|| The Perspective
Tuesday, 30 September 2008
Picture this: You are at the airport. You have arrived the obligatory hour to two hours early. The lines are long. An important business meeting awaits 3,000 miles away. You finally make your way to the check-in kiosk, only to find that it won't read your identification card.
You try to get the attention of the airline attendant. You are frustrated. The airline attendant is frustrated. The guy in line behind you is frustrated. The clock is ticking and that security line is not getting any shorter. How could this happen?
Our daily transactions with kiosks are automatic. We rarely think twice when we insert our debit card into an ATM. However, when we encounter a malfunctioning or out-of-service kiosk, we take notice. This disruption to what should be a smooth transaction can cause a costly frustration that tarnishes not only our experience, but also the brand impression.
As a customer-facing technology, kiosks represent a brand experience. Customers immediately form an opinion based on this experience. Kiosk deployers simply can't afford downtime, but to maintain a kiosk involves more than the basic repair to the equipment and that is a cost that many deployers can't afford.
A recent report from Summit Research Associates found that 31 percent of third-party providers assume the repair role for kiosk deployers. That is a trend that has continued to grow over the past few years. A smart trend.
As chief executive of ExpressPoint Technology Services for a number of years, I have witnessed the difficulties that companies face when challenged with repair issues. They need a service provider that is dependable and reliable. They expect the highest quality and quick turnaround. They rely on flexibility and customized programs to meet their unique needs. For kiosk deployers, the pressure for the equipment to be available creates additional challenges including the need for the most current hardware, accurate repair to minimize the domino failure effect, faster high tech peripherals and proper installation immediately. Maintaining an in-house service and repair staff can be time consuming and costly. Simply put, outsourcing your kiosk repair to an OEM or a third- party service provider is smart because it saves you money.
A good kiosk service provider will have a variety of capabilities in place including:
- A full-time planning and forecasting team to guarantee parts are available and warehoused onsite or at stocking locations near your field service teams, reducing freight and keeping your fuel costs down.
- Cost saving programs such as Advance Exchange allow for parts to be sent within 24 hours, eliminating downtime.
- An innovative engineering staff that researches the kiosk industry and equipment is essential in order for your kiosk to receive the most current updates and maintenance technology, ensuring the right peripherals are integrated.
- Warranty management services to make sure that you never have to pay for a part that is covered.
As I watch the kiosk industry continue to grow and develop new technologies I feel very strongly that now, more than ever, it is important to find an experienced and innovative kiosk service provider before the equipment fails. Whether you outsource your repair service to an OEM or third-party service provider you are reducing downtime, saving money and securing customer loyalty and confidence.
Always a smart choice.
David Anderson is the chief executive of ExpressPoint Technology Services Inc., and an association member.
Thursday, 25 September 2008
There is no question that the sign sector has made tremendous advances in recent years: revolutionary production methods and tools, the introduction of new, cost-effective technologies and the ability to create more eye-catching, attention-grabbing content in less time than ever before. In concert with this progress, the digital signage space has similarly become much more attractive and sophisticated as a result of significant groundbreaking innovations in hardware, software and middleware technologies. In fact, it is this dazzling array of technology that lies at the core of any digital signage deployment and serves as its most visible characteristic.
In spite of these marvelous advances, the digital signage sector is in danger if its primary approach does not change, and change immediately.
The issue at hand is what I call The Digital Signage Fallacy, and it is a major misconception that currently plagues this maturing market. The Digital Signage Fallacy goes like this: Content producers say "content is king;" technology companies say "technology is key;" and media owners say "location is everything."
However, any technology supplier knows that digital signage is not solely about the technology behind the network. Moreover, companies throughout the digital signage ecosystem – from screen manufacturers, to software providers, to systems integrators – are selling these solutions almost exclusively based on the technical specifications and requirements of individual network components, such as displays, content management software and middleware. This is the wrong approach, and the incorrect stance to take. Why is this so?
