating with customers, making their lives better, making it easier for them to do business with you. They are about getting a message across, and that’s always been one of the toughest things for a business to do properly.
“Got a lot of work to do, try to get a message through.” George Harrison’s words, by the way, not mine.

Posted by: James Bickers AT 10:07 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 21 May 2007
I have bought into the idea of global warming. It took awhile, but having to blast the A/C in late March convinced me. So when I needed a new lawnmower this month, I decided to go green and buy an old-fashioned push mower — the kind where muscle, not gas, turns the wheels and spins the blades.
I expected them to be easy to find, given our heightened sensitivity to greenhouse gases, but they weren’t. The Wal-Mart I visited didn’t have any, and the closest Sears only had a couple, the nicer of which was on sale for $79. Burning more gas than the new mower would save me all year, I drove to a third store, a Lowe’s. That is where I met Steve.
Steve and the two people on the floor with him are a kiosk’s best friends. Here’s why:
First, Steve acknowledged me in a friendly way as soon as I walked up to him. He apologized for not seeing me first. After I told him what I was looking for, he knew exactly where the items were and showed me the two types in stock. The one comparable to the Sears model, however, was $10 more, and I told him I intended to go back for that one. And then he went to work.
He explained that it was his first day in the department, and he did not want to lose the sale. He found a manager and got permission to knock the 10 bucks off the price, to match the Sears price. Sold.
I grabbed a box with the new mower and hoisted it on my burly shoulder, and while Steve entered the information, another colleague volunteered to get a cart for me, which he did with alacrity. When I was ready to check out, only one cashier was present among a row of self-checkout units.
I was elated. Not only did my business matter, but the impression was that I mattered. Will I go back to Lowe’s? I can’t wait.
The upside for self-service can be found by contrasting the Lowe’s experience with the story that came out of Home Depot.
When Home Depot fired CEO Bob Nardelli in January, one factor cited was that while he embraced self-service, he did not reinvest the savings by moving displaced cashiers to the sales floor. As a result, customers abandoned the store, often saying that service and the expertise of its workers was no longer up to snuff.
The difference, then, between a thriving home-improvement store and a declining one may not be much more complex than this: Self-service works in some parts of the store, such as up front, when your new lawnmower has been put in the cart for you. But if you’re going to ask me to ring up myself, make sure you’ve got a Steve in back to help me pick the thing out — and sometimes go the extra mile to earn my business.
Posted by: Joseph Grove AT 10:12 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 15 May 2007
*Editor's note: Mark Ozawa is managing director of Accuvia Consulting, a leading boutique consulting firm focusing on technology and systems solutions for the lodging, foodservice and retail industries around the world.
Guest and customer interest in self-service options continues to grow and, as a result, kiosks and other self-service devices are appearing in more and more retail, lodging and foodservice locations. Although existing technological capabilities in the user interfaces limit the ways in which devices can be used, new capabilities in technology will permit operators to find more ways to use them for self-service.
A very significant enhancement is coming in user interfaces. For instance, some systems coming out of the lab allow users to interact and manipulate items on a display with nothing more complicated than their fingers. Very complex tasks can be accomplished without a mouse or a keyboard. Moreover, the displays can recognize multiple points of contact at the same time and very natural finger gestures. They even can be heat sensitive and capable of interacting with multiple users at once.
Imagine you approach what appears to be a nice glass-topped table but it is, in fact, a large, horizontal, touchscreen. You touch an icon of a folder marked “Images.” The folder opens and a group of images spill out just as if you had taken a set of photos and dropped them on the surface of the table. Using your finger, you spread the images apart and move them around the desktop just like you would spread pictures on your table. Selecting one image, you take a picture and, using your fingers, you “pull” the opposite corners of the image. As you do so, the picture gets bigger. Then, you “spin” the image, which turns within the display. It is 3-D, so you can see all sides of the item in the image.
Now imagine you are seated at a table in a local restaurant. Instead of giving you a menu, the greeter touches a menu icon on your table. She “slides” a menu image with her finger and puts it in front of each diner. She clicks each image and each menu grows into full size. Each diner “turns” the pages of the menu by dragging the right edge of the page to the left.
