The Perspective 
Monday, 23 November 2009

Arrow Electronics and Seiko Instruments recently announced a partnership that makes Arrow an authorized distributor for Seiko’s line of receipt and ticket printers. The agreement is meant to bolster Arrow’s solution offering for kiosk designers.
From a distribution standpoint, Arrow carries a menu of kiosk components from leading manufacturers, such as displays, printers, power supplies and computing engines. Arrow OEM Computing Solutions (OCS) also provides kiosk vendors with an array of value-added services, addressing each of the phases required to bring a kiosk to market. The company says these outsourcing capabilities include design assistance and prototype development, integration and manufacturing, logistics, installation and post-sales support.
We sat down with George Papajohn, director of marketing for Arrow OCS, to discuss the need for outsourcing in the kiosk industry and to explore the potential impact these services can have on a kiosk vendor’s business.    
What outsourcing services are kiosk vendors asking for?
Kiosk designers’ requirements tend to be fairly broad in scope. Fundamentally, the need is for a reliable distributor with technical competency and strong manufacturer relationships. The distributor has to be able to recommend and deliver proven components that perform reliably in the field and don’t add integration complexity. The ability to offer the right financing programs is another imperative. Cash flow requirements cannot be overlooked. I would also say that scalability is a recurring theme.

For example, a smaller kiosk designer can develop a fantastic concept and prove it with a successful pilot program. And when it does go well, they might be faced with the enviable but perhaps daunting prospect of supporting a giant retailer. Not every kiosk designer can afford to maintain the capacity, logistics and support capabilities needed for a hiccup-free deployment on such a large scale. And we all know how difficult it can be when the end-customer introduces late design changes. The level of complexity and need for scale can spike fairly rapidly in this industry. With a robust outsourcing partner, the designer has a single supply source to rely on, and has access to integration facilities that can immediately scale to meet individual project needs.  

How does outsourcing impact a kiosk vendor’s business?

The right outsourcing partner can align themselves with a kiosk designer’s business and deliver a program that meets each project’s needs, in terms of components, value-added services and financing. It boils down to augmenting the designer’s internal capabilities on-demand, reducing overhead costs and eliminating headaches. This frees up the kiosk entrepreneur to focus on their true talents: product innovation and bringing in new business.

How do end-customers perceive a third party’s involvement in the project? 

I think the majority of customers are aware of the important contributions made by third parties in the supply chain. Distributors, contract manufacturers and logistics providers all play critical roles. A comprehensive outsourcing solution basically consolidates these elements. Some customers refer to this as having “one throat to choke” if an issue comes up. Regardless of the players involved, my perception is that customers want seamless execution, without unnecessary costs.   
Have outsourcing requirements been evolving?

With the recession, obviously most solutions providers have been feeling added pressure when it comes to cost and financing issues. Beyond that, there is no question that the breadth of self-service applications has continued to expand. This makes it even more important to align with the most capable suppliers, so that the right products are available to support these increasingly innovative solutions. 
How do you see this business in 2010?

The analyst reports we’ve looked at tend to predict growth for self-service in 2010. And there is no question that self-service technology provides a tangible bottom-line impact for end users. We anticipate this will certainly continue fueling new projects, and we are working hard to be able to anticipate and respond to customers’ continuing needs for value-added capabilities on a global scale

Posted by: George Papajohn AT 01:38 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 07 April 2008
As I was thinking about what to write for this piece, I was dialing into the first of the two weekly conference calls we use to keep our dealer kiosk program running smoothly. When we started back in 2001, I had no idea how important these calls would be, or that we would still be doing them several years later.Robert__Plante_2.jpg
It struck me that the relevant analogy for a kiosk program might be an iceberg. The bulk and complexity of most programs largely are unseen. Be advised, however, that running one is not unusually difficult. It’s just that, like many other things in life, there’s a lot more to it. And it helps if you are prepared to work through it all.

BMW’s kiosk programs have won 21 industry awards over the last few years. Along the way, we’ve learned a few things. I will try to share some of that learning with the caveat that I can only describe the BMW experience. Hopefully, others will find some useful nuggets in this tale.

For BMW, the obvious underlying kiosk elements were fixture design, kiosk operating technology, hardware, high-speed Internet connectivity and help desk support for each of these essentials. In today’s marketplace, these things all are readily available. But once you have these elements together, it’s very important to remember that they all are there only to support the content — which is all the customer sees. More about content in a moment.

