The Perspective 
Wednesday, 22 June 2011
In a Today show interview with Ann Curry, U.S. President Barack Obama talked about one of the reasons he thought employment numbers have been slow to rebound: self-service automation. Reactions to his comments from those that monitor and are involved in the self-service and retail industries are varied.

In the interview, President Obama said, "There are some structural issues with our economy where a lot of businesses have learned to become much more efficient with a lot fewer workers. You see it when you go to a bank and you use an ATM, you don't go to a bank teller, or you go to the airport and you're using a kiosk instead of checking in at the gate. All these things have created changes in the economy, and what we have to do, and that's what this job council is all about ... is identifying where the jobs for the future are going to be."

According to the Washington Examiner's Philip Klein, ATM Industry Association CEO Mike Lee sent in an email response that said, in part, that "President Obama should never use ATMs as an example of how technology replaces human labor because ATMs today play a critical role in providing extensive employment in the ATM and cash-in-transit industries."

Industry experts are offering their reactions to President Obama's remarks, with some saying his comments were taken out of context by the public.

"I don't think he was slighting the self-service industry in any way," said Mike Wittenstein, a customer experience consultant specializing in branding and customer service. "I think he was using it as an example of what areas businesses need to think about when training and placing their people. He was using ATMs and kiosks as an example that people can understand."

Wittenstein said he thinks there's much ado about nothing regarding the comments because people are only choosing to listen to a select portion of his comments rather than his entire argument.

"The real focus was on where to direct this new jobs program, so we're training people in time for these new jobs that are very different from the ones we used to have. It's not as simple as replacing tellers with ATMs. That's not what the world needs. We're way too complicated for that," Wittenstein said. "I think his point was that people need to be trained and prepared for the right professions, not the ones that aren't needed."

The real economic value is being created by retailers, merchants and service providers of all kinds who are creating and blending traditional service delivery formats with new online-enabled services, of which self-service is simply a big category, according to Wittenstein.

Not a new concept: Technology replaces some jobs

Francie Mendelsohn, president of Summit Research and Associates, an international consulting firm devoted to kiosks, said President Obama's comments could have been directed at any industry utilizing more or new technology.

"When I've talked about why people deploy kiosks, it's politically incorrect to say that they deploy them to eliminate jobs, but that is why they are doing it," Mendelsohn said. "And what he [Obama] was specifically talking about was the airline check-in kiosks, which were implemented almost 10 years ago after Sept. 11."

Mendelsohn pointed out that even though the concept of airport check-in kiosks had been around before Sept. 11, the amount of layoffs caused by the public's concern regarding flying at that time gave the industry momentum and saved the airlines money.

"It was a cost-saving effort, more than anything, to provide functionality without having to employ so many human beings, and yet, when you ask people, they always give other reasons. He [Obama] was basically stating the obvious," Mendelsohn said.

She said that she believed that kiosk deployment has certainly created some unemployment, but fingers can't be pointed only to the self-service industry. She cited newspapers and the U.S. Postal Service as examples of where new technology eliminates certain jobs previously held by human beings.

"It does mean some traditional jobs go away. With the economy the way it is, I think it's sort of casting about and looking for something to focus on. He could have just as easily left kiosks out and said smartphones are doing the same thing. It's technology. In time, you will see less and less people going to the kiosks to print boarding passes," Mendelsohn said.

DSA executive director's response

"There are two points I'd like to make," said David Drain, Digital Screenmedia Association (DSA) executive director. "One, self-service has freed employees from menial, repetitive tasks and allowed them to spend time on customer-related issues. Second, while some companies may have reduced labor from self-service, it has created jobs for those designing, building and supplying kiosks. 

"So the president's comments sound like something from the hip that does not factor in all the benefits of the technology to consumers and companies," Drain concluded. 

Posted by: Kim Williams AT 02:38 pm   |  Permalink   |  
Tuesday, 17 August 2010
Airlines have peaked, redbox has legs, healthcare should see growth and the United States remains No. 1. No doubt, kiosks have become ubiquitous, and prospects look strong, but many question where the industry is going.

