Despite a massive pollen dusting from the southern pines, one of the most beautiful areas in the country in April is North Carolina. It was no coincidence that SSKA Executive Director David Drain and I chose this time of year to visit the Tar Heel State, which also happens to be a hotbed for self-service technology.
IBM, Research Triangle Park, N.C. — Our first meeting was with IBM in its Triangle Park complex, which is where the popular Anyplace kiosk is developed. We began by meeting with Juhi Jotwani, director of marketing and strategy for retail, who believes that the future of self-service in all industries is bright.
“If anyone thinks they have all the answers, they’re completely wrong,” Jotwani said. “But self-service is a high growth environment and we think it is the right industry to invest in.”
IBM Marketing Manager Bruce Rasa led us through one of IBM’s self-service development labs and later into its Executive Briefing Center, where IBM has set up mock retail stores to demonstrate new self-service technology using the Anyplace kiosk.
Joining us on our tour of IBM was Carrie Reuben from SmartVista Technologies. Her company specializes in designing software for educational programs using kiosks, and is a reseller of IBM’s Anyplace kiosk.
ArcaTech Systems, Mebane, N.C. – Located in tiny Mebane (rhymes with “heaven”), ArcaTech is a company of 35 employees that specializes in the integration of cash automation machines for financial institutions and retail outfits. Its cash dispensers and currency recyclers, like those used in ATM systems, act as safes that recognize, count and dispense currency of all denominations. ArcaTech has over 200 OEM customers and supplies bill dispensers to IBM for self-checkout.
SAS Institute, Cary, N.C. – How much would you pay for yesterday’s newspaper? Not much, right? Now, how much is tomorrow’s paper worth? – That’s how Michael Penwell of SAS describes the goal of the company’s business analytics software. Penwell, applications developer of video
communications and new media, took us on a tour of two SAS TV studios used for recording webcasts and promotions to be aired on its BetterManagement.com website.
Michael Penwell of SAS points out the features of their marketing kiosk.
SAS is the largest privately held software company with an annual revenue of $2 billion, half of which comes from outside of the US.
SAS has deployed 12 kiosks in its office buildings that serve mainly as marketing tools. It also use these kiosks during trade shows and run a digital signage network with similar marketing intentions.
ESP, Zebulon, N.C. – Electronic Systems Protection manufactures a critical kiosk component that is often overlooked by deployers: a power filter.
“Power filters are a staple in the office supply industry, but haven’t caught on with kiosk deployers yet,” said Mike Honkomp, director of new market development. Honkomp says regular surge protectors aren’t enough to protect kiosk units from damage caused by power spikes or lightning, not to mention electrical noise that can cause computers to freeze up like our home PCs. Power spikes can also come through phone lines and Ethernet cables, which are commonly hooked up to kiosks.
ESP has worked with Olea, Dekko and other kiosk manufacturers who have integrated ESP power filters into its kiosk systems. A 62-employee company, ESP does all of their manufacturing in-house.
David Perrotta of demostrates the soldering process for ESP's circuit boards.
Meridian Kiosks, Aberdeen, N.C. – Upon entering its showroom in the North Carolina Sandhills, I noticed Meridian’s sleek Monarch kiosk looked very familiar. And it was. I had seen it the previous day in SAS’s lobby.
Meridian president Chris Gilder admits his company is laying low and spending time on development rather than advertising, however, Meridian’s kiosks have been used by Mazda, Shop to Cook and Red Bull. Meridian is now showing its DS-42p, a 42-inch vertical touchscreen kiosk.
Like the sleek DS-42p and Monarch kiosks, Meridian believes simpler is better when it comes to design, for many reasons.
“A lot of kiosks are over-designed,” Gilder said. “By doing our own in-house fabrication, we’ve been able to design out some of the cost.”
Meridian's DS-42p kiosk with interactive touchscreen.
Gilbarco, Greensboro, N.C. – As one of the leading manufacturers of gas pumps, Gilbarco became one of the pioneers of self-service when it introduced pay-at-the-pump in the late ‘70s. After 30 years of encouraging pay-at-the-pump, convenience stores are finding they are losing revenue on food and other in-store products from people not entering the store. After recently acquiring Intermedia Kiosks, a self-ordering provider for foodservice, Gilbarco is working on new promotional ideas through its outdoor pay-at-the-pump systems.
Freedom Shopping, Hickory, N.C. – Freedom Shopping stood out as being a company whose entire interest exists on the cusp of future kiosk technology. It creates RFID-powered mini-marts that can allow customers to check out in as little as six seconds.
Designed for use in hotels and cafeterias, the mini-marts feature products tagged with RFID sensors that are instantly rung up when placed in front of a check-out kiosk. In hotels, customers can enter their name and room number and be settled up in a matter of seconds. For other applications, the kiosk features a bill acceptor and card reader.
For the retailer, Freedom Shopping has created a remote-managed back-end that aids in inventory and promotions. Freedom Shopping can also access this area to provide up-to-the-second maintenance. For end-users, the touchscreen features a “Live Help” button that cuts out the middle-men and connects them directly to tech support at the Hickory headquarters.
Source Technologies, Charlotte, N.C. – Our final stop was Source Technologies, a company that began by making bank printers and has expanded into financial self-service. Source integrates their printers and check scanners into their 3, 5, and 7 product lines of advanced financial services kiosks. Like BMW, each series is larger with more bells and whistles.
Glen Fossella, GM of controlled-print solutions, says Source is striving to standardize financial services kiosks, much like our PCs have standard components and standard operating systems. The goal is to be able to offer a low cost, off-the-shelf kiosk solution that may be quickly deployed.
Source also demonstrated its interactive kiosk planning program, which can be found on their website. As Engineering Manager Kevin Kennedy explained, the program goes beyond general help, providing 10 steps containing specific questions about integration, components, and even color. The end result is a customized kiosk idea that can be sent to Source’s developers.