The Perspective 
Monday, 02 November 2009

The global economic crisis — coupled with increasing competition and rising customer expectation — has compelled the aviation industry to devise innovative and cost-saving solutions. As such, airlines all over the world are looking to technology to generate more demand and drive down costs.

Self-check-in services are helping airlines cut costs and improve customer experience. Moreover, according to IATA’s 2009 Corporate Air Travel Survey, more than 50 percent of passengers worldwide want more self-service options. Customers feel more empowered while using self-check-in services and save time at the airports. Online check-in, kiosks and mobile technology are ushering in a new era of customer self-service, while self-service kiosks are increasingly becoming more and more popular, as proven by their increased usage. Kiosks are also working well in tandem with online and mobile technologies.

According to the SITA/Air Transport World Passenger Self Service Study, kiosk check-in usage is set to rise over the years and interactive kiosks will increasingly shift to the forefront of self-service. Kiosks not only benefit people who do not check-in online, but can also be used to provide multiple functionalities at the airport — like car rental or hotel check-in. Moreover, in the near future kiosks may become excellent avenues through which ancillary services might be purchased.

Another area where kiosks will play a huge role is in the process of self-tagging baggage. IATA, with its Fast Travel Program, will immensely improve and enhance passenger self-service through kiosks performing the functions such as printing bag tags, scanning documents, automating boarding gates and reporting missing baggage. Furthermore, the advent of CUPPS (Common Use Passenger Processing System) architecture — technology that enables airlines and handling agents to access their own applications from multiple workstations and peripherals throughout the airport that are shared by all users — will help continue to bring about increased efficiencies and cost savings.

In addition to kiosks, mobile technology will continue to take the world by storm. Mobile technology has a distinct advantage over kiosks — our mobile phone is always with us. It is thus very convenient to use one’s phone for various services. Mobile phones can be used not just for checking in but also to complete the entire booking process. They can also be used for the sale of ancillary services like hotels, cars and also for timetables, notifications, alerts, social networking and much more.

According to a 2009 SITA IT Trends survey, 80 percent of the airlines surveyed are planning to offer mobile check-in capabilities by 2012. What’s more, IATA has targeted 100 percent Bar Coded Boarding Passes (BCBP) by 2010. These facts alone guarantee the future of self-service technologies at the airport.

As network access speeds become ever faster and smart phones become increasingly powerful, the future of mobile services is poised to become even more popular than kiosk and Web check-in. Now, mobile check-in users consist of business and frequent travelers and smart phone users. However, this trend is sure to change as more and more leisure travelers are also purchasing smart phones.

The writer is senior business associate with NIIT Technologies.

Posted by: Kanishka Sharma AT 01:31 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, 05 October 2009
Though a recent state-of-the-industry study from Summit Research Associates reports languishing global kiosk installations, Summit founder Francie Mendelsohn believes the industry will see growth again starting in 2010. So why not use this fresh beginning to go one step further and embrace the growing demand for digital delivery and mobile self-service?
 
We all know kiosk adoption isn't a matter of getting apprehensive users to understand the technology anymore. They've proven that they comprehend and even prefer self-service. But for consumers to remain confident that anything a clerk can do they can do better, solutions providers and application developers must expand their ideas about what self-service means and give users more — and different — options.
 
In her analysis of the DVD kiosk segment, Mendelsohn warns that the application will be eclipsed by the digital delivery of films in upcoming years. In other words, while DVD kiosk brands are either suing Hollywood studios or wheeling and dealing with them, shoppers are wondering when digital distribution will be a reality. Not a day goes by that I don't see a Tweet from a redbox customer asking when she'll be able to download the movies she wants to watch instead of traveling to a kiosk, waiting in line and hoping the disc is in stock.
 
According to Video Business, Sony Home Entertainment and Universal Studios both already offer video on-demand service in the home through cable pay-per-view provider iN Demand, and both studios are working with others in Hollywood to provide a Web-based VOD service soon. To get a piece of the pie, self-service providers must find a viable way to deliver films digitally to consumers as well.
 
MOD Systems has gotten a foot in the door on the digital download front with an upcoming pilot deployment of kiosks that allow users to download movies to an SD card, which they then plug into their televisions. While the MOD pilot is a step in the right direction for the industry, I would guess that a small percentage of consumers own TVs with SD card slots and built-in media players, potentially making the solution impractical on a large scale.
 
These kinds of ideas are a start, but self-service providers have to figure out a way to offer digital distribution of films in a manner that makes sense for users and comes naturally to the consumer experience. And that may mean we need to let the definition of self-service evolve beyond the kiosk to accommodate the experience the technologically discerning consumer has come to expect.
 