Could ‘airlines’ — short for traveler self-check-in at airports, the process that has virtually replaced ticket counters — have reached cruising altitude and be on the way to a descent? Does redbox have room for growth? And where will we see expansion in the next few years, either by segment or by global region?

Kiosk industry research house and consultancy Summit Research Associates seeks to answer these questions and others in its massive guidebook, "Kiosks and Interactive Technology," an 800-page report that includes statistics on the interactive kiosk installed base, background on 700 companies and a plethora of charts and tables, along with an examination of leading trends and significant projects.

The report grew from an online survey and follow-up research by Rockville, Md.-based Summit, led by Francie Mendelsohn, its president and a veteran kiosk consultant.

The report’s conclusions, and Mendelsohn’s, may surprise some.

For starters, self-check in at airlines has met its technological match, and it’s called the smart phone. Kiosks will remain a strong force in the sector, but many consumers eventually will switch to getting to their plane with the help of their phone.

“Airport check-in (via kiosk) is a very mature market sector. You will see incremental increases and updates of products. Smart phones will change the long-term dynamics,” Mendelsohn said.

Here’s how: Travelers will download a barcode to their smart phone when they conduct pre- check-in thru the Web before going to the airport. With the barcode loaded, the traveler will go to the airport and head straight to the security stop, bypassing the airline’s check-in kiosk to pick up a paper boarding pass. A device at the security stop will read the barcode displayed on the smart phone, and the traveler is good to go.

Mendelsohn says several major carriers, including American, Delta and United, have begun offering this smart phone application at select airports.

“In time, you will see less use of kiosks at the check-in,” said Mendelsohn, who notes this approach is more common in Asia, the global leader in smart phone applications. “Kiosks won’t go away. They are deployed at check-in all over the country. If you want to go anywhere anytime soon you will use them."

A kiosk firm that should continue to grow, she says, is redbox, the DVD-rental subsidiary of Coinstar.

“(Brick-and-mortar stores) are falling like dominos. Soon it’s going to be Netflix and redbox, if it’s not already. They serve two needs, redbox for new releases and Netflix for older movies,” Mendelsohn said.

Redbox offers extraordinary convenience, allowing consumers to make a 24-hour reservation and to drop off a DVD anywhere, all for a very competitive price, says Mendelsohn.
“Redbox is pretty formidable. I see people waiting in line to use it. That is an indicator of success,” she said.

A segment that offers promise for greater kiosk use is healthcare, specifically at providers such as doctors and dentists.

“It would be great to see patients using a kiosk to check in at their doctor’s office. (Managed care provider) Kaiser Permanente has begun to roll this out in some offices. The patient swipes a card distributed by Kaiser, and (the kiosk) brings up her information. It signs in for you,” Mendelsohn said.

Shifting to the electronic storing of patient information would reduce paperwork and eliminate many human input errors, says Mendelsohn. These factors, along with offering greater convenience to their patients, should convince healthcare providers to invest in kiosk check-in systems, she says.

Finally, Mendelsohn believes there is no question of the top international market for the industry.

“The U.S. is still the leader in the kiosk field," she said. "We can be behind others in taking to something, but once we adopt a technology we go after it whole hog.”

That’s what happened with parking and DVD rental, applications that were initiated in Europe but once implemented in the U.S. grew so large that they changed their industries. And keep in mind the U.S. is physically larger, so it has the space to offer uses like drive-thru restaurants where consumers can order via kiosk, says Mendelsohn.

So maybe airlines have peaked, redbox is still growing, healthcare shows promise, and the U.S. is tops. Then again, there may be an application out there no one is thinking of that remakes the whole industry. Entrepreneurs succeed by swimming against the tide.

Burney Simpson is contributing editor to This post originally appeared as an article on Aug. 9, 2010.
Posted by: The Perspective AT 10:31 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
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