Each menu item is accompanied by an image. Diners can use their fingers to “pull” the images into a larger image. By clicking a question mark icon next to the image, nutrition information appears along with preparation details. Suggestions for other items appear next to the selected ones.
Or, in your local clothing store, you pick out a nice shirt. You go to an interactive table and enter the item number on a keyboard displayed on the surface. An image of your shirt appears along with various icons. You are looking for other clothes in the store that might go well with this shirt, so you touch an icon and options for pants, jackets and accessories appear. You touch on the pants icon and images of various pants appear on the desktop.
You can manipulate each image with your fingers, making them larger and allowing you to see all sides of each garment. You “discard” those that don’t appeal to you. Selecting a pair of pants you want to see, you click the image and a 3-D map of the store appears with the location of the pants marked.
In your hotel room, you have an interactive tabletop instead of the traditional desk. One of the available options is an electronic concierge. Touching an icon brings up a map of the area around your hotel. You can “pull” the map in opposite directions to enlarge a section into an expanded view. Icons appear marking restaurants, bars and other points of interest.
You touch the icon of a restaurant that seems interesting to you and information about the restaurant appears. Because the image is 3-D, you can manipulate the map into a view of the city you can expect to see as you walk to the restaurant.
This new interface has two significant advantages over current technology. Most important, it is very intuitive and easy to use. Second, the interface allows the user to access deeper levels of information easily, which allows the self-service device to provide more and better data than often can be obtained from a staff person. This new interface will launch many new ways for operators to enhance customer service with self-service devices.

Posted by: Mark Ozawa AT 10:17 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 07 May 2007
Let’s face it. Traveling can be stressful. No one likes long lines, crowds, a lack of information or lack of choices when going to airports. Thankfully, airports have been in the forefront of self-service to help deal with the enormous volumes of travelers that go through airports each day.
Checking in
The airline industry is constantly in the news and most of it is negative: stranded passengers, long delays, lost luggage and bankruptcies. However, airports and  airlines have really led the way in the use of self-service check-in kiosks. When introduced several years ago, airline personnel assisted customers as many interacted with the devices for the first time. Customers learned how easy they were to use and now many frequent fliers have completely embraced the technology. As airlines are now discovering, kiosks can also serve passengers in multiple languages.
While many customers have embraced self-service check-in, there are still large numbers of first-time or occasional flyers that need encouragement or direction in using the kiosk. For those who have become accustomed to the speed of the check-in process using a kiosk, the wait and confusion of infrequent users can be frustrating.
Another frustration can come when kiosks are down. US Airways learned this recently when the airline merged its reservation system with America West’s the first weekend in March. Massive delays ensued at kiosks the first few days and glitches continued throughout March.
Customers are not the only ones reaping the benefits of self check-in. Air Canada recently stated that it spends 16 cents to check in a traveler through a kiosk versus $3 through a staffed counter.  And the 2006 SITA survey stated that the airline industry’s move toward self-service is saving it billions of dollars.
Continental bragged about its 1,000th kiosk deployment last year in a press release, claiming to have more kiosks per customer than any other airline. Continental has also implemented application acceleration technology which speeds up the transaction time on kiosks.
Once limited to domestic flights, self-check-in is now available to international travelers as passport scanners have been added to newer models.
There has been much interest in common use self-service (CUSS), where airports manage the check-in kiosks rather than the airlines. Las Vegas’s McCarran Airport as well as several airports in Europe have implemented the system. The main benefit for airports is better utilization of space and flow for check-in. Another promise of CUSS is to enable more possibilities for remote check-in, such as convention centers, hotels and airport parking.
Safe and secure
After checking in, the next stage of self-service adoption is coming to security. Airports are continuing to roll-out registered traveler programs that help frequent fliers speed through security after completing a background check and paying a fee. Shoe scanners are a new addition to the effort to make going through security more effortless.
The U.S. and Canada have recently agreed on the use of border security kiosks through the NEXUS program at Canadian airports for travelers who cross the border frequently.
Biometrics is increasingly being used at security, such as iris recognition, fingerprint scans and facial recognition technology. There is also a growing acceptance of biometrics among consumers as they become more educated about its use and recognize the benefits.
