The Perspective 
Monday, 25 August 2008
I'm often surprised by the size and immobility of many kiosks I encounter in my daily travels. Somewhat like the pillars at Stonehenge, they beckon from afar, yet they also obstruct the view and limit alternate uses of the surrounding space. Sure, there often are reasons for this —peripherals need to be concealed, security concerns addressed, branding efforts made.
However, as one observes users of all shapes and sizes contorting themselves to view a fixed-position screen, not to mention non-users continually circumnavigating the monoliths, there might be a better way. A strong case often can be made for what I like to think of as "the kiosk that isn't there," a kiosk installation that provides the necessary functionality without consuming excessive space and adding visual clutter to a room. A kiosk that can be accessed when needed, but which doesn't obstruct the flow of foot traffic or limit use of the space.
Recent years have seen the introduction of high-quality all-in-one kiosk units that combine monitor and computer into one compact package. These units offer strategic advantages over set ups that require separate monitors and computers, advantages that become even more attractive when the kiosks are mounted to a wall or vertical surface:
  • The primary benefit of an enclosureless kiosk is the minimized footprint. If the kiosk is wall-mounted, the footprint disappears entirely. Space always is tight, so many store operators might jump at the chance to free space currently occupied by an enclosure, especially if they can do so without giving up kiosk functionality. They get to have their kiosk and floorspace, too.
  • Usability and accessibility can be dramatically enhanced, particularly if a height-adjustable mounting arm is used. This type of mount 'floats' the kiosk in the air, allowing the user to effortlessly raise and lower the screen. This enables users of varying sizes to each achieve an optimal viewing angle.
  • Easy repositioning and stowing of the kiosk means that the space can have multiple uses. This provides flexibility for the retailer, essential in a fast-changing business environment.
  • Shipping costs are reduced, since eliminating the enclosure reduces total kiosk weight and bulk.
  • In spite of the lack of enclosure, kiosk security and cable management can be maintained, and even enhanced, if the mounting solution incorporates cable management and quality security features.
We have worked with many remarkable kiosk implementations that have taken advantage of this footprint-free setup, and have been amazed by the variety of uses, as well as the resulting benefits to users and kiosk owners. A retailer added kiosk-based music listening stations without sacrificing valuable floor space. A fast-food restaurant added in-booth kiosks without having to remove seating. A gaming operation added unobtrusive table-side betting. The possibilities seem endless.
If you are researching mounting solutions for your kiosk, here are a few points to keep in mind as you evaluate contending products:
  • Seek out durable, high-quality products. You expect your kiosks to maximize uptime, so you should expect the same from your mounts. Ask the provider about cycle-testing results to be sure you are purchasing a product that has been put through the ringer (before your users do it themselves).
  • Think about the aesthetics. Does the mount fit stylistically with the overall space? A high-end retailer, for example, likely will want something that aligns with the desired store image. At the least, the mount should be unobtrusive so as not to take away from the brand image.
  • Seek a vendor with the ability to customize product to meet your project requirements. You don't need to settle for off-the-shelf solutions if you partner with a vendor experienced in customizing its product.
  • Keep it simple. You need mounts that are easy for installers to work with, and easy for users to operate. The key word is 'intuitive.' You can assume that anything too complicated will not be used correctly, if at all.
To be sure, an enclosureless kiosk is not right for every project — you wouldn't want to distribute cash this way, for example. However, for applications that don't require peripherals beyond monitor, computer and perhaps a keyboard, it's definitely worth taking a look at the kiosk that isn't there.
Joe Tosolt is the Marketing Manager for Innovative Office Products. Innovative has incorporated years of experience in mounting solutions into a leading line of flexible mounts for monitors and kiosks. Custom mount design services are available.
Posted by: Joe Tosolt AT 11:55 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 18 August 2008
Fear. Uncertainty. Doubt.
These three words have collectively become known as the FUD factor.
From a technology standpoint, you can trace FUD all the way back to the mainframe computing era when IBM instilled FUD in its customers to eschew superior products in favor of the old guard. As the saying goes, "Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM."
When it comes to self-service, there is a new species of FUD on the horizon. But this time, it's not being waged between technology vendors. Rather, this FUD emanates from the consumers themselves, who increasingly feel alienated by technology innovations that they perceive to hinder human interactions. 

Today's consumer often wants it both ways. They demand knowledgeable customer service agents to be at their beck and call. Yet when service is delivered via a new technology — whether it's a touchscreen kiosk in an airport, a virtual concierge service or the self-checkout in your local grocery store — a consumer's initial reaction is often one of trepidation.
We fear that which we do not know or understand. 

