The Perspective 
Tuesday, 20 January 2015

David McCracken
Livewire Digital

Pizza Hut is probably the last place in the world I’d expect to be wowed by technology. Don’t get me wrong, I love sinking my choppers into a stuffed crust as much as the next guy, but there’s not much about the restaurant chain that screams “on the cutting edge of tech.” But I can admit when I’m wrong, and boy was I wrong about this. (Watch this video and you’ll see why.)

The interactive tabletops Pizza Hut is introducing are not only fun and different, they virtually eliminate the major pain points of eating at a restaurant. They remove the annoyance of having a slow server, so you can order your food the instant you’re ready. They also take human error out of the ordering process. No matter how complicated your order, the self-service process nearly ensures it will arrive at your table correctly.

What makes the touch screens so effective is their ability to help customers visualize and customize exactly what they’re ordering. But pizza is not the only place you’re going to start seeing this new technology. Look at all the applications that are going to be happening in other industries:

1. Retail

Soon touch screens will be used like a virtual dressing room in clothing stores. Customers select a model who has a similar body type to theirs and swipe to try out different combinations of clothing styles, sizes, and colors. Then they select the favorite items, head to the register, and a sales associate meets them with their purchases, ready to check out.

2. Hospitality

Soon desks in hotel rooms will double as interactive, self-service concierges. Guests can order room service, wake-up calls, laundry services, and more. They can also browse through information on different restaurants and attractions in the surrounding area and easily make reservations straight through the touch screen software. It’s easy to see how advertising will play a key part in this set up.

3. Tourism

We’re already seeing travel centers using these types of touch screens as giant interactive brochures. Tourists touch and drag on activities, attractions, and hotels from a map onto the calendar to plan out their travel schedules. Since they can be updated in real time, these types of screens often include travel times and prices to give tourists a comprehensive overview of vacations options.

The possibilities are endless with this incredible self-service software. Here’s a restaurant that’s using these tabletops to educate diners about the origins and characteristics of different foods. What creative uses can you see for this technology?

Posted by: Admin AT 09:44 am   |  Permalink   |  
Tuesday, 04 February 2014

Laura Miller
Director of Marketing

Usability can make or break the success of any new website, application, or software. Also known as the UI (user interface) or UX (user experience), usability refers to the user's ability to successfully navigate a product in the manner intended to accomplish the desired tasks. There are entire industries built around better understanding these experiences, from optimizing a website checkout process to encouraging users to visit a particular page. These research industries use buzzwords like Voice of the Customer, Consumer Obsession, and User Experience Advocate and they staunchly advocate that nothing be deployed without an extensive cycle of research, testing, revision and testing.

Why usability testing?

Why is usability testing so necessary? While the layout, process, verbiage and navigation of a website, program or application may make sense to those involved in the design, they don't always seem so obvious to the user. Age, technical savvy, and education may play a role in how a user navigates, but so too may cultural differences, intended goal, and fresh eyes. Knowing your user, and their abilities, goals, and environment are key components to creating a successful product.

Why does UX matter?

Why should we care about User Experience? Self-service kiosks are responsible for setting up a user's experience with a brand. There are many moving parts in a kiosk deployment. Three that come to mind from the start include: hardware, application/program, and lockdown software. Watching how these things work together to make for a comprehensive user experience is an important component to a successful and enjoyable user experience.

Kiosk usability fail

Here's one example of how a kiosk deployment can fail (and yet, still "succeed") in a restaurant environment. The waiter, in this example, finds a workaround for a system that is not serving their needs. It's a must read for any naysayers of usability testing and observation as a means of testing and refining software. According to the author, "Computer systems are not always used as the developers suppose." As evident in this example, computer systems are not always used as the developers intended, nor as they would hope. More importantly, a complicated system is not always the answer.

The only way to know how users will interact with your kiosk is to observe them via lab controlled usability testing and in-field studies. In addition to traditional observation techniques, technologies such as heat mapping and eye tracking can also be used to better understand the user experience. Kiosk software with server capabilities can also assist in gathering usage statistics. In future posts, we'll identify common usability errors, solutions, and research methods.

Are you observing your kiosk in action? Does your client allow time for testing? What is your favorite example of something you discovered (and corrected) through usability testing?

Posted by: Admin AT 11:14 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
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, 01 June 2009

As more and more technology is introduced to the marketplace, consumers have become increasingly fickle about technology adoption. Gone are the times when a company could develop a widget with all the bells and whistles that could still be profitable, even though it took an end user three weeks to figure out how to change any of the settings. Think of the old VHS players, and how most people couldn’t even set the clocks. It has become more and more important to develop a product that is usable and intuitive to the end user; in fact, I would argue that entire companies have failed because their products have lacked these characteristics.

Usability and the user experience are critical to the success of any new consumer technology. These are even more critical in a kiosk program, which directly interacts with a consumer and is meant to be successful in a self-service manner, without human assistance. If someone tries to use a kiosk, whether it is an airline check-in kiosk, rental car kiosk, hotel kiosk or health screening kiosks and the experience isn’t nailed down, they won’t become a repeat user, or worse, they will discourage others from using it.

The understanding of technology companies around the user experience is becoming ever more obvious. Look at the leaps in improvement seen in cell phone navigation or GPS use. Only a handful of years ago, these devices had owners’ manuals that were thicker than most college engineering text books, and it took an end user every page to figure out how to use them. Now, one can typically pick up the device and intuitively navigate through the most basic and heavily used functions without much effort.

While I would argue that this is more art than science, there is an element of human factor analysis and determining someone’s mental model that aids designers in determining how to create a great user experience. There are a handful of firms that really understand how technology and human interaction can be done seamlessly to create a rich experience.

SoloHealth’s Experience

At SoloHealth we are developing a novel, new-to-the-world device. EyeSite is a self-service vision screening kiosk meant to educate consumers on the importance of eye health and motivate them to get comprehensive eye exams. The service is free for consumers and typically placed in high-traffic retail environments. We have discovered, first hand, the importance of the user experience.

We are asking consumers to interact with technology in a way that they have never done before. While most people have taken a traditional eye exam or screening, either at their eye care practitioner or early in school, they have always had instructions and continuous feedback about the process, usually from live people. So when we automate the process and leave the pace, process, inputs and interpretation to the end user, it leaves room for frustration, misunderstanding and worst of all, abandonment.

One of the best things that we at SoloHealth have done is to spend a good amount of time developing the user experience through quick and dirty testing, before spending one minute writing software code. This is the single biggest piece of advice I can give to another kiosk, or product, developer. Test your product as easily and efficiently as you can. In our case we created a paper mockup of various screen designs and ran a host of novice users through the paper mockup. We could quickly iterate our designs, message, application flow and communication tools in a matter of minutes. This helped us get 80 percent of the experience nailed down before investing any time or dollars in to the software. As most people know, iterating a product through multiple prototypes is very timely and costly.

Once we had a product that worked and a user experience with which we were comfortable, we tested just one kiosk. This way we could gauge real consumer experiences and refine the product further, before getting too many units produced and having to manage a network. Our motto was 80 percent and go, and churn, baby, churn!

We are continuously measuring completion rate and where in the program a user drops out of the application, as well as conducting intercept tests to understand consumer reaction and overall consumer satisfaction of the user experience. We constantly test new ways to communicate information, including different button styles, locations on the screen, simpler screen layouts, etc. The continuous improvement process is never-ending, and the minute you take your eye off of your product and the consumer behavior, you leave the door open for your competition.

As technology gets more sophisticated, consumers do as well, but their innate human behavior still influences how they use products. If you can find the mental model through which the majority of consumers look at life and the lens through which they filter things, you can harness this to your advantage.

The writer is vice president of operations and development for SoloHealth.

Posted by: Stephen Kendig AT 12:43 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 16 December 2008
Whether it's a survey kiosk or a check-in kiosk, an important facet of any self-service deployment is the ability of the user to input information. Digital touchscreen technology has made it possible for the user to type in his information on a virtual keyboard shown on a touchscreen monitor. Is the high-tech option the best to use, or are old-fashioned tactile keyboards the better choice? Tim Burke, owner of Electronic Art, explains the advantages of each option on an IBM Anyplace kiosk.