Also in the Summit report, Mendelsohn says airline self-service will continue to move toward offering mobile capabilities — some carriers in Canada and Asia already offer the technology, and one U.S. carrier is testing it.
 
According to recent data from SITA, a provider of communications and I.T. solutions for the air-transport industry, 44 percent of passengers indicated positive feelings toward mobile self-check-in, and 66 percent of self-service check-in users said they would prefer an electronic boarding pass over a paper version. So while airlines are trying to figure out what else they can charge a fee for, travelers are wondering when they'll finally be able to head straight for security with their boarding passes on their smart phones.
 
But the beauty is that, although savvy movie lovers and travelers may be clamoring for the next big thing in self-service technology, the movement won't cannibalize current kiosk offerings. Kiosk developers have hit on something special, and self-service as we know it now isn't going anywhere.
 
For instance, SITA's survey also found that at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson Airport — which the company says is the world's busiest — a record 83.8 percent of passengers used self-service check-in. And, compared to the nearly half of travelers surveyed who said they felt positive about mobile check-in, an impressive two-thirds said the same about kiosk check-in.
 
Perhaps Dominique El Bez, SITA's director of portfolio marketing, said it best when I asked how kiosks are to stay relevant as technology and consumer demand change around them.  
 
"It is not about doing the same thing from a different channel," he said. "It is about doing things differently. Kiosk providers have to adapt rapidly and must consider the kiosk as a component of a holistic self-service transformation."
 
Caroline Cooper is editor of KioskMarketplace.com and SelfServiceWorld.com. To submit a comment, please e-mail her at carolinec@networldalliance.com.
Posted by: Caroline Cooper AT 01:21 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Wednesday, 06 May 2009
Last month, I was invited to visit the Microsoft Retail Experience Center near the company's headquarters in Redmond, Wash. We've talked about the REC before, as well as shared with you a video walkthrough, but I didn't want to miss the opportunity to see it first-hand.

It's a truly remarkable retail test lab, one that could easily be mistaken for a real electronics superstore, but you'd never know it if you drove by: The 20,000-square-foot facility is tucked away inside an unmarked building with no Microsoft signage anywhere to be seen. It's an invitation-only affair, a place where the company can bring retailers, partners and focus groups to test-run merchandising strategies and in-store technologies.

Stephen Sparrow, Microsoft's senior industry marketing manager for U.S. retail, is the driving force behind the center. He said his emphasis is on making the retail experience more connected, a word he uses a lot. It's at the core of his philosophy of what retail must become in order to thrive ? connecting stores with one another, with their employees, and with their customers.

"Disney used to say, when you're on a Disney cruise line, we'd better be able to recognize you as someone who just dropped four grand on a cruise," he said. "(We want to) create a world where you have more transparency, where you can deliver the right information and business insights to the right person, in an actionable way, when they need it and where they need it."

SLIDESHOW: Take a look inside the Microsoft Retail Experience Center

The store itself is a faux electronics store, replete with big-screen TVs, laptops, Xbox games and boxed software. But beneath the surface, the emphasis on connectedness bubbles up in some unique and new ways.

Take the shopping cart, with integrated touchscreen. Anyone who has attended a retail trade show in recent years has seen any number of such smart carts, but here it is integrated with the store's loyalty program to connect store database with shopper from the moment the shopping experience begins. An interactive store map, with turn-by-turn directions, not only delivers the shopper to the right place but builds an ever-growing pool of behavioral data.

Most of the products the shopper passes by in the store bear a Microsoft Tag, a technology that Sparrow calls "leveraged capital" ? a unique example of an in-store technology that the customer paid for himself, the cell phone. Giving a shopper a handheld scanner is one thing, but utilizing a device that is already in his pocket is quite another.

Giant touchscreens dot the walls, allowing customers to browse never-ending catalogs in a very intuitive fashion. Similarly hands-on experiences are served up by a Surface tabletop computer. In each instance, the devices in the store are pulling from the same central database, which not only insures a consistent experience, it saves the retailer time and money ? a screenshot or a product photo or a box cover need only be scanned once, and can then be automatically resized and repurposed for whatever touchpoint needs it.

Making the supply chain fully visible from source to shelf requires tagging, and in a perfect world, retailers will have RFID tags applied by the manufacturer. But for smaller retailers or those with a manageable assortment of products (or perhaps assortments from a large number of sources), the answer lies at the back of the REC. A desk bears a computer station with an RFID printer; as products come in the back door, a staffer prints a tag for each one and applies it to the box. Boxes are walked through a pair of reader gates, and from that moment on, the store is aware of each and every product for sale in the house.