I speak from firsthand experience. My company, Experticity, develops technology that delivers live, two-way video interactions between consumers and expert sales agents who can be served up from any remote location. When starting the company, I realized there would be many technology obstacles to surmount: from creating a seamless experience where the nuance and context of real-world interactions could be properly relayed, to the challenge of delivering crisp video over slower retail networks.
What I hadn't fully anticipated was the irrational fear that many consumers instinctively feel when encountering new and unfamiliar technology.

Over the past few years, I've observed three core dimensions to this particular brand of FUD:
1. Terminator syndrome: Yes, that Terminator! Where the machines rise up to brutally enslave humanity. To many, self-service technologies represent the end of "high-touch" customer service and the emergence of a scary new world where people are no longer in charge.
2. On hold, no one can hear you scream. Okay, that's a rip off from the movie Alien but it's a sentiment that most of us can relate to. Where most self-service implementations fall short is when customers feel like they have no option for human intervention, and opt out of the transaction.
3. Is there anybody out there? One of the common misperceptions regarding self-service technologies is that they're ultimately designed to replace real people. In reality, these technologies are meant to augment and support those working the front line, enabling them to deliver superior customer service.
Of course, these fears are often irrational and unfounded. Most fears are. But it's still a problem because, as any good marketer knows, perception is reality. The bottom line is that we as human beings are not accustomed to dealing with change. More often than not, we don't like it, even if it means it will make our lives easier in the long run.  But as we have seen with every new technology from the cotton gin through ATMs, fax machines, PCs and, yes, self-checkout, there is a period and process of education and familiarization. Microsoft and Apple recognize this fact. Each time they introduce a new operating system or product, they spend a great deal of money and resources to re-educate their user base because they understand that people don't like to re-learn what they already know.

For purveyors of self-service technologies, fighting FUD is critical to long-term market success. It's less about changing behaviors than it is about evolving attitudes. Here are a few best practices that we've learned along the way that can be applied to a variety of self-service technology scenarios:
1. Prominent signage with clear instructions — When introducing a new self-service technology into a store environment, it's vital that customers understand what the technology is and how exactly it will benefit them. Will it save time? Provide better information? Assume nothing and spell it out in a clear, compelling and consumer-friendly manner.

2. Train the front line — When grocery stores began implementing self-checkout technologies, one of the hard lessons they learned was that customers quickly grew frustrated and upset if there wasn't someone available to assist them. A well-trained front line worker also can be a great ambassador for introducing self-service technologies to help nip FUD in the bud. 

3. Know your audience — Gender, socio-economic status and general comfort with technology are just a few aspects that have a bearing on how a new technology will be received and ultimately embraced. One size does not fit all. Spending time upfront conducting small focus groups will help demonstrate how consumers will react to new technologies. (One of the interesting things we discovered when we first began testing our technology was that people had been conditioned never to touch a computer screen. Consequently, we had to make it very obvious that it was okay to touch the screen!)

4. Extend the brand experience — Creating a seamless brand experience — from the store door across the store floor and even once the consumer has got the product home — will go a long way toward ensuring that shoppers engage with new technologies. By working closely with merchandising managers to ensure that branding is consistent, consumers will be less averse to trying something new.

5. Be patient — Rome wasn't built in a day. There's a comfort curve with every new technology implementation so expect that it will take between six and 12 months, on average, before new in-store technologies enjoy widespread adoption. Be sure to test self-service technologies in different parts of the store to better understand where and how customers are most likely to use them.
The next generation of self-service technologies undoubtedly will improve business efficiency.  We have found that adding Experticity's live, on-screen person element, expanding "self-service" to "assisted service," not only makes the technology warmer and more user-friendly, but also enables far more effective deployment and distribution of costly expert service. However, what promises to improve the experience for one person might strike fear into the heart of another. Through thoughtful, effective implementation, we can strike a balance and eliminate the FUD factor once and for all.
D.L. Baron is founder and chief executive of Experticity, a developer of live on-screen expert staffing and remote service technologies.
Posted by: D.L. Baron AT 11:53 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Thursday, 14 August 2008

Jimmy Dun is the vice president of business development for Dynasign Corporation.

It has been an active discussion topic and frequently asked question within screen media network communities for some time now. A decade after I saw the first digital signage screen by Captivate Network in an elevator at ACNiesen’s headquarters, the rate for digital signage advertising is still a puzzle that no one  not even a savvy ad agency executive  can provide a clear formula for calculating.