Posted by: Tim Burke AT 12:24 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 13 October 2008
Our company often has prospects looking for kiosk hardware or software who have not thought through the entire experience. This includes not considering the amount of information on screen that a person is willing to read while standing at a kiosk, or considering how the person interacts with the software.
A common example is the keyboard. The basic question, "Should I have a keyboard on my kiosk?" doesn't seem to go through their minds, so it's our job to help them think through this when we consult for them.
Think about it. You have a touchscreen kiosk with a killer app that is going to make your company money, reward your customers, streamline operations, etc. Why do you need a keyboard when you can just have an onscreen keyboard?
In our experience, there are some pros and cons to having only a touchscreen keyboard. By relying on the touch keyboard, you will need to consider the interface and how much real estate it will consume onscreen. This means you have less space for your content or the form fields where the user will enter data. It also increases your software development budget, as the keyboard needs to be integrated, customized to your branding, etc.
But one of the biggest reasons not to use an onscreen keyboard for your kiosk is your customer. As long as you only are asking for small amounts of data, an onscreen keyboard is great. But if you are asking for much typing from the customer, we have found that the adoption rate or completion rate drops considerably. Nobody wants to enter as much data as they would on a Web page, when using a touch keyboard. The user is not accustomed to the flat surface that is perpendicular to the ground, and they will type much slower. A traditional keyboard sits flat and with proper ergonomics, a person can type very fast.
So if you are asking for a good deal of typing from your customers, consider a tradtional tactile qwerty keyboard. While users will still type slower than what they are used to when they are in their comfy chair in front of their desk, it will be more natural for them and you will get better participation in your programs. There are many different styles to chose from, and each kiosk vendor has their own preferences based upon testing, availability, durability, etc.
At Electronic Art, we integrated a smaller keyboard with a built-in trackpad, which requires less cleaning than a trackball and has no moving parts. We believe more people are comfortable with a trackpad that is similar to laptops, than an ball system. The keyboard is not hardened or vandal resistant, but it is also about one-sixth of the cost of a hardened keyboard. We rarely have problems with them, and when we do, it is easy to replace.
Hardened keyboards or vandal-resistant keyboards are very cool. They are well engineered to resist spills, prying off of keys, breakage, and they are made to take many more cycles of up/down on the keys. There are many reasons to consider using them, such as when you have a kiosk in an unattended environment like a shopping mall. But if you are using it in a monitored area, such as a retail shop, you may find them to be overkill. They also are often harder to depress (slightly) and flat without finger curves on top, which can lead some users to type slower, or it can leave them with a negative experience that makes them feel uncomfortable. Some models are also not in a typical configuration, so the space bar or control keys are in places you would not expect. They add $200-$450 to the cost of a kiosk on average. There are both ruggedized plastic or metal versions depending on your risk tolerance.
Another cool keyboard concept is the software/hardware from Staco Switch that allows onscreen keyboards to feel as if you are really touching a button. It sounds impossible, but when touching the screen it gives the right vibrations to your brain, making you feel like you just depressed a physical button. I'm so hoping to get a customer that will want to integrate this great attention getter into their applications. It would be great on kiosks or touchscreen digital signage.
Recently, our technical director passed on a link to me about a brand new methodology of using onscreen keyboards called Swype. While in it's infancy, it seems really cool. Instead of touching each letter individually, you draw a path between letters and a word matching search engine provides predictive text to speed up your typing. CNet did a quick video on their site about it from the TechCrunch50 show. It would not work for every project, and introducing a new mindset on input may confuse your customers, so you should only use it when appropriate to your audience. And expect to have to give assistance while people learn it, but it can provide an impactful wow factor to your edgy project!
So no matter if you plan to use a physical keyboard or an onscreen keyboard, consider your customer. What will they prefer, and what will be most intuitive and easy for them. Test with A/B testing if you have a budget. But don't let the input method get in the way of your killer app and kiosk's success.
Tim Burke is the owner of Electronic Art.
Posted by: Tim Burke AT 12:08 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
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.
Microsoft Windows
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:
Netstop Pro
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.
Posted by: Tim Burke AT 11:00 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 25 August 2008
I'm often surprised by the size and immobility of many kiosks I encounter in my daily travels. Somewhat like the pillars at Stonehenge, they beckon from afar, yet they also obstruct the view and limit alternate uses of the surrounding space. Sure, there often are reasons for this —peripherals need to be concealed, security concerns addressed, branding efforts made.
However, as one observes users of all shapes and sizes contorting themselves to view a fixed-position screen, not to mention non-users continually circumnavigating the monoliths, there might be a better way. A strong case often can be made for what I like to think of as "the kiosk that isn't there," a kiosk installation that provides the necessary functionality without consuming excessive space and adding visual clutter to a room. A kiosk that can be accessed when needed, but which doesn't obstruct the flow of foot traffic or limit use of the space.
Recent years have seen the introduction of high-quality all-in-one kiosk units that combine monitor and computer into one compact package. These units offer strategic advantages over set ups that require separate monitors and computers, advantages that become even more attractive when the kiosks are mounted to a wall or vertical surface:
  • The primary benefit of an enclosureless kiosk is the minimized footprint. If the kiosk is wall-mounted, the footprint disappears entirely. Space always is tight, so many store operators might jump at the chance to free space currently occupied by an enclosure, especially if they can do so without giving up kiosk functionality. They get to have their kiosk and floorspace, too.
  • Usability and accessibility can be dramatically enhanced, particularly if a height-adjustable mounting arm is used. This type of mount 'floats' the kiosk in the air, allowing the user to effortlessly raise and lower the screen. This enables users of varying sizes to each achieve an optimal viewing angle.
  • Easy repositioning and stowing of the kiosk means that the space can have multiple uses. This provides flexibility for the retailer, essential in a fast-changing business environment.
  • Shipping costs are reduced, since eliminating the enclosure reduces total kiosk weight and bulk.
  • In spite of the lack of enclosure, kiosk security and cable management can be maintained, and even enhanced, if the mounting solution incorporates cable management and quality security features.
We have worked with many remarkable kiosk implementations that have taken advantage of this footprint-free setup, and have been amazed by the variety of uses, as well as the resulting benefits to users and kiosk owners. A retailer added kiosk-based music listening stations without sacrificing valuable floor space. A fast-food restaurant added in-booth kiosks without having to remove seating. A gaming operation added unobtrusive table-side betting. The possibilities seem endless.
If you are researching mounting solutions for your kiosk, here are a few points to keep in mind as you evaluate contending products:
  • Seek out durable, high-quality products. You expect your kiosks to maximize uptime, so you should expect the same from your mounts. Ask the provider about cycle-testing results to be sure you are purchasing a product that has been put through the ringer (before your users do it themselves).
  • Think about the aesthetics. Does the mount fit stylistically with the overall space? A high-end retailer, for example, likely will want something that aligns with the desired store image. At the least, the mount should be unobtrusive so as not to take away from the brand image.
  • Seek a vendor with the ability to customize product to meet your project requirements. You don't need to settle for off-the-shelf solutions if you partner with a vendor experienced in customizing its product.
  • Keep it simple. You need mounts that are easy for installers to work with, and easy for users to operate. The key word is 'intuitive.' You can assume that anything too complicated will not be used correctly, if at all.
To be sure, an enclosureless kiosk is not right for every project — you wouldn't want to distribute cash this way, for example. However, for applications that don't require peripherals beyond monitor, computer and perhaps a keyboard, it's definitely worth taking a look at the kiosk that isn't there.
Joe Tosolt is the Marketing Manager for Innovative Office Products. Innovative has incorporated years of experience in mounting solutions into a leading line of flexible mounts for monitors and kiosks. Custom mount design services are available.
Posted by: Joe Tosolt AT 11:55 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Has this ever happened to you? 
You walk into a store or a business and see on a display counter or lobby desk a dilapidated PC sitting forlornly, unused and unappreciated, only to realize the poor PC is intended to provide self-service? 

Or perhaps instead it is a beautifully branded specialty kiosk, but with a screen that is either dead, showing the Windows desktop or — having been hacked — is displaying something entirely inappropriate?  James_Kruper.jpg

Both are classic self-service failures, and I always wonder what circumstances transpired to cause these outcomes. Deep down inside, I also wonder whether the outcome would have been different had I been involved in the project.

I like to think the answer is always a resounding "Yes!," but sometimes it isn't that simple. 
What is clear is that failed self-service projects are, by definition, very public and highly visible disasters for our industry. Everyone who comes into that store or business sees the failure. The self-service market is growing rapidly and is remarkably well-accepted by the general public, so I don't believe the occasional project failure is overly threatening to the health of the industry. However, I do believe the industry could be even further along its penetration curve if there were more successful projects.

The three-legged stool
There are many ways that a project can fail. Perhaps the most obvious is a poorly designed application. However, I will address two others: Hardware and kiosk system software.

When describing a successful project to a new deployer, I often use the analogy of a three-legged stool. The three legs are the software application, the hardware and the kiosk system software.

Without all three legs, the stool will topple.

The software application leg is almost always present because this leg typically is what drove creation of the project in the first place. Without an application, there is no project. It may be a poorly designed application, but at least it exists.