The other key elements of a successful program are less tangible. It should go without saying that management support is essential — so communication on this front needs to be ongoing. Team building among your vendors and internal staff takes time but pays big dividends. Communication to key user groups also is essential. Communication to other stakeholder groups within your organization that could participate or benefit from the program also will help it to succeed. The other element often overlooked but very important is training. Teach your user groups how to benefit from the program.

And then there is content, often referred to as the Graphic User Interface or GUI, (pronounced "gooey") — that’s geek-speak for what the customer sees on the screen. Many deployers have a hard time getting this part right. It comes at the end of the whole kiosk building process when money and time are often limited, so it gets rushed, cheapened or is not well thought out. Yet on-screen content is the most important part of the program.  It’s all the customer sees. Equally important, ongoing content costs need to be estimated and communicated so decision makers fully are aware of what it will take to maintain that content over the life of the program.
For some applications, a few simple screens may be all that’s needed. However, even in these cases those screens should be designed by a graphic artist who understands the medium. Do not let your technology provider do it. Remember, what’s on the screen is what makes things happen. It pays to do it well.
For a brand marketer like BMW, there is so much more to it. We think of our kiosks as a private, interactive video channel that must engage our customers’ heads and hearts, with an occasional visceral response thrown in. That works out to be high quality video, much of it produced specifically for the channel. Or if it’s re-purposed video, edited for the channel. “Informative,” “entertaining,” “brief,” and “updated often” are words we live by — "all meat" as Law & Order’s Dick Wolfe would say. These kiosks have a voracious appetite that we feed constantly.
As we said at the beginning, a kiosk is like an iceberg. For most projects there’s more to it than you might think at first. But if you do everything well, kiosks really work. So read, learn and go for it. Below are some real-life concrete examples of what’s involved, the steps we went through for our most recent BMW dealer kiosk deployment. And I may have missed a few along the way:

  • Fixture design competition
  • Prototype technology partner selection
  • Prototype content partner selection
  • Hardware spec
  • Prototype build
  • Prototype technology build
  • Prototype content build
  • Internal review with management
  • Internal review with BMW IT
  • Preview with feedback survey at X5 launch dealer meeting
  • RFP for dealer project to select fixture partner, technology partner, content partner
  • Bid review and partner selection with Purchasing and internal management
  • Team building and weekly conference calls with all partners begins
  • Ongoing face-to-face meetings with Reality Pictures, the content partner team. Communication and meetings with this partner are frequent, ongoing and will continue for the life of the project. While all the moving parts are important, content is really the only thing the customer sees. It must be entertaining, informative and brief. Most importantly, it must be frequently updated.
  • Two revised prototypes: fixture, technology and content builds.
  • Prototypes deployed in two BMW Centers within driving distance of BMW HQ
  • Ongoing weekly review of prototype installations with Center personnel, team partners, BMW management and BMW field staff (6 weeks)
  • Ongoing communication about program with BMW field staff begins
  • BMW’s training group engaged. They review prototype installations and create a training video on kiosk use for dealer sales personnel
  • Key learnings incorporated into revised fixture, technology and content builds
  • BMW IT reviews technology and participates in a major way in planning for connectivity and support for beta test.
  • Weekly support conference calls begin with BMW IT, BMW’s connectivity vendors Reynolds & Reynolds, ADP and Reality Interactive, the program’s technology partner
  • Beta test deployment: 11 dealers nationwide selected from list of major problem sites from previous program
  • Key learnings from beta test incorporated and rollout begins
  • Two weekly conference calls continue — one with all build partners, the other with all support partners. Regular calls with all build partners will eventually discontinue. 
  • Weekly calls with support partners will be ongoing for the life of the program.
  • Internal communication about the program — especially success stories — is ongoing.
  • Internal presentations for management about various aspects of the program, new content etc., also ongoing
  • Meetings with BMW field staff, dealer groups and dealer sales personnel, ongoing.
Clearly a kiosk project is more than it appears. Deployers should understand that the iceberg is deeper than they think and should be quick to get a handle on all time and preparation that is involved. If they don't, they run the risk of a "hull breach" and a kiosk project that sinks into the depths.
Robert Plante is the kiosk programs manager for BMW of North America LLC.
Posted by: Robert Plante AT 10:45 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
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