Why can’t we just adopt the traditional cost per thousand impressions (CPM) rate for the established medium as a baseline? Not so simple.

Pricing ad placement is not a clear-cut science to begin with. While the ad rates for established media, posters, newspapers, magazines and TV has many considerations (viewership, demographics, ad size, running length, etc.), the ad pricing on digital signage screens inherits almost all attributes from the traditional mediums, but also involves many new dimensions.  

Through the use of targeted and on-demand content distribution technologies over the broadband infrastructure, the narrowcasting nature of digital signage networks provides an effective way of reaching and engaging audiences with relevant content catered screen-by-screen to specific locations and viewers’ interests. Some well-implemented networks even allow direct interaction with viewers through interactive screens or cell phones for in-depth one-on-one communication and tracking.

No one will argue that the screens with targeted audience and viewer engaging technologies have better value and effectiveness in direct comparison to the traditional media such as posters, billboards and broadcasting TV screens. But that does not mean you can demand two or three times the cost of the equivalent billboard or TV ads with similar viewer counts.

The price of any successful product is based on the following three stages  conditions if you will. The ad product on digital signage screens is no exception.

1.      Market acceptance – While we are seeing signs that sponsors are very interested in the digital signage screens, the advertising companies are not fully jumping onboard simply due to the lack of historical statistical records and immature tracking methods. It is easier to justify the cost of a $2.5 million 30-second spot during the Super Bowl game than a $1000 monthly cost on a well-located digital signage screen. However, the recent activities of digital signage network deployments by large international ad agencies indicate that the advertising on digital signage screens is entering the mainstream market.

2.      Return on investment – Since return is directly related to the pricing, more case studies must be done by major research firms on successful deployments. The interactive viewer engaging and tracking technologies deployed on the screens will further add value in both effectiveness and precise tracking of sponsor dollars.

3.      Demand – Better managed and well-covered high-value networks with focused demographics and geographic coverage will translate to higher demand, therefore higher price on ads.

As the industry moves along, the market will set the pricing structure in the near future.

In practical matters for deciding the pricing at the current stage, the equivalent size print billboards at a similar location should be a good measure in pricing the ads on digital signage screens. Based on the experience of our clients, not counting the large LED billboards, the acceptable monthly rates on LCD or plasma screens are ranging from $100 for a typical community or retail location to $5,000 for a focused high-value demographic venue with limited ads per screen.

It is critical for any digital signage network startups, large or small, to have a long term financial plan along with a deployment strategy that focuses on maximizing the network value on the deployment investments. Here's some advice for building the value of the screen time:

  • Stay focused on vertical markets and geographic coverage. Leverage committed financial resources to maximize the screen count and audience reach.
  • Content quality and relevancy.
  • Choose technology partners carefully. The cheap solution may not necessary be a good choice.
  • Partner with peer networks and established media companies in sharing the resources including viewer coverage, contents and sponsors.


Posted by: Jimmy Dun AT 11:23 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Has this ever happened to you? 
You walk into a store or a business and see on a display counter or lobby desk a dilapidated PC sitting forlornly, unused and unappreciated, only to realize the poor PC is intended to provide self-service? 

Or perhaps instead it is a beautifully branded specialty kiosk, but with a screen that is either dead, showing the Windows desktop or — having been hacked — is displaying something entirely inappropriate?  James_Kruper.jpg

Both are classic self-service failures, and I always wonder what circumstances transpired to cause these outcomes. Deep down inside, I also wonder whether the outcome would have been different had I been involved in the project.

I like to think the answer is always a resounding "Yes!," but sometimes it isn't that simple. 
What is clear is that failed self-service projects are, by definition, very public and highly visible disasters for our industry. Everyone who comes into that store or business sees the failure. The self-service market is growing rapidly and is remarkably well-accepted by the general public, so I don't believe the occasional project failure is overly threatening to the health of the industry. However, I do believe the industry could be even further along its penetration curve if there were more successful projects.

The three-legged stool
There are many ways that a project can fail. Perhaps the most obvious is a poorly designed application. However, I will address two others: Hardware and kiosk system software.

When describing a successful project to a new deployer, I often use the analogy of a three-legged stool. The three legs are the software application, the hardware and the kiosk system software.

Without all three legs, the stool will topple.