The hardware leg is the physical manifestation of the project and generally takes the form of standard kiosk-industry components and perhaps a company-branded OEM enclosure. Sometimes, but not very often, a standard PC with perhaps a touchscreen display is appropriate. Due to the capital-intensive nature of kiosk hardware, this leg too often is compromised. This can cause the kiosk to be used less than it theoretically could be, or in the worst case, be totally unuseable.

The kiosk system software is the most likely leg to be missing because it generally is invisible to the user, so deployers either think the software is unnecessary or aren't aware it exists.

What is kiosk system software? It is a software layer that locks down the computer and prevents users from going places they shouldn't. It can perform usage logging, which reports how often the application is being used, and remote monitoring, which checks that the kiosk is always up and running without error. In short, it is what ensures the software application is always available to the user.

If the deployer develops the project from the perspective of the user, he may miss the need for system software entirely. Or, a deployer may decide he can develop a partial homegrown solution such as using OS system policies to lock down the computer. Sometimes, the software application is developed to also provide kiosk system software functionality; however, that requires very specialized knowledge and experience, and with many self-service applications being browser-based, it is very difficult to combine the two software legs of the stool.

Project on the rebound
We get many desperate phone calls after a project has been deployed. 

Generally, either the hardware leg or the kiosk system software leg of the stool is missing. Sometimes, both legs are missing. Hardware vendors know that one of two outcomes will occur when the hardware leg is missing: The deployer eventually will find the money to invest in hardware, or the project will be cancelled as a failure. The former is not ideal, but at least the proper hardware eventually is purchased. The latter is the true tragedy because the opportunity has been lost and how long will it be before that organization tries again? 

Because the kiosk system software leg is not as capital intensive as hardware, generally as soon as the light bulb turns on in the deployer's head, the problem is resolved.

Unfortunately, sometimes the light bulb never turns on.

A call to action
What can be done? Education will go a long way. Both hardware and software vendors need to ensure that their clients fully understand the need for all three legs of the stool: Application, hardware and system software. I know that I am guilty of occasionally focusing too much on the software aspect of a project, but it isn't done purposely. Often a deployer will contact me, but they are talking to me for my software expertise. They don't necessarily want to talk to me about hardware, and sometimes that is where the discussion ends. 

As an industry, we need to concentrate on keeping the discussion going.

James Kruper is the president of Analytical Design Solutions Inc., one of the association's vendor members. Check out his previous column, which was published in April: Self-service and digital signage can co-exist.