To be clear, it goes without saying that technology is an inherent part of any digital signage installation, and thus should never be ignored. That said, the industry needs greater focus on what the installation makes possible and accomplishes from a traditional marketing perspective, and that requires deep knowledge and expertise in creating and implementing sound marketing strategies. What many forget is that digital signage is yet another element of the marketing mix, alongside print, broadcast, online advertising, direct mail, viral marketing, sales promotion and public relations, to name just a few tactics. From shelf-edge LCD pricing to massive outdoor billboards, the requirements of the delivery mechanism remain the same. It is the objectives of clients, media owners, retailers and other entities that will change to accommodate the demands of their customers: the media investment companies, media buyers and planners, and most importantly, the consumer brands.
To properly sell a deployment to an end customer, the solutions provider must convince the prospect that digital signage is truly a viable marketing communications vehicle, and one that can effectively target the right audience, at the right time, with the right content. This is a given, but additionally the prospect must also be convinced that the network can achieve very specific marketing objectives, as part of a fully-integrated campaign. It is essential that users are able to see a return on investment from this technology AND that the digital signage solution will make their lives easier. In the end, the adoption of a more strategic perspective in considering the purchase of a digital signage network will help the prospect make the difference between its success…and its failure.
Moreover, players in this space often ignore the fact that the aforementioned network components, in most cases, are essentially commodities, with not much differentiation between them – at least from the buyer's point of view. That is not to say that there are no real differences in terms of quality, performance, features and functionality. Absolutely there are, and most often, the buyer knows it. The bottom line is that the intrinsic value of the digital signage network does not originate from the sum of its parts, but rather its ability to fulfill a specific role in the company's marketing mix, and its performance in meeting core reach, frequency and brand awareness objectives. Ultimately, marketing strategy determines which tactics to utilize, along with how, when and where they are implemented.
In summation, in the words of one client, "People do not change the station they travel from because of an LED screen; the audience and footfall remain constant." It is the knowledge built up over 25 years in the industry that allows media owners to make the best use of the technology, and the technology must be flexible enough to deliver what the experts want. Technology has played a very important role in the advent of digital signage to date, and will continue to do so as the industry’s growth accelerates.
However, the sector should not lose sight of the critical importance of marketing strategy in the sales cycle, and how digital signage can realistically support and add value to, a given company's integrated marketing program. Just as with countless other industry segments across the globe, digital signage players must harness the power and flexibility of technological advancements for the betterment of the industry overall.
Ian McKenzie is chief executive officer of Dynamax Technologies Ltd., a leading global digital signage solutions provider and a member of the Digital Signage Association. He can be reached at .
Tuesday, 23 September 2008
Although I'll never be selected to get anywhere near the U.S. Ryder Cup Team, I do love the game of golf. In fact, I recently had the opportunity to enjoy it at Torrey Pines in San Diego, Calif., as I strolled up and down the dunes and watched the play at the USGA's 2008 U.S. Open.
This is where I found myself this past June.
When some very generous friends from the Digital Signage Association invited me to join them to see how the pros swing (thanks Ed Hovsepian of Visual Incite!), I couldn’t resist stealing some time away from the office. Besides, it would give me a chance to visit with two of my favorite San Diegonians: Sylvia and Peter Berens, co-founders of Apunix.
Sylvia Berens (pictured right) shows off an Apunix deli-ordering kiosk with an Apunix executive employee.
If you're an association member and you've never heard Sylvia's name mentioned, you probably haven't been an association member for very long. She was there when we started the Self-Service & Kiosk Association at Bay Hill in Orlando back in 2001. Sylvia is practically a matriarch of the self-service industry, and has been an SSKA board and executive committee member for all these years. I can't count the number of times Sylvia has piped in to contribute valuable insight to our association meetings, and we've only benefited from her pearls of wisdom.
So it was a no-brainer for me to swing by Apunix while I was in the neighborhood.