The software application leg is almost always present because this leg typically is what drove creation of the project in the first place. Without an application, there is no project. It may be a poorly designed application, but at least it exists.

The hardware leg is the physical manifestation of the project and generally takes the form of standard kiosk-industry components and perhaps a company-branded OEM enclosure. Sometimes, but not very often, a standard PC with perhaps a touchscreen display is appropriate. Due to the capital-intensive nature of kiosk hardware, this leg too often is compromised. This can cause the kiosk to be used less than it theoretically could be, or in the worst case, be totally unuseable.

The kiosk system software is the most likely leg to be missing because it generally is invisible to the user, so deployers either think the software is unnecessary or aren't aware it exists.

What is kiosk system software? It is a software layer that locks down the computer and prevents users from going places they shouldn't. It can perform usage logging, which reports how often the application is being used, and remote monitoring, which checks that the kiosk is always up and running without error. In short, it is what ensures the software application is always available to the user.

If the deployer develops the project from the perspective of the user, he may miss the need for system software entirely. Or, a deployer may decide he can develop a partial homegrown solution such as using OS system policies to lock down the computer. Sometimes, the software application is developed to also provide kiosk system software functionality; however, that requires very specialized knowledge and experience, and with many self-service applications being browser-based, it is very difficult to combine the two software legs of the stool.

Project on the rebound
We get many desperate phone calls after a project has been deployed. 

Generally, either the hardware leg or the kiosk system software leg of the stool is missing. Sometimes, both legs are missing. Hardware vendors know that one of two outcomes will occur when the hardware leg is missing: The deployer eventually will find the money to invest in hardware, or the project will be cancelled as a failure. The former is not ideal, but at least the proper hardware eventually is purchased. The latter is the true tragedy because the opportunity has been lost and how long will it be before that organization tries again? 

Because the kiosk system software leg is not as capital intensive as hardware, generally as soon as the light bulb turns on in the deployer's head, the problem is resolved.

Unfortunately, sometimes the light bulb never turns on.

A call to action
What can be done? Education will go a long way. Both hardware and software vendors need to ensure that their clients fully understand the need for all three legs of the stool: Application, hardware and system software. I know that I am guilty of occasionally focusing too much on the software aspect of a project, but it isn't done purposely. Often a deployer will contact me, but they are talking to me for my software expertise. They don't necessarily want to talk to me about hardware, and sometimes that is where the discussion ends. 

As an industry, we need to concentrate on keeping the discussion going.

James Kruper is the president of Analytical Design Solutions Inc., one of the association's vendor members. Check out his previous column, which was published in April: Self-service and digital signage can co-exist.

Posted by: James Kruper AT 11:49 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 05 August 2008
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I've been musing for some time now about kiosks and the ability to go green. Last year, IBM announced that they were going to make their new IBM AnyPlace kiosks more green and environmentally friendly. At first you think ... it's a computer, how green could it be? Well, for starters they are using more recycled plastic, lower power consumption CPUs, no paints in their finishes, and processes that take less energy to produce parts. This is a good start toward green; I love it when a big corporation refines its product and processes to be more efficient.
Another kiosk hardware vendor, Olea, has produced a kiosk enclosure out of sorghum plants. It was first shown at the NRF in Jan 2008 and again at KioskCom 2008. While not a production-ready unit, it shows that it can be done. Their enclosure looked like a box made out of bamboo, but it was actually an engineered panel made from sorghum waste material. That is a great idea and our hats are off to Olea for engineering this enclosure. The concept gets our creative juices flowing about how to make a more environmentally friendly kiosk.
I guess when steel is required for security and durability in public spaces, we could try to use only recycled steel for our enclosures. But what about alternative materials such as the laminated plant panels Olea created; is there a good green kiosk material, such as this, out there that we can use? If you know of any good environmentally friendly materials that can be used structurally, pass on the idea. Perhaps we will build it. As I continue to muse about the topic, I wonder where I can go to learn more about green building materials? I suppose it would be the same trade shows that builders and architects attend? There must be a central place to locate these types of materials. I just have to hunt them down.
Other industries are using green materials to build their products, and I'd love to see some examples that may spark ideas for our kiosk industry. Readers, what have you seen out there? Does your company produce green materials? If so, comment below or e-mail me your thoughts.
Tim Burke is the owner of Electronic Art. This column first appeared on his blog, "Kiosks Changing Self-Service."
Read also: Five steps to a greener kiosk.
Read also: IBM retail tech goes green.
Posted by: Tim Burke AT 11:49 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
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