Posted by: James Kruper AT 11:49 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 05 August 2008
EDITOR'S NOTE: View comments on this commentary and post your own by clicking here.
I've been musing for some time now about kiosks and the ability to go green. Last year, IBM announced that they were going to make their new IBM AnyPlace kiosks more green and environmentally friendly. At first you think ... it's a computer, how green could it be? Well, for starters they are using more recycled plastic, lower power consumption CPUs, no paints in their finishes, and processes that take less energy to produce parts. This is a good start toward green; I love it when a big corporation refines its product and processes to be more efficient.
Another kiosk hardware vendor, Olea, has produced a kiosk enclosure out of sorghum plants. It was first shown at the NRF in Jan 2008 and again at KioskCom 2008. While not a production-ready unit, it shows that it can be done. Their enclosure looked like a box made out of bamboo, but it was actually an engineered panel made from sorghum waste material. That is a great idea and our hats are off to Olea for engineering this enclosure. The concept gets our creative juices flowing about how to make a more environmentally friendly kiosk.
I guess when steel is required for security and durability in public spaces, we could try to use only recycled steel for our enclosures. But what about alternative materials such as the laminated plant panels Olea created; is there a good green kiosk material, such as this, out there that we can use? If you know of any good environmentally friendly materials that can be used structurally, pass on the idea. Perhaps we will build it. As I continue to muse about the topic, I wonder where I can go to learn more about green building materials? I suppose it would be the same trade shows that builders and architects attend? There must be a central place to locate these types of materials. I just have to hunt them down.
Other industries are using green materials to build their products, and I'd love to see some examples that may spark ideas for our kiosk industry. Readers, what have you seen out there? Does your company produce green materials? If so, comment below or e-mail me your thoughts.
Tim Burke is the owner of Electronic Art. This column first appeared on his blog, "Kiosks Changing Self-Service."
Read also: Five steps to a greener kiosk.
Read also: IBM retail tech goes green.
Posted by: Tim Burke AT 11:49 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 29 July 2008
I just got off the phone with yet another panicked customer. The story is always the same: their focus in the design of their self-service system is on the exterior appearance, on the screen size, on the housing color and on the many outer options that they have to select. 
It's not until the last minute that they remember the largely hidden printer. 
"It's just a module we can drop in to our beautiful cabinet, right?"
The panic begins when they realize how wrong they are.
Due to my position with HECON/Hengstler and my long association with the printer industry, my perspective is clearly from the printer point of view. However, I've spoken to other suppliers of the internal kiosk elements, and they have the same problem. Designers too often assume that the printer, bill or coin acceptor, card reader, bar code scanner, etc., can be easily added as an afterthought. Unfortunately, that’s rarely the case. 
Since I'm a printer guy, I'll use a printer application to make my point, but please remember that this applies to every technical component in the kiosk.
First, to begin selecting the printer we have to determine some basics, and the fastest way to do that is to ask about the application. What does the customer want to print? Maps? Receipts? Bridal registry listings? Vouchers that can be exchanged for cash? Web pages? 
These answers help us to focus on the paper width that must be printed. Web pages and bridal registry output is usually letter-sized (8½ inches wide).  Maps might be 8½ inches, or might be narrower. Vouchers and receipts are usually narrow, typically falling into the 2-3/8 inches (60 mm) or 3¼ inches (80-82.5 mm) paper width ranges. 
Also, maps and Web pages may require color; then again, with the increased operating costs, they may not. Receipts and vouchers are usually black and white.
So we've determined the technology that's needed (laser for color and thermal for black and white) and the paper width. Both these choices impact the basic kiosk design, as space must be allowed for the printer and special attention must be paid to cooling if a laser printer is used. 
But this is just the first step. Let's assume that we've settled on a 60 mm receipt printer in thermal technology. HECON/Hengstler eXtendo series thermal printers are ideal for such an application. This new line of printers has a very wide feature set, so the customer has a lot of choices that will allow him to minimize his costs while still buying the features he needs.
The next question is, "How much printing is going to be done?" In other words:
  • How long is the average receipt?
  • How many receipts will be printed on an average day?
  • How frequently are you willing to replace the paper?
These three questions together determine the size of the paper roll, one of the issues frequently overlooked by kiosk designers. Say you'll print an average of 100 six-inch receipts a day, and that a technician visits the kiosk once a month.
100 receipts x 6 inches/receipt x 1/12 foot/inch x 30 days = 1500 feet.
Assuming a one-inch diameter core and 60 g/m² thermal paper, that's a roll diameter of approximately 7.8 inches. This means that the kiosk enclosure itself must allow enough room for both the printer and a paper roll almost 8 inches in diameter.  That's something that would certainly be useful to know while you were designing the enclosure!
How fast do we need to print? 
Let me guess…you're thinking, "As fast as possible, stupid!" 
Not necessarily. The size (and therefore the cost) of the power supply operating the kiosk and the printer is dependent upon print speed. The faster you print, the more current you need. If this forces the designer to move to the next larger power supply, then you've increased your costs, perhaps unnecessarily. In some applications, a very fast print speed is critical. For example, if people are queued up to board a train, and you are printing tickets, you may want to allow only a few seconds per passenger in order to get them on board quickly. But in most cases, print speed is not that critical. 
Let's take our example. A six-inch receipt printing at 250 mm/second will take 0.61 seconds to print.  The same receipt at 125 mm/second (half the original speed) takes 1.22 seconds. Is it worth the extra cost to save your customer 0.61 seconds waiting for his receipt?
With the subject of print speed we are really talking about output speed. This assumes that we can get the data into the printer faster than the printer can print it. To ensure this, we must select an interface that will transfer data quickly enough. The options include USB, parallel and serial. The option you choose depends upon the type of printing you do (either using a driver, which prints everything as though it were graphics, or using the internal character set of the printer.)
We still haven't addressed many issues that have to be considered. Is a cutter needed? How about a presenter? If there is no presenter, how will you prevent vandalism? You can drop the receipt into a chute, but that must be part of the enclosure design. How many USB ports do you have available? Serial ports? Is your operating system Windows, Linux, or something else?
Hopefully you're getting my point. The manufacturers and suppliers of the components in your kiosk are a valuable resource to help you make the best decisions in your design. Involving the suppliers of all the kiosk components early on in the deployment ensures the most cost-effective, timely design effort…and keeps you out of panic mode!
Posted by: Charles B. Levinski AT 11:47 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 08 July 2008
Design is an interesting thing because it is so subjective. Everyone has an opinion on design, what they like, what they prefer, even if they don't understand what drives their opinions. Sometimes kiosk interface design can become very complex, hard to navigate and frankly too much to look at. Often, simple is better. It's better because it is easy for the viewer to understand the purpose, and easier for their eyes to focus on important content.
Design can set the mood. Visually simple design can set a calming mood and affect the user's experience. Busy designs or designs with heavy animation can create a sense of high energy and can be good for kiosks with a multimedia or entertainment purpose. But either way, design should be strategic with the goals and the user in mind. If budget allows, do focus groups or A/B testing to see which designs provide the desired results or actions by the guests.
Just be careful of the dreaded "design by committee" which is when multiple people within a corporate setting feel they have to interject their own design ideas, and in the end you get a Frankenstein design, which often is poor. Trust talented design professionals who went to school for design and know how to effectively engage. Just be sure to give them all of the strategic goals up front so they can consider them when conceiving the designs.
While I'm not a good designer myself, I did attend art college and know how the creative process works (I ended up in photography). I also have managed interactive teams with design agencies for nearly 10 years for major brands, and know both the account executive side of things as well as the designer or producer side of things. Give a good designer the right information, and you'll be happy with the results.
In my blog, I often reference kiosks I see out in the real world, and the image shown here is from a local Verizon Wireless store near my home. I took the images with a camera phone so please excuse the quality. This check-in kiosk is simple in design, which makes it easy to understand and the guest quickly can perform the task at hand. Branding is consistent with VZW's other corporate material and onscreen media. Our company has done mobile marketing kiosks for Verizon Wireless and while the design is a bit more creative on ours, you would still tie the two together in regards to branding.
The purpose of this kiosk was to quickly get the patrons to the store into a queue for service.
The store always is busy, and they find it to be most effective to get them into the system and then allow them to wander the store until their name is called or posted on digital signage in the store. This prevents them from standing in a physical line, when they could be exploring new phones and accessories or making impulse purchases. It was pretty effective and made the process clear.
More images of the interface are available on my Flickr account here: along with other retail examples.
The photos show the hardware, as well as the onscreen interface to allow the guest to self-serve and get checked in.
Check-in kiosks are a common form of self-service. We have developed check-in kiosks for an American Express sponsored event where guests registered online before the event, and checked in at the kiosks once at the event. They confirmed their information and registered for the door prize at the kiosks. They also filled out a short survey that enabled us to gather yet more demographics and learn more about them. Amex and other sponsors had onscreen branding and expo information. The beauty of this type of setup is that it allows you to measure attendance, build your profiles of your guests for remarketing purposes later, provide automated sweepstakes winners on site and more. All done electronically, not by hand and by paper, thus speeding up the time for turn around of data for data mining, removing double keying and lowering error rates.
Check-in kiosks can take many shapes, event check-in, hotel check-in or retail check-in such as this example above. How might your company use check-in kiosks?
Tim Burke is the owner of Electronic Art. This column first appeared on his blog, "Kiosks Changing Self-Service."
Posted by: Tim Burke AT 11:40 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Wednesday, 28 May 2008
I recently returned from Essen, Germany for the co-located shows Kiosk Europe Expo and Digital Signage Expo (the latter not to be confused with the show of the same name that took place in Las Vegas earlier this year). You can view a slideshow of images taken from the show.
After walking the show floor, I was left with two main impressions: (1) Apple’s iPhone and Microsoft’s Surface have got people thinking about multi-touch, and (2) Europe continues to produce unique kiosk designs.
First, I’ll talk about multi-touch offerings seen at the show:
Franhofer Institute, a research and development firm, had a multi-touch table application in the Self-Service Futures Parlour. Like MS Surface, several people can interact with the table at the same time, “grabbing” photos and increasing or decreasing its size with two fingers. The interesting application here was the use of architectural designs. Once you selected a place on one of the floor plans, another window displayed a 3-D rendering from which you could pan and zoom.
Hamburg University participated in the Self-Service Futures Parlour as well and students demonstrated a multi-touch screen they developed based on infrared frames, which can be mounted onto a standard LCD or plasma screen. They also developed an interesting gesture: using three figures in a vertical or horizontal motion to give you the ability to flip a picture over.
Nexio, based in Korea, develops infrared touch technology and showed a multi-point touch screen using infrared. The demonstration was using Google Earth and by using two fingers over the navigation control, you could change the view from “top down” to the “horizon” view and of course zoom in and out as well as rotate the Earth on its axis.
NextWindow, an SSKA member based in New Zealand, incorporated its digital whiteboard feature along with photos that you can move and resize using multi-touch. An online demonstration is available.
Now to some of the interesting kiosk designs at the show:
DigiQuipment had two interesting kiosk designs that are being used side by side in a bank location. First was an orange pod-shaped kiosk that hangs from the ceiling. The enclosure design provides privacy for the financial transaction. Next to the pod kiosk was a matching orange leather ottoman with a kiosk mounted to it, which is intended to entertain children while the adult conducts business with the pod kiosk.
Friendlyway, a German kiosk company celebrating its 10th year in the business, has developed a mobile kiosk with a locking brake similar to those on airport luggage carts. The idea here is that the customer can roll the kiosk around with them as he or she strolls through an automobile dealership or museum. Compared with a handheld device, it is unlikely the customer would be taking this device home with them.
Innova, from Istanbul, Turkey, has a kiosk made from polyester that only weighs 23 Kg (about 51 lbs.). Its sleek, curvy design comes in an array of colors.
Changing the world, one kiosk at a time
Sometimes kiosks are developed simply to make the world a better place.
DigiQuipment, the Dutch company mentioned above, also makes a kiosk to go into a classroom as a “stand in” for a child with a long-term illness. The kiosk, mounted with a camera on top, allows the student to see what’s going on in the classroom and for the teacher and classmates to interact with the child.
No one has a more daunting challenge of closing the digital divide than those trying to reach rural Africa. Enter Grant Cambridge, an engineering technologist with Meraka Institute of South Africa. Cambridge and his organization have developed a program called Digital Doorway, which endeavors to place a computer kiosk in remote South African villages. In many cases, this is the first time people in these villages have seen or used a computer.
The kiosks must be made to withstand the rigors of its environment, namely dust and vandalism. The students teach themselves how to use the computer and soon are able to learn about the rest of the world beyond their village. In a presentation on the project, Cambridge shared several stories of how the kiosk impacted people’s lives, both young and old, for the better.
By mid June, Digital Doorway plans to have 300 kiosks in the field.
Posted by: David Drain AT 11:28 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 12 May 2008

Is this country teetering on the edge of a recession?

Depends on who you talk to, I guess. If you believe this doomsday YouTube rant by the always-animated Jim Cramer, host of MSNBC’s “Mad Money”, (and if I were you, I’d check it out because it’s pretty darn funny toward the end) then you’re probably ready to make a run on the bank and hide in your bomb shelter.

On the other hand, as I write this, the stock market just closed with the Dow Jones Industrial Average up over 200 points at 12849.

Unlike so many other things in life, the state of the economy often depends solely upon your perception of it.

But there are few things that are eminently clear: Gas prices are up, food prices are up and it’s fairly likely that consumers – and retailers – in the future are going to be watch-dogging their wallets like Ebenezer Scrooge in a Dollar Store. What’s more, watching the stock market vacillate between the nosebleed section and the abyss on a day-to-day basis reminds me of that time in the eighth grade when I got stuck on the back seat of the pirate ship ride at King’s Island. You know, the one where the ship keeps swinging back and forth and your stomach and esophagus switch places?

Something is amiss and we can’t blame it on what Ben Bernanke had for lunch anymore. (FYI, it’s now a week after I first started writing this, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 190 points, but gas is at $3.75 a gallon.)

So some people in the self-service industry – whether they’ll admit it or not – are quietly asking: What would happen to the industry if the economy goes sour, or even slips into recession? Will we see fewer self-service deployments or more?

I’m not an economist, but I’m willing to bet the latter. (FYI, the stock market just plummeted 115 points. Hey look – oil is $123 a barrel!) After all, business has been, is and always will be about the bottom line.


And self-service helps the bottom line.


Retailers that deploy self-service are able to save on labor costs. Airlines can staff fewer attendants wherever self-service check-in kiosks are deployed. Self-checkout terminals at Meijer mean human cashiers are becoming an endangered species by the midnight hour. And just imagine how much cheaper it is to staff the electronics department when you’ve got a fleet of photo kiosks in place.