I have to say, the first thing I discovered was that there's much more to Sylvia than entrepreneurship, software and revenue projections. In fact her company (co-founded with husband, Peter) is no longer her most precious commodity. For that distinction, you have to look to the three rambunctious bundles of joy that light up her home: daughters Malika, 15; Madina, 12; and Zarina, 9.
Sylvia and Peter travelled all the way to Kazakhstan to adopt these precious youngsters — children who didn't know a word of English. Today, they speak it fluently. They're going through all the wonderful experiences that kids their age should — making new friends, enjoying sports and excelling in school. When I met with Sylvia, she was coordinating a last-day-of-school party to catapult the kids into summer vacation. Not exactly what you'd expect from a hard-nosed capitalist, but in the Berens family, kids come before dollar signs.
Sylvia was kind enough to give me the grand tour of the Apunix facility — and it's very professional! Located in the northern suburbs of San Diego, the series of offices practically buzzes with quiet activity from its workforce of 20 employees working on some of the most interesting self-service applications around.
There's a lot going on at Apunix. One of the most interesting projects they've been involved with is the creation of a customized, made-from-scratch software platform for Sun Microsystems' visitor check-in kiosks. That platform — which does not run on the Windows operating system — makes use of Linux and Sun's Java solution and was created using a toolkit Apunix developed for the self-service industry. It's a totally unique system, and we covered it extensively on Self-Service World. Click here to read more about it. When I think back on my IBM days, I recognize just how difficult it is to build something like that from the ground up. Peter and Sylvia have reason to take pride in their work.
Another thing that struck me was the sheer breadth of self-service options they have. Sylvia showed me kiosks of all shapes and sizes, from a $500 handset used to place food orders, to hefty play-and-win kiosks destined for casino game rooms. If anyone ever thought the self-service industry was slowing down, one visit to Apunix would blow those misconceptions away.
Ever the good steward, Sylvia is even getting into the environmental protection business. In conjunction with UC Davis, Apunix has developed touchscreen kiosks that show users how to take care of home and garden pests — prairie dogs, ground squirrels, groundhogs and the like — in an environmentally-friendly manner. They're already appearing in county offices, county fairs and Home Depots in the area.
I left Apunix confident in the company's leadership position and in the self-service industry as a whole. What a privilege it is to be working with innovators like Sylvia and Peter Berens. Thank you both for the direction you've given the association thus far – and here's to many more years of collaboration in the future.
Now if only I could find someone to help me with my putting!
Tuesday, 16 September 2008
When you are planning a kiosk project, it's unlikely that the first thing that comes to mind is the operating system you will use to run the kiosks, unless you are the chief technology officer or the IT admin in charge of assisting with the project. The first thing you should consider is what the application should accomplish, what value it brings to the consumer and your business. But at some point when you know what it is going to do, you will start to discuss how it is going to do these things, and that is when the technology choices begin.
The choice of operating system may not matter at all to you, but it is good to be informed of the choices available and the pros and cons of each choice. This choice will become critical when you have issues such as integration with existing systems, ease of management by your internal team (if managed internally), security and cost. If you have a third party company managing the kiosks for you as part of an annual maintenance agreement, and it doesn't integrate directly with existing systems, then again, this may not matter to you and you should go with what that vendor is most familiar with and capable of managing efficiently.
As in the world of home and business desktop computers, there are a few main contenders in the kiosk marketplace: Microsoft Windows, Linux and yes... sometimes (but rarely) Apple. Each with varying flavors, customized versions or overlaying shell applications.
Just as in the rest of the world, my guess would be that most public kiosks run on a flavor of Windows. However, most kiosk deployers would never use only basic Windows security methods to lock down the system or provide application maintenance and monitoring. Most kiosks running Windows use it as the base operating system (OS), and apply another OS over top of it (Shell) to create an environment tailored to the special kiosk needs. Also, it should be stated that often, kiosks run on Windows Embedded, which is a scaled back version of XP that is much cheaper to license and doesn't include a lot of consumer-oriented overhead. This version of XP is pretty stable and can be tailored to different industries. Windows and most of their Shell operating systems have a remote desktop feature that enables IT admins to work with the kiosks, much like they would any other Windows-based server or desktop computer. Leveraging the same IT staff for system management of your kiosks can make a lot of sense.