In the back office, the database is mined through a data-rich but easy-to-understand management dashboard. From a single location, a manager can see any idiosyncrasy at the device level, and can make smart scheduling decisions. Color-coded feeds give real-time sales data, out-of-stock alerts, camera arrays, and even comparison charts detailing other stores in the network.

Sparrow pointed out that it's not just customers that benefit from the connected experience ? it empowers store managers to do their job better.

"You look at store managers ? retailers typically take their best sales rep and make him the manager and put him behind a desk with a Monday morning report," he said. "We say, give him that report mobile. And do it quickly, so he can get back on the sales floor, helping customers."

Sparrow said the REC is a "living, breathing facility," one that is evolving over time. In recent weeks, his team has begun experimenting with interactive storefront windows and new merchandising strategies.

"We understand that it's all about the customer? how do you help them find what they need," he said. "And how do you help the employee help that customer."
Posted by: James Bickers AT 05:30 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, 06 January 2009
As deployers and vendors look to maximize the value of self-service in the coming year, it helps to take a look back at what did (and didn't) work in 2008. As editor of SelfService.org, I've compiled some of the stories that rocked the industry last year. Here is Part I of that list.
 
 
#10: The Green Movement
There's no doubt that troubling weather patterns and dire warnings from some in the scientific community generated significant public concern about manmade carbon emissions. As a result, the heat was on for the manufacturing industry to take positive action to "greenify" their plants.
 
Companies in the self-service industry were no exception. As a result, NCR and IBM completely revamped their production processes to comply with Restriction of Hazardous Substances (ROHS) standards. NEXTEP SYSTEMS halted its practice of burying kiosks in landfills. Olea debuted a kiosk made from organic waste materials like cardboard and plastic. And NCR developed thermal technology enabling kiosks to print on both sides of receipts, thereby cutting back on paper waste.
 
#9: The Self-Service & Kiosk Association gets a new president
In April, Alex Richardson relinquished his role as president of the Self-Service & Kiosk Association to become president of the Digital Technology Alliance. As a result, the Advisory Board elected V. Miller Newton, chief executive of software vendor Netkey, to take the reigns as president.
 
Newton is widely recognized for playing a pivotal role in the success of Monster.com and told SelfService.org in a July interview that "I think it's somewhat important that we communicate the value and ROI of self-service in the marketplace. It's an extremely important initiative for companies, in terms of better service at a lower cost."
 
#8: 11 suspects indicted for infamous TJX card breach
The word came down from the U.S. Department of Justice in August: 11 suspects from five different countries had been indicted for allegedly using POS systems, wireless networks and self-service kiosks from a host of big-name retailers to steal cardholder data from roughly 45 million consumers. Affected retailers included names like TJ Maxx, BJs Wholesale Club, OfficeMax, Boston Market and Barnes & Noble. The thefts were uncovered in late 2006. Those charged included three U.S. citizens, one Estonian, three Ukrainians, two citizens from the Peoples Republic of China and one from Belarus.
 
#7: Self-Service & Kiosk Association introduces Best Practices Library
The TJX indictments prompted some self-service deployers to take a harder look at kiosk security, and the renewed emphasis couldn’t have come at a better time. One month earlier, in July, the Self-Service & Kiosk Association announced the release of its Best Practices Library – a collection of 10 online documents outlining best practices related to topics such as kiosk enclosures, photo kiosks, remote monitoring and system security. The library is available to association members only and can be accessed here.
 
#6: Mobile e-ticketing takes a big step forward
In Oct. 2007, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) passed a mandate for its 230 member airlines to replace magnetic stripe and one-dimensional barcode ticketing with boarding passes with two-dimensional barcodes. The adoption of that new technology paved the way for e-ticketing – the ability of the airlines to transmit scannable electronic boarding passes directly to the traveler’s cell phone display. Several airlines have since trialed the technology, including Continental Airlines, Northwest Airlines, Delta Airlines, Air Canada, British Midland Airways, Japan Airlines, China Southern Airlines and others.
Posted by: Travis K. Kircher AT 10:00 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, 31 March 2008
As the editor of Self-Service World, one of the many things that my colleague, Patrick Avery, does on a daily basis is comb the Web for stories that involve the self-service industry. Not too long ago, he found this gem, reported by the Isle of Man Newspapers:

                  British airline to charge those who don’t use kiosk

 

                  FlyBe has announced it may charge passengers in the future for using its check-in desks at Ronaldsway Airport . The airline plans to install self-service kiosks to speed up the process of checking in for flights. A spokesman for FlyBe said that passengers who wanted to continue to use the traditional check-in desk rather than the self-service kiosks could be charged for doing so in the future.