True, the initial investment cost of a widespread self-service deployment can be substantial, but it’s just a one-time investment. Cost-conscious retailers that have never entered the space may be hesitant to take the plunge for the first time if they see the value of the dollar continue to plummet, the Dow Jones fall several hundred points or the cost of gas rise to $126 per barrel (the latter of which just happened for the first time this morning.) But I think the reluctant ones will be in the minority.


That’s my opinion, anyway. But then I’m not an analyst. Kerry Bodine of Forrester Research is – one who focuses on retail customer experience.


Like anyone these days, she’s hesitant to predict either sunny skies or doom and gloom for any industry in the economy before us. I asked her about my armchair theory that a recession would cause companies to consider replacing human labor with self-service technology. She offered a more tempered assessment.


“It might – it might – present some new business to the industry,” said Bodine. “There’s certainly that possibility and there are certainly firms that may think that. Whether or not I think it’s going to be a boon to the self-service industry, I can’t go as far as to say that.”


What she worries about is a downturn in the quality of self-service deployments as companies eager to cut costs in a tight economy might decide to shortcut certain design processes and make a beeline straight for assembly and deployment. Design is something Bodine says some kiosk manufacturers have a hard enough time focusing on in a good economy – in a sub-standard one, she says it’s almost certain to suffer.


“I spend a lot of time looking at the kiosk industry, and compared with other self-service technology channels like the Web, the kiosk industry is really far behind in terms of understanding some of these design processes and methodologies,” she said.


Specifically, she’s referring to methodologies that focus on identifying and pleasing the prospective kiosk user, such as conducting ethnographic research, usability testing, focus groups and analytics. Unfortunately, she says some kiosk deployers and manufacturers have such a tenuous grasp of R&D that they don’t know which methodologies to use.


“If you want to know if your system is easy to use, you can’t run a focus group to find that out. That’s something that I do see in the kiosk industry a lot,” she said. “They use focus groups for everything because it’s really the one primary tool that they understand. Instead you should either be conducting an expert review…running a usability lab test – there are a lot of ways to evaluate usability, but not through a focus group.”


Bodine fears the economy may drive some companies to eliminate usability testing altogether and rush substandard deployments to market. She says this approach could seriously hurt the industry.


“If they’re not building something that people are going to want to use in the first place, that whole investment is for naught,” she said. “It’s really about two things: Design the right thing, and design the thing right. All of that just takes a really good understanding of user-centered design process, and I do think that’s a challenge for the kiosk industry.


“The firms that are going to make it…are the firms that can really tie whatever application they’re working on with real business methods. The firms that can put some rigor on that, I think, probably don’t have much to worry about.”


So I guess the moral of the story – on this day when the Dow is now down 126 points – is that consumers will always want good products. They’re not going to spend their hard-earned dollars on a self-service solution that doesn’t fit their needs perfectly. If – and I emphasize if – the economy does sink into a recession, we’re all going to be looking for costs to cut.


But research and development shouldn’t be one of them.