There is also Windows CE for kiosks, which I've never liked. Like Linux, it can have a small footprint, but it is also so restrictive for most software developers that it often is only a good idea for basic kiosk content. This traditionally mobile phone platform seems too lightweight for most flashy or interactive applications.
Examples of companies that use Windows-based platforms include:
While Linux-based kiosks may be a bit more stable and less likely to be hacked, that is always based on the assumption that your IT administrator is talented. That is why so many Windows systems get hacked or are poorly implemented: So many systems are managed by inexperienced IT staff. Linux by nature takes a greater understanding to implement and manage by "true believer geeks" which means that they often have been meticulous in looking at all of the patches, and best security practices. Not always (but often) this is the case.
Often with a Linux-based kiosk OS, they are pretty easy to implement and don't actually require a lot of geek knowledge. Some is helpful, but not required. Only when you start doing a lot of custom work or integration with third-party components, hardware, etc., would it be necessary. If you are a "true believer geek" you could potentially use an open source Linux operating system straight up... but in my opinion you'd be reinventing the wheel and would spend much time building what is already built, and frankly would make as much sense as using Windows by itself. Linux also has an "embedded" version and, frankly, often has a smaller footprint than Windows.
An example of a company that uses a Linux-based platform:
I've seen a few Mac-based kiosks such as one at the NYC WTC memorial, but not many others. Now that Mac is a Linux-based computer OS, I could see this being a decent platform for kiosks as long as you program for this type of environment. Perhaps we'll see more Mac kiosks in the future.
WKiosk by App4Mac
Kiosks / Digital signage: Yes, sometimes the same operating system can be used for digital signage or kiosks... but digital signage content is often "scheduled" content — meaning it is remotely managed to play some content at different times of day, day of week, holidays, etc. In this case, a Kiosk OS usually doesn't have this feature built in, as most kiosks do not require scheduling. Watch for an upcoming article on digital signage operating systems.
Final thoughts: Does it really matter in your kiosk? Content is still king and can be OS agnostic such as Flash, video, HTML, etc. It matters most when it comes to who will manage the systems going forward and what expertise they bring to the team. It may also matter if the people writing the software need it to work with some Windows-based tools like IE, ActiveX, .NET, or other Windows-specific technology. Otherwise, you probably could deploy content to either platform, but you want to make this "architecture" decision BEFORE you begin building the software.
Thursday, 11 September 2008
As an industry, we have reached the next level. We are beyond technology. In other words, our clients know what digital signage is, they know that the technology works and that it works well.
So, welcome to the new world of content for digital signage.
Content is now a major concern for every network operator. Ultimately, it does not matter what great technology we have behind the scenes. It matters what content is on the display. This drives the brand equity, the consumer experience, the sales uplift or the corporate messaging.
This is a new media. Digital Signage media is special. It is not TV and it's not a PC. It's not a newspaper circular, either. This is Digital Signage, and content created for this industry is new, refreshing and different from any other medium we have encountered. This new media will be around for decades to come.
Once your network is up, how do you keep feeding the monster? The key to keeping ahead of content demands is to develop assets up front. Create key graphic elements and templates, and create a large library of them. Have them on hand and available to manipulate. Keep it fresh. Know your campaign objectives for the quarter, for the year and create the relative content sooner rather than later. The better your planning for content, the more successful your digital signage implementation will be. Create 15- and 30-second spots for the same message.
Create a multitude of assets that can be tapped into at any time. Design a series of templates that can be easily adapted in many different ways. Create graphic elements that can be assembled in a variety of ways to change the look slightly. Having elements on hand will keep you ready and rolling with relative content, which can be refreshed and varied. Consider a series of community messages, and just good-old eye candy that gives customers a reprieve from their daily grind. Give them something to smile about. Do get your product message out, but spice it up and offer something more. This will help your brand equity.