Trying to bring it all together and simplify air travel, the Hong Kong Airport Authority, Immigration Department and Cathay Pacific are engaged in a six-month trial of a new kiosk that integrates immigration, boarding and luggage.
The restrictions on liquids at security have proved a challenge for airports and passengers alike. Entrepreneurial companies like Mail Safe Express have sprung up offering to ship banned items home. At Chicago O’Hare, security officers direct passengers who want to ship these items to a touchscreen kiosk. The 60-day test was deemed successful enough to implement them at nearby Midway Airport.
Automated retail
Once through security, passengers become shoppers if they have time before their flight. ZoomSystems has taken vending to a whole new level, enabling people to buy high-end items such as iPods and Bose headsets through modern vending machines. 
Sony has gotten into the act by selling its products through a Sony-branded kiosk called Access. At the recent GlobalShop show in Las Vegas, retail fixtures manufacturer idX displayed its new automated store, Shop Robotic. With products brightly displayed so near the glass that you feel like you can reach out and touch them, watching items be dispensed is a fascinating part of the experience.
At your service
Staffed information counters with brochure racks are a common site in airports. Chicago O’Hare has recently installed an interactive touchscreen kiosk that provides travel information to visitors. The kiosk, which officials are calling a “virtual concierge,” provides airport, hotel, transportation and weather information in seven languages.
Smarte Carte, makers of the ubiquitous luggage carts for rental, now outfit their lockers with touchscreens. The company has also introduced cell phone charging kiosks.
As the majority of passengers and airport visitors carry cell phones, it’s no surprise that pay phone usage has decreased dramatically. As a testament, some pay phone stations have been replaced by internet access kiosks. While internet access kiosks still have promise outside the U.S., within the country the growth has probably peaked since so many people carry laptops or some other wireless internet device with them.
Self-service business centers like PowerPort provide laptop rentals, printing, and recharging stations for electronics. For those passengers that need to recharge their body, automated massage chairs are cropping up as an additional revenue source.
A new product that seems perfect for airports is a self-service document shredder from RealTime Shredding. The machine quietly shreds stacks of paper (including staples or paper clips) as well as CDs. Unloading unwanted confidential documents before or after a flight could be a great service for passengers.
Frequent flyer enrollment
Qatar Airways has initiated an instant frequent-flyer enrollment kiosk for new members at Doha International Airport. Situated in the Qatar Airways Business class lounge at the airport, the kiosk dispenses membership cards immediately after passengers complete their registration.
Ground transportation
In November, Alamo Rent A Car announced that it would roll out self-service kiosks at all its locations in the U.S. after successful tests in Dallas, Las Vegas and Jacksonville, Fla. The company claims that the kiosks reduce check-in time by 50 percent compared to typical counter service. The kiosks use an ID scanning technology by Intelli-Check.
“Self-service eliminates one more hassle from family travel,” said Jerry Dow, Alamo's chief marketing officer in a company release. “Customers are already comfortable using the check-in kiosk for flights, using a self-service kiosk for car rental is a natural progression.”
Like a good employee, the kiosk always suggests an upgrade.
Another innovation from Smarte Carte has been a new kiosk that lets customers use their credit card for a voucher to pay for taxicab fares. The kiosk is being tested in Salt Lake City.
Future developments
Frontier Airlines announced recently that it plans to allow rebooking at kiosks for canceled flights at Denver International Airport. This could be a good way to speed up the process and enable frustrated passengers to make alternative plans.
Digital signage is taking the world by storm and would deserve an article all on its own to do it justice. Interactive digital signage, like the one unveiled at O’Hare last year, is an example of the possibilities out there.
New forms of payment are coming on the scene, ranging from vending machines that accept credit cards for micro payments to biometrics like those implemented by Pay By Touch. Payment using a cell phone has been discussed for a few years and is closer to reality. Rather than using RFID technology like contactless credit cards, chips can be added to phones that will enable them to exchange secure data (like a credit card number) with a reader.
While checking into a flight from home or a hotel is not new, companies like Hilton have tested check-in kiosks at airports. Could CUSS also bring major hotel properties together under one kiosk?
While it’s always difficult to predict the future, one thing seems certain: travel self-service is here to stay.
Posted by: David Drain AT 10:25 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
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