Posted by: Travis K. Kircher AT 11:25 am   |  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  |  
Tuesday, 11 December 2007
Auto-maker BMW has been using informational kiosks for years in airports, malls and health clubs, as well as in dealership showrooms, to generate buzz for upcoming model releases. The man behind a lot of the buzz is Robert Plante, BMW kiosk programs manager for BMW of North America. Plante personally designed the company’s innovative wireless kiosks and pioneered the idea of using cell phone technology to wirelessly connect those kiosks. Now he answers 10 questions about one of the self-service industry’s highest-profile deployments.
How has BMW used self-service?
The goal of BMW’s kiosks is to provide information about our vehicles to customers. The kiosks give interactive descriptions of the vehicles, the products associated with those vehicles and about programs aimed at getting customers behind the wheel or to experience the brand. Our dealer kiosk program, which has won eight major industry awards since its first deployment, is being phased out and replaced by a new kiosk program that combines the functionality of an interactive, Web-based kiosk with the big-screen impact of digital signage. We also have an award-winning wireless kiosk program that we use to support product launches and experiential programs. These are deployed in malls, airports and other public spaces.
How were you involved in implementing the kiosks?
I was hands-on throughout. I oversaw the kiosk design, production, training and deployment — and remain deeply involved in the creation, design and distribution of all content. I also supervise the help-desk support.
When did BMW decide self-service would be beneficial?
We decided to use self-service several years ago. Our brand became a technology leader in the automobile market with more complex products, and we wanted to reflect that in our showrooms.
Who are the major suppliers of your self-service technology?
It was a collaboration of several vendors. Czarnowski and Frank Mayer & Associates designed the fixtures. Reality Interactive developed the technology/software. Reality Pictures provided the screen design and video content, and we went with Lenovo and Sony for the hardware.
What problems were the kiosks designed to solve?
We wanted the kiosks to communicate the romance, excitement and sheer joy of the BMW driving experience and to make the safety and technology easy to understand and to promote the experiential programs.
What steps did BMW take to deploy the kiosks?
We started with research, attended trade shows, studied other kiosk programs and held a design competition. We have an ongoing effort to build vendor team unity, design prototypes, increase field staff exposure, improve dealer communication, continue training, beta testing and content fixes.
What has been the biggest advantage of having kiosks? Are there any disadvantages or complaints?
The kiosks are a private, high-impact, targeted information highway to our customers and dealers. We can add new content within 24 hours — and, when necessary, even faster. Technical problems with Internet connectivity are a minor ongoing headache.
What kind of feedback have you received from car buyers?
We have heard excellent feedback so far.
Have you seen good ROI on your investment?
ROI on in-dealer kiosks is difficult to measure as these kiosks are more of a branding and information tool. Sales people seem to love it, though, so the kiosks are helping the sales process. The ROI on wireless kiosks is unbelievable.
What do you think is the future of self-service in a sales setting?
As vehicles become more complex, the landscape becomes more competitive and kiosk technology becomes better, the use of this tool only will grow.
Posted by: Robert Plante AT 11:01 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 27 November 2007
Last year about this time, I talked to my staff about making some professional resolutions. You know, we’d commit to reading a business-themed book a quarter, or to joining and becoming active in a professional organization. I thought we could benefit from sharing these resolutions and following up on them from time to time throughout the year.
It lasted a month.
If your position has the power to influence your self-service deployments, odds are you could make some changes to them in 2008 that would make the machines more useful to their users and therefore better for your company’s bottom line. With optimism that you’ll have better success than I did in 2007, here are five resolutions you can make, each with self-service in mind:
1. Be a user and a watcher. Have you gone into one of your locations and tried your kiosk? How about the self-service devices at other businesses? Pay attention to how the experience yours delivers fares on its own and in comparison. I recently used a self-checkout kiosk at a local library. Things worked great until it asked the password for my library card — a question not made at the counter. I bet 90 percent of would-be users don’t know their library card passwords. Yet, the librarian had just complained she had no idea why the machines weren’t used more.
2. Take cash. Wherever you can, whenever you can. The United States Postal Service is having trouble getting customers to use the award-winning Automated Postal Center kiosk, which takes cards but no bills or coins. Yet, as we reported on Self-Service, USPS officials know most users want to pay cash for postage.
3. Do inspections. My route to work passes only one gas station, and filling up anywhere else is a hassle. But I’ve gone stretches where I’ve driven out of my way to avoid the more convenient pumps. Why? Because the receipts on the self-serve pumps always are out of paper. Whatever your kiosks may do, they probably have something that can run out or break or get so dirty no one wants to touch it. If your deployment is too big to inspect personally, assign people to help. Or investigate one of the many services available that can empower you with remote-monitoring abilities.
4. Visit a tradeshow. There’s no substitute for kicking the tires in person. Visiting a show is a great way to see the latest in technology and applications, and to hear industry experts and other deployers share their lessons. Another benefit: It will re-invigorate your enthusiasm for the technology.
5. Be nice to the people who work with the kiosks. It doesn’t matter how great your self-service technology is if you don’t have happy, helpful employees working for you, too. And since many workers see self-service as a threat, acknowledging their value becomes even more important. It’s a sad thing for a business when a customer leaves believing the kiosk was the friendliest help there.
Who knows whether you’ll follow-through with any of these. The main thing is to be aware there’s always something you could be doing better.
Posted by: Joseph Grove AT 11:07 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Friday, 03 August 2007
Rufus Connell is research director of information technology for business research and consulting firm Frost & Sullivan.
In recent discussions with key hardware and software vendors on the state of self-service technologies, I’ve heard the same question repeated: Why are kiosks hot in some markets, but cold in others?
In my observation, perhaps the most consistent factor for success is that a kiosk delivers one primary function for the end-user. For example, air travelers are trying to get on planes; airline self-check-in works. Photographers are trying to buy prints; photo kiosks work. Shoppers are trying to buy groceries, self-checkout works. Conversely, I’ve seen numerous kiosks deployed with an if-you-build-it-they-will-come mentality that never got out of trial, or if they did, never got much use.
Another factor that seems to make successful kiosk programs is a strong up-front commitment by senior executives. Kiosks are a complicated solution; they require coordination with an organization’s IT staff, marketing staff, on-site staff and more. Missing any one of these can be a deal breaker.
Solution providers tell me that one of the most common killers of a trial is that “Mr. Kiosk” leaves the client organization, and the replacement just can’t keep the key stakeholders together. When the C-Suite decides it wants kiosks, the rest of the stakeholders seem to fall in line.
I think the previous point is related closely to the biggest kiosk project deal breaker, which is that many organizations just are not set up for a successful kiosk program.
Kiosks are known to be good at linebusting, but how does one account for the employees that currently service the line? For example, we’ve seen growing penetration of kiosks in the hospitality industry, but it has been well below expectations of kiosk vendors. The problem in this application is that major hotels, where linebusting is appealing, often have unionized employees, and those unions are fighting technologies that might displace workers.
Large deployments of kiosks need to have a strong impact on the business. This usually will mean that the business must be willing to re-architect some of its business practices, including renegotiating contracts with suppliers, unions and more.
While many organizations have evaluated some sort of linebusting solution and have made the hard changes to make the process work, others are looking at kiosks to be force multipliers. They are asking kiosks to provide answers to customers that a store associate just can’t answer. But the problem here is one of data and partnerships. Where does a retailer or kiosk vendor get the data to empower the kiosk? A small handful of retailers seem to have found an answer: They are deploying kiosks and requiring their suppliers to provide content to the network.
So, what does all of this mean? If you want a successful kiosk program, ask these questions:
1. Is your application something customers already come to the store to do?
2. Can you get the right internal stakeholders on board?
3. Can your business process accommodate kiosks today, or do you need to make changes?
4. Do you have the content required to make your kiosk work, and can you keep it fresh?
Posted by: Rufus Connell AT 12:21 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 30 July 2007
Philip Hunter is the managing director of KioskCom Europe Self Service Expo. The 2007 Expo will be held November 6-7, 2007, at Olympia in London.
Although the Web has now changed the way we purchase everything from CDs and DVDs to vacations, flights and hotel bookings, people still want to get out of their houses and shop in person. After all, we are social animals.
However now that we have had a taste of how easy and convenient buying can be on line, we are less willing to stand in queues and have a limited choice of products and ranges when in-store. As a result, we see the rise of the “hybrid consumer."
There is an intense battle raging for a share of the wallet of the hybrid consumer – those moving between online and traditional interactions in search of the best customer experience. It is becoming patently clear that the Internet is not enough: successful multi-channel strategies require more than just online and traditional face-to-face options.
A key to satisfying the demands of the valuable hybrid is the adoption of the latest self-service technology. Indeed, the increasing number of organizations now using self-service technology are achieving a proven sales uplift of six to eight percent, as well as gaining improvements in customer service and a flexible business model. 
In an increasingly competitive market with fast rising customer acquisition costs, complacency demonstrated by many organizations could prove expensive. Self-service is becoming a critical component of overall strategy so as these technologies now come of age, can any customer-facing organization afford to miss out?
Proven model
There are some great success stories – notably from the airline industry. According to a recent survey by SITA, the airline industry’s move towards self-service is saving billions of dollars every year. Air Canada has confirmed it now costs $0.16 to check in travelers via a self-service kiosk as opposed to $3.68 to process the transaction via an employee.
And other industries are now following suit. Self-service kiosks in North American retail locations will rise 69 percent this year, according to Summit Research, and retailers show a six to eight percent increase in incremental sales when kiosks are placed in store.
Brave new world
Without doubt, the concept of self-service is changing. Gone are the days of the dated vending machine that accepted limited coin options. With the rise in secure payments via chip and PIN and the imminent arrival of card-based contactless payments to replace under-£10 cash transactions, self-service technologies are really coming of age.
Other innovations include the vending machine that allows customers to download music to their iPods from the same machine that sells Coke and kiosks that can recharge your mobile phone, to contactless Minority Report-style motion sensor screens where you can activate buttons, turn pages and interact without even touching a screen.
Flexible Business Model
The uplift in sales opportunity is clear. And this is a key component of the self-service model. With organizations increasingly using analytics to tailor products and services to meet the needs of the local demographic, the kiosk enables a far broader product range to be available irrespective of actual space.
For the retailer struggling to attain adequate space in the high street or looking to trial new formats, a kiosk provides customers with access to online catalogues that encompass a far broader range of goods than could ever be carried in store.
Furthermore, the kiosk provides the hybrid customer with the required speed and quality of service experience without queuing or interacting with staff.
However, while the technology is increasingly attractive, it is critical that organizations leverage self-service technology correctly to deliver an excellent and relevant customer experience. As a Forrester report asserts, “Kiosks are back on the retail radar screen due to increasing competition, technology advances, and changing consumer demands.”
However, the report continues, “Successful kiosks carry complex integration requirements and require careful consideration of consumer behavior and their attitudes toward technology. To avoid the big flop that kiosks experienced in the late '90s, kiosks require a focused approach and dedicated support; if deployed well, kiosks will yield tangible business benefits.” However, as most Web retailers now know, one bad experience means the ever fickle hybrid consumer will quickly go else where.
Innovative self-service technology combined with secure payment methods may attract the hybrid consumer, but getting it right first time applies as much in the kiosk as it does online. A poor or inconsistent experience, backed up by inadequate fulfillment processes will fail.
Self-service technologies are not just another option for the emerging multi-channel business strategy, they will be increasingly critical in redefining the entire consumer experience.
Posted by: Philip Hunter AT 12:26 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Friday, 22 June 2007
The other day I was with my dad, driving our Ford F-150 around town and discussing how reliable the truck has been. I remembered hearing that most of the American-made pick-ups rank pretty high in reliability tests from year to year.
It hit me that perhaps one of the reasons the truck has seen less shop time than any car I have owned is that its design is very simple. There is no rain-sensing wiper blade system, no automatic parallel parking computer and no eight-speed computerized transmission. As a result, we don’t have to pay to have these high-end components fixed when they break.
Because of my ever-present self-service mentality, I got to thinking that successful kiosk design should follow the same model. Simpler is better and offering too many features in one kiosk can result in customer dissatisfaction and extra repairs.
I spoke with two kiosk vendors on this topic and they agreed. Both have seen the same thing in their respected fields.
Bill Lynch is vice president of Self Service Solutions for Source Technologies, a member of the SSKA Advisory Board and contributor to He explained that one of the dangers for kiosk manufacturers and deployers fall into the trap of W.I.B.C.I, which stands for “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?”
Lynch frequently sees the phenomenon in action. He said banks and financial institutions often want to take financial kiosks beyond simple transaction processing and have them process loan applications and the like. But who wants to wait in line to cash a check while someone applies for a loan?