You probably already have content assets in your possession, and can potentially utilize these pieces to create media for this new and exciting medium. Here are some considerations:
- Take inventory of all assets you currently have in print, Web and electronic formats.
- Expand on themes and create new assets for digital signage. Use Flash primarily to create cost-effective pieces.
- Create many graphic elements and templates that can be used throughout the year.
- Create specific branding pieces of different lengths: 15-second and 30-second spots.
- Create specific bite-sized product pieces to spark interest, 15- and 30-seconds in length.
- Create specific community awareness pieces, such as events the store participates in every year.
- Create, purchase or subscribe to content featuring seasonal, holiday and eye-candy visuals.
- Subscribe to services such as news and weather.
- Synchronize all programs with planned campaigns for marketing, in-store marketing and advertising to leverage themes used throughout the quarter and the year.
- Remember that content refresh can be done with external data feeds.
- Consider the degree of localization that will be required.
- Consider whether interactive content is likely to form part of any playlist(s).
- Enlist professionals to assist in the planning and creation of elements that will leverage your messages.
Keep in mind that digital signage is different from print and TV, and when the content is good, the results are great!
Keith Kelsen is CEO of The MediaTile Company and chairs the Content Best Practices Committee for the Digital Signage Association.
Tuesday, 09 September 2008
As I enter my 14th year of promoting the benefits of deploying self-service kiosks, and now digital signage, the phrase "the more things change, the more they stay the same" continues to resonate in my mind.
While the technologies and functions for each deployment continue to change and reach into new markets, there is a base component that remains the same — building from the past. Regardless of where your program is set to launch or who your target is, researching and understanding the past successes and failures of the customer-facing technology (CFT) programs that preceded the new application continues to play a primary role in the deployment process.
Having been involved with many of these deployments from both the buyer's side and seller's side, it is very apparent that those who had a well-conceived strategy based on analyzing previous successes and failures experienced greater results than those who attempted to start from scratch. While there is nothing wrong with wanting to create a new direction or concept for your deployment, the core belief that a clear understanding of customer and employee behavior and trends serves as major strategic asset to ensuring your success the first time out, still holds true just as much today as it did 10 years ago.
Self-service and kiosk deployments studied preceding CFT initiatives — from ATMs to the Internet to early kiosks — as part of their development process. I believe that the Digital Out-of-Home (DOOH) signage industry stands to gain significantly by following suit and learning from the trials and tribulations encountered by the kiosk and self-service industry.
Yes, I can hear professionals in the Digital OOH market now: "Sacrilege! Kiosks have nothing to do with digital signage! Don't even speak of it! Heretic! Traitor!"
My reply to these individuals can be summed up in one word: Nonsense.
It's nonsense that Digital OOH deployments should avoid building off of the lessons learned by other kiosk initiatives because kiosks are an interactive customer facing technology, just as Digital OOH is categorized as either an interactive (touch) or non-interactive (static/passive) customer-facing technology.
For 13 years I've been involved at all levels of the Customer-Facing Technology industry, dealing in everything from kiosks to Web sites to handhelds to digital signage. I've worked with thousands of deployers and purchasers, and just as many technology and service providers. I have conducted extensive research and industry analysis, and even demonstrated the benefits of these customer-facing technologies to professionals serving arenas in the mainstream universe, such as retail, hotels, travel, government, food service, etc.
My work has brought a number of "hot button" DOOH issues to my attention, including:
- Securing funding and appropriate technology for the project.
- Gaining complete organizational support, from senior/executive level buy-off to employee acceptance.
- Improving the customer experience.
- Creating relevant and engaging content, and ensuring your content is presented in the right context.
- Providing ROI metrics to purchasers and advertisers.
- Increasing revenues with the deployment while reducing operational expenses.