 
The story quotes an anonymous source who works for the airline as saying: “We have long been on record as saying that those passengers who want the personal service of a check-in desk or prefer to use one out of habit will be costing other passengers a lot of money.”
 
In essence:  Use self-service — or else.
 
At the risk of sounding like one of my high school English teachers (who on more than one occasion threatened to “staple my tongue to the Belvedere,” a local Louisville, Ky., landmark), I think there are two things we can glean from this story.
 
The first is the monumental significance of what the airline is proposing. A year ago — maybe two — the airline industry had representatives standing next to check-in kiosks, urging weary travelers to try the new-fangled self-service devices for the first time. Travelers were skeptical. What was up with these new devices? How did they work? Were they reliable? If I’m a passenger with reservations on a non-stop flight to Boise, is this kiosk going to print out a boarding pass for the red-eye to Tel Aviv?
 
And what about security? How could we be sure these self-service devices weren’t going to let the guy with two feet of firecracker wick trailing out of his Nikes get on the nearest 747?
 
Time has since allayed these uncertainties. Not only are the kiosks quick and easy to use, but they also cut down on check-in queues and, according to Air Canada, save on labor costs. What’s more, some custom-use self-service kiosks can in some ways actually help to improve airport security by providing a scanned record of passengers’ passports and other travel documents. And since even malevolent travelers with suspicious shoes still have to face live security screeners, there aren’t too many worries that the kiosks are going to be a free pass for anyone who walks in the door.
 
The bottom line is that the kiosks are a success. And it is because they are a success that FlyBe airlines is thinking about charging its customers who try to avoid the kiosks. It used to be that the onus was on the airline to prove that the kiosks were beneficial. Now it’s on the traveler to prove that they’re not. That says something about technology adoption.
 
The second thing I noticed about the article is the glaring use of the qualifier “may.” It’s not that FlyBe is going to start charging fans of live service ... but it "may."
 
Again, at the risk of sounding like my aforementioned high-school English teacher (who, after reviewing our test grades on another occasion, threatened to throw herself off the Second Street Bridge — another local landmark) that qualifier makes a world of difference.
 
Congress may balance the budget next year. We may have a manned mission to Mars by 2020 (although this story makes the prospect seem less likely). There may be another Star Wars movie. At this moment, Bigfoot may be at your home, sitting in your Lazy-Boy eating your nachos.
 
So what does “may” tell us here?
 
FlyBe is absolutely, positively, 100-percent certain that charging the kiosk-averse is the right thing to do ... but even FlyBe has its doubts. That’s why the “may” is there. (Given the hesitation, one wonders why the airline chose to announce its intentions at all. I mean, why give away the fact that you may or may not do something? Perhaps it was a test.)
 
It’s an interesting crossroads for the airline — and airlines everywhere, I suppose.
 
FlyBe will be seen either as a pioneer or that dog in the Aesop fable that dropped the bone in the creek while trying to steal from its own reflection.
 
So how will consumers see it? Economists will say that depends on which side of the demand curve the proposal falls on. I’ve racked my brain trying to come up with an example of a similar crossroads in another industry, and I keep coming back to the Internet. After online ordering took off, merchants started dishing out significant discounts to customers who chose to buy online rather than in the physical store. Maybe this is like that.
 
Looking at FlyBe’s proposal, one can see pros and cons.
 
The Pros: Adoption will increase; costs will decrease. FlyBe could potentially save more in labor costs. Since fewer customers will visit the check-in desk, FlyBe will need fewer attendants. On the consumer side, travelers will probably be able to move through the check-in process more quickly. Additionally, people who may have been afraid of the technology in the past will now have an impetus to check it out, and discover just how user-friendly it can be.
  
The Cons: FlyBe runs the risk of backlash. Purists who insist on speaking to a human being at the check-in desk might rebel and seek out a different airline.
 
Either way, however, FlyBe is considering a policy that demonstrates just how far self-service has come. Are self-service check-in kiosks ready to become mandatory devices? Are consumers ready for it? Are the airlines ready for it? Is FlyBe’s proposal good for the industry?

What do you think? Send your comments (anonymously if you like) to travisk@networldalliance.com and I’ll consider posting them in my next column.
Posted by: Travis K. Kircher AT 10:39 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
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