Greg Swistak, director of the Custom Solutions Group for Elo Touchsystems and member of the SSKA Advisory Board, says that overloaded kiosks are sometimes the result of engineers and technology-philes who aren’t the ones interacting with the customers.
“So many companies get caught up in the kiosk technology,” Swistak said. “Don’t fall in love with the technology; fall in love with the concept of self-service.”
The ATM industry experienced the in the ‘90s. There was a trend among deployers to tack on as many extras to ATMs as they could. The thought was that offering coupons, tickets to events, stamps and lottery tickets would boost the customer experience. The efforts failed miserably.
The reason? Customers who wanted to get 20 bucks out were stuck behind someone looking for Bon Jovi tickets. Too many options meant too many choices and longer wait times. Ultimately, the ATM was stripped back down to its normal (and effective) functionality.  
The truth is that simplicity makes things easier. Kiosks that offer too many applications and features have the potential to annoy customers more than please them. When users get lost in a myriad of options, customers spend more time at the machine and the queues tend to get longer.
To avoid W.I.B.C.I., consider this question: What is the original intent of your kiosk? If the purpose of your ATM is to give customers access to their money, selling concert tickets is only going to slow the process. If the purpose of your retail kiosk is to speed up checkout, than offering gift registry at the same machine will work against the purpose.
I’m not suggesting that people knock the excitement from the industry that comes from experimenting with cool new applications. Just remember who you’re dealing with: the potential repeat-customer who won’t come back if the line is too long.
So, in the end, a kiosk is like a truck. No night-vision windshield camera, no problem. As long as it works like a well-oiled machine.
Posted by: Bill Yackey AT 12:47 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 10 April 2007
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
Michael Penwell of SAS points out the features of their marketing kiosk.
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 website.
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.
David Perrotta of demostrates the soldering process for ESP's circuit boards.
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.
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.
Meridian's DS-42p kiosk with interactive touchscreen.
“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.”
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.
Posted by: Bill Yackey AT 10:49 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 26 March 2007
Several years ago, Saturday Night Live ran an excellent sketch about a cable news host whose screen was gradually filled by one ticker after another. Before the routine was finished, the entire screen was covered by news crawls, stock updates and sports scores, leaving the newscaster crying out in frustration.
Viewers of actual news networks often might feel the same level of frustration. Too much information is, in its own way, worse than not enough. And while we have learned to multitask to the best of our abilities, human beings still can parse only so much at one time.
Designers of customer experiences slowly are beginning to understand this. After too many years of Web sites and kiosks that bombard users with information, awareness is starting to seep into the designer-mind that customers need aesthetics just as much as they need data. Perhaps they need it more, and just don’t know it.
Yes, Apple certainly gets a lot of the credit for this. Whenever the “design renaissance” is discussed, iTunes and the little MP3 players it communes with are held up as examples of design done right. And they are, but they’re certainly not the only ones — just ask any devotee of IKEA or Target or Volkswagen. Leonardo da Vinci was right: Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
Those of us in the business of conveying information to our customers — and, in turn, fielding a response from them — must fight constantly to keep clutter out of our work. That might mean fewer words, chosen more carefully; fewer images on the screen, using only the most compelling and motivating ones; fewer choices on the decision tree; fewer opportunities for something to go wrong or confuse or become tiresome.
At this point, I must resist the writer’s ugliest temptation, the cliché. Yes, what I’m talking about here has been said before, probably better and probably in a story called “Keep it simple,” or some variation thereof. And that’s fine, because it’s sound advice. But I would put it to you this way: Keep it elegant.
In everything you do — whether it is a business process or a software interface or a transaction or whatever — get rid of everything that isn’t either useful or beautiful. And work to maximize the number of things that are both.
Posted by: James Bickers AT 11:01 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 06 March 2007
A new trend in digital signage is emerging that combines the strength of digital signs with the interactivity of digital kiosks. For many areas, such as retail shops, the sum of the two holds greater potential for marketers than either of the individual parts.
Known in some circles as hybrid digital signs and by others as interactive digital signage, these combo systems can capture the attention of those nearby by playing back compelling linear content -for example an enticing commercial or news feed- and immediately switching to an interactive mode when triggered by an external input, such as the touch of a viewer, the mere presence of a passerby or even environmental conditions.
Like a standalone digital sign, a hybrid system allows communicators to playback a pre-built sequence of elements, including video files, graphics, text, animation and live television. Those staples of digital signage are the makings of an effective message that entices interaction with the very flat panel on which the content plays.
Once viewers touch the panel or step within its proximity, the hybrid sign automatically interrupts linear content playback and displays a digital kiosk-like interface that lets a shopper touch hot spots on the screen, launching a pre-built interactive branching presentation. Navigating through the presentation, shoppers can find the information they want like product recommendations, pricing and availability.
Depending upon the level of sophistication needed, such hybrid interactive presentations can link to a company’s servers, pulling information needed for the presentation and collecting information about the consumer that can be stored on the server.
For instance, a hybrid system at an automotive retailer could send an inquiry to the store’s server to access a database of recommended filters and oil viscosity specified by each car manufacturer. Matching information the customer entered about his car with the recommendations in the database, the system could check inventory for the right products, retrieve availability and pricing and present the information to the shopper standing at the hybrid sign.
Prior to offering that information, the system could ask the shopper to enter his name and address and to grant permission to be notified of future specials. With that data saved on the server, the retailer’s marketing department can automatically send out coupons for oil and filters when the next estimated time for an oil change rolls around.
What enticed the shopper to touch the screen in the first place? Perhaps it was a video playing back in linear digital signage mode of a favorite racecar driver discussing why it’s important to stay current on oil changes.
On the front end of customer interaction, the hybrid system cast a wide net, cycling through a playlist of content designed to sell oil, followed by tires, then batteries, air filters -the list goes on an on. Each linear segment is backed up by an interactive kiosk component that’s triggered when a shopper’s curiosity is piqued by one of these linear presentations to the point that he touches the screen. On the back end, the system uses data that’s collected to stay in touch with shoppers once they leave the store, offering special incentives to have them return. In essence, hybrid digital signage can help to extend the marketing reach of a retailer well beyond arm’s length from the display panel and into the homes of shoppers who are willing to interact.
One real-world example is at the Walnut Creek Garden Center in Andover, KS, where an interactive digital signage system makes it easy for customers to determine the specific lawn and landscaping products they need for their project. When the system is touched, playout switches from linear content playback to an interactive mode.
In interactive mode, customers sign in by providing their names and addresses, access an aerial view of their specific property from Google Maps, use their fingers to outline their project area on the map of their property, and receive specific lists of products and application recommendations for their projects from the Walnut Creek Garden Center’s vast database. Subsequently, customers are reminded with postcards and other promotional mailings of specials on products they need to apply to maintain their lawn or landscaping project.
Interactivity doesn’t haven’t to begin with a human touch either. Imagine a hybrid digital signage system in a ski shop at the base of mountain. Skiers donning their boots and gloves might see a digital sign in passing as it plays back linear content; however, their attention might be focused when temperature, wind and solar sensors at the top of the mountain report conditions and trigger specific presentations. Lots of sun could call up reminders about needing sun screen. Heavy snow might trigger another presentation that makes them think twice about leaving the store before having the right gloves or goggles.
Another practical application for interactive digital signage is in the real estate sector. Randy Dean Construction in Wichita, KS, is using a media server to market its model homes, designs and inventory more effectively to prospective home buyers.
The home builder is using the system in a model home to allow potential buyers to take full 360-degree virtual tours of homes, access and print floor plans, examine the company’s home inventory and access the builder’s Web site.
The system skillfully marries playlist management and video/audio playback of a digital signage system with the interactivity of a digital kiosk. When in linear mode, the system plays back promotional video about the home builder as well as paid video commercials from business with complementary endeavors, such as mortgage banking and home title insurance. Revenue generated from those advertisements paid for the interactive digital signage system in under a year.
The possibilities for interactive, hybrid digital signage are only as limited as the imagination of creative marketers. To be sure, this aspect of the digital signage market is in its infancy. However, with the recent availability of the hardware and software needed to bring together the separate worlds of kiosks and digital signage, hybrid systems will certainly play an important roll in the unfolding digital signage market.
Posted by: David Little AT 11:21 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 02 October 2006
Years ago, as a young engineer I was brought into a program that would result in a very successful system used by some members of our armed forces. This particular system was the first of its kind, and the reputations of a lot of people were riding upon its success.
By the time they brought me in, a lot of money had been spent, designs had been drawn, and plans were being made to build and test the system.
During one of the program briefings, a senior engineer made a statement about how the operators would use this system. Being a bit wet behind the ears I raised my hand and asked, “How do we know that?”
When asked what I meant by the question, I simply observed that sitting around the table we had management people, engineering people, fabrication people, finance people and legal people, but none of the people who would ultimately use the system. The silence around the table told the whole story.
Fast forward to a couple of years ago, during a trade show for technology used in the fast food industry. During the show, a panel attempted to address the use of self-service technologies as they applied to fast food. The panel consisted of a moderator, four technology vendors and one analyst familiar with technology in that space.
One by one, the moderator introduced each of the vendors, who spoke about how their new product would revolutionize the way in which walk-in customers would buy fast food. They went into great detail about transaction speed improvements, 100% up-sells, and multilingual capabilities, all the while presenting a handsome ROI intended to woo the board and moneylenders.
When it was time for the analyst to speak, he praised each of the vendors and their various technology offerings. He then paused, and very simply stated that if 60-75% of a fast food operator’s business is through the drive-thru, then he’s more prone to opt for a solution that cuts 3 seconds off the drive-thru time than a kiosk that costs several thousand dollars and sits seldom-used in the lobby.  The kiosk likely would fall below the IT budget cutoff line for most operators.
Just as I didn’t endear myself to the engineers, designers, lawyers and CPA’s in that briefing many years ago, so too the analyst didn’t endear himself to the vendors at that trade show. However, in each case, a truth was presented, and regardless of how unpopular that truth may have been to some, no amount of technological wizardry could overcome it.
In this age of technology, competing priorities, and left-field threats, vendors are as prone as anyone to being so busy doing the work that they forget to check up on some of the essentials. One way to help overcome this would be to practice a little of what we once called MBWA, or management by wandering around. Step away from the email, turn off the cell phone, and indeed leave the office and go out to watch how consumers are using (or not using) the self service technology that you and your competitors have delivered to the industry.
For that matter, go and actually use the technology as it is currently deployed. Take a notepad and a pen with you, and record your observations. Then, talk to your customers and ask them open-ended questions about what they’re finding, like:
  • Has your customer had to implement any changes in operating procedures since the installation of your “plug-and-play” kiosk?
  • How is that anodized aluminum cabinet holding up after being hit by a skateboard or two while deployed on a sidewalk in that seaside resort? (It looked so pretty when the kiosk was first delivered)
  • What does the screen bezel look like after several consumers have tried (and failed) to balance their cup of moca frappuccino while operating the kiosk (after you decided not to incorporate a cup-holder in the design)?
  • How well do consumers do as they navigate between your self-checkout system’s main touch-screen display and the payment device?
Granted, some humor may be found in these scenarios, but for the owner of your technology that is experiencing these in real life, they’re not laughing. Take seriously the answers to your questions, especially the ones you really don’t like, for they illustrate your greatest opportunity for solution enhancement.
They may not be solved with technology, but the result may be a keener understanding of the particular application (or non-application) of technology for your customers. Remember, the technology may be great, but don’t forget the whole business case.
Lee Holman is Vice President of Product Development. In addition to an MBA from Pepperdine University and a Bachelors Degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Maryland, Lee brings over 26 years of sales, product development, and engineering and management experience in the field of high technology, beginning with his work on nuclear subs for the US Navy as an undergraduate.
Posted by: Lee Holman AT 02:26 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 01 May 2006
Every year businesses spend millions creating and promoting brands and trademarks. These brands convey the essence of their products, creating and reinforcing customer perceptions. With the proliferation of kiosks and interactive devices, businesses now have a new marketing tool. When it comes to kiosks, businesses can expand branding into an interactive experience — adding dimensional depth and texture to their product.