I can say with full confidence that these same issues have been brought up within the kiosk industry as well. The only difference is that the kiosk market has discussed and analyzed these issues in great detail, and gone on to implement successful action plans to remedy the problems. More importantly, the research and results are now used as the platform for many DOOH deployments.
A review of some recently published comments also highlight the belief that digital signage deployments and kiosks face similar issues — as do all customer-facing technology deployments:
- "Consumers need the promise of relevant information if they are going to engage a kiosk” — Bill Lynch, Source Technologies.
- "Whoever is championing the deployment of digital media must get buy-in from, and work in tandem with, IT." — ISM Retail.
- "The goal with of integrating any systems with your digital media network should be consistency — removing pricing discrepancies or avoiding the advertisement of non-stocks, for instance." — Ken Goldberg, CEO, Real Digital Media (RDM).
Kiosks and digital signage share an incredible amount of analogous DNA, and are often deployed simultaneously. Organizations that embrace learning from the histories and actions have proven this point with their successes, and they have loudly proclaimed that events which encourage strategic discussions around multiple CFT deployments and promote interaction, analysis and knowledge-sharing have significantly helped them to quickly and efficiently launch and succeed with their CFT projects.
Wednesday, 03 September 2008
You know the saying, "You get what you put into it"? That is certainly true of participating in the Self-Service & Kiosk Association. Since I often counsel our vendor members about how to get the most out of their membership, I thought I would put it down into a top-10 list. I'm sure there are more than 10, but this is a good start.
1. Write a carefully crafted company description for your membership-directory listing. Include all the keywords individuals might use to search the Internet to find you. Make sure we have a clean company logo. Review your listing periodically to make sure it's up to date and let us know of any changes.
2. Send us press releases on a regular basis. Every time your company lands an important, new client; launches a new product; wins an award; speaks at a conference; or makes an important hire, tell us about it and we'll publish your news on our Web site.
3. Submit case studies for publication. People love to read real-world stories about how companies implemented a new technology successfully. It doesn't have to be long. Simply describe the scope of the project, any challenges faced, the solution provided and the results. Include at least one high quality photograph.
4. Write a "Perspective." You're an expert in your field. You can help the industry by writing about what you know best. Or give your opinion on an industry trend in this 500- to 1,000-word column. If you've ever written a blog post (or read one), you can write a "Perspective." We have editors on staff that can take care of the grammar and punctuation. The article will contain your picture and reference your company.
5. Take action on sales leads received. Each week we'll send you sales leads that are generated through our Web site. Carefully review these for opportunities that fit your company's offerings. Even if the lead is not requesting your specific product, the sender may still want to hear from you. The company that submitted the request may not know that it needs your product until you inform them! Consider adding the contact information from leads to your database and/or company-newsletter distribution list.
6. Use the project-help form to receive quotes and information from fellow members. No one company does it all. You can use the same online form users do to find information about products needed for the project you're working on.
7. Sign up your staff to receive our e-newsletter. You can sign up as many people on your staff as you wish. Just send us a list of names and email addresses, and we'll add them to our distribution list. Your staff will stay abreast of industry news and trends. They'll thank you for it!
8. Use the Member logo. Promote your membership in the Association by using the member logo on your website, business cards, brochures, etc. At major industry trade shows we participate in, we'll have a floor decal for your booth to publicize your membership.
9. Join a committee. Have you been looking for a chance to get involved, meet other people and help advance industry issues? Now is your opportunity! If you have an area of interest not currently covered by one of our committees, please let us know; we may want to organize a committee or task force to address that topic.
10. Ask us! Do you have a question you can't find the answer to? If we don't know the answer, we'll probably know where to find it. Is there someone you would like to meet, or do you need help contacting a company or finding a particular product? We are happy to make an introduction for you or provide the contact details needed.
As you see, it takes a little work on your part to take advantage of all that membership in our Association has to offer. But I promise you, it will be worth it.