Branding Options 1-2-3

Stock units are generically produced and warehoused for future orders from existing inventory, meaning that the branding opportunity consists essentially of limited paint color options and a logo decal. Even though limited in scope, this still can be a good opportunity to maximize the value of an economically priced, quick to market option.

Semi-stock units are generally modular, allowing for a range of equipment alternatives. Sometimes semi-stock units allow for design iterations that provide more color or brand options, customized wraps, decorative overlays and different finishes. This allows for more unique and identifiable signage within the design’s parameters. A good option for smaller quantities, allowing for a near-custom look with stock quantity minimums.

Custom units are purposefully designed, engineered and built for each specific project. They offer the client absolute control over the entire unit’s look and feel. The client is the exclusive owner of the enclosure design, so that enclosure never will be used by a competitor or for any other project as a stock unit may be. Use of materials, colors and graphic elements is almost limitless. While this process can be economical in larger production quantities, it is generally more costly than stock or semi-stock for small quantities. While the client needs to allow additional time for the development cycle (four to eight weeks longer than for stock), the return on that time investment is a unit purpose-built to promote the client’s brand and product.
As an industry, kiosk deployers already acknowledge the importance of creating branded kiosk software. Even the most basic kiosk software tool kit allows for customizing the user interface and integrating client logos and graphics. So if we understand the value of a branded interface, then why do we as an industry so often overlook the value of branded enclosure design? Branding is a powerful tool that can be integrated into almost any kiosk, and when done well, can significantly increase its effectiveness and value.

Kiosk enclosures fall into three basic categories: stock, semi-custom and custom, according to the level of branding. However, while it is easy to see high-profile, custom designed enclosures as examples of good brand integration (and some of them truly are outstanding), it is important to note that an effective, integrated brand message is not necessarily limited to custom work. Most enclosures — stock, semi-custom or custom produced — can effectively convey the intended message when the client simply follows a few basic steps during the planning phase of the kiosk project.

Step 1: Articulate the message. In the same way that step one in making a business case for any kiosk project is to define the ROI (return on investment), step one for the marketing aspects of the project is to define the ROP, return on perception. The client needs to define what perception they want the customer to have when they see the kiosk, use the kiosk and what they will take away and remember of the experience. Whatever the client wants to convey (for example: strength, fun, service, excitement, safety), the manufacturer can’t build it until the client defines it.

Step 2: Create a collaborative environment for the vendors. To obtain a fully-integrated experience for the user, vendors need to work together to share brand assets. Too often clients fall into the trap of “which to do first — enclosure or software?” The most effective methodology is to develop each in tandem, with a free exchange of ideas between the software developer and hardware/enclosure providers. This produces an integrated solution where the software and hardware become a seamless experience for the user.

Step 3: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Keep it simple — and that means everything. Sophisticated technologies in both the software and hardware realm offer a dizzying array of possibilities for functionality and design. The kiosk that tries to do too much and offers too many options can easily become overwhelming and leave users confused to the point where they do nothing and walk away. The same holds true for branding and design elements.

The brand standards manuals of most companies are a treasure trove of colors and graphics, making it tempting to use it all. Don’t. Integration of different materials is a hallmark of good design, and most well-designed branded kiosks will consist of a mix of appropriate materials, like metals and plastics with a range of finishes and graphic treatments. But restraint is key in creating an effective message — one clear message is the most powerful, so it is important to define one concept or message the kiosk is to convey and stick to it, regardless of how many trademarks and taglines are in the company marketing manual.

Integrating thoughtful branding into kiosk and interactive projects is an import element in elevating a neutral transaction into a loyalty-building, brand-enhancing experience for customers and prospective customers. The necessary elements likely already exist within the client company, and with some planning and good communication of expectations, every kiosk can be elevated from a plain box to an effective brand-building device.
Posted by: Sandy Nix AT 01:51 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 27 March 2006
When Bryan Harris asked me to write a piece for he provided the following summary of the topic: “The evolution of kiosk enclosures, as form and function are beginning to converge.”
Since I am known for designing ultra-custom kiosks this may seem like an odd response, but the first word that jumped in to my head was “commodity.” My gut told me design convergence probably makes sense for the kiosk industry, even if it doesn’t make sense for my company. Related products like ATMs have become commodities, so why shouldn’t kiosks follow the same path? Just where is the kiosk industry on the road from bleeding edge to commodity? More to the point: If kiosks are all going to end up looking the same, should I be out looking for a new job? I set out to compare our industry to its common ancestors such as the vending machines, Automats ( and the ATM, hoping to shed some light on where we are headed.
I called up a contact to explore self-service the way it was before touch screens and the Internet. During a late summer blizzard I visited the warehouse and showroom of a national distributor of traditional vending machines. The reason I originally contacted the owner was simple: I noticed the products they shipped every day looked like kiosks, so would they be interested in selling and supporting some of our higher-volume products? He wasn’t. Standing among the forklifts and cluttered workbenches a second time, the similarities to the kiosk industry again struck me. The design issues, manufacturing methods, distribution infrastructure and maintenance processes were almost identical. Many of the components are similar. The biggest physical difference between kiosks and vending machines is the extensive use of complex electro-mechanical devices in vending equipment. As I looked at the tangle of wiring in a giant pop machine I thought to myself: “these are really complicated! It would be easy for these folks to build kiosks.” So why hadn’t they been interested?
I was told the modern form of the vending machine was developed and deployed widely before WW II and therefore the economics are almost perfectly understood today. Industrial consolidation and product convergence happened to vending in the 50’s. What impressed me most about the meeting? It was how well he understood his business. He knew a good location from a bad one, a good machine from a bad one and a good customer from a bad one. He knew who had been successful, why, where and when. In the showroom there were vending machines from many different companies and he knew every one like an old friend.
Vending machine builders have factories, engineers, sales channels and infrastructure that most kiosk makers can only dream about. Vending machine builders could have been in the forefront of the kiosk industry, yet few vending machine builders attend kiosk trade shows. Interestingly the company president expressed dismay at the fact that his suppliers missed out on the kiosk business. He felt he didn’t understand the business of kiosks well enough to succeed. He depended on the suppliers to spend the money to create the products he sells. I wondered if the vending machine industry missed out on the kiosk boom, or ignored it on purpose. I mentioned that I thought a technological convergence happening with vending machines and kiosks; I have seen vending machines equipped with attract monitors, touch screen interfaces and internet enabled remote monitoring devices. Then it occurred to me: By adopting new technology, the vending industry was actually “de-converging.” I concluded that as a mature industry with low margins, the vending industry has been waiting out the kiosk storm, waiting for the “bleeding edge” phase to end. They think of themselves as a commodity business; so they behave like one.
Closer relatives
To better understand what is happening to kiosks it is worth looking at the evolution of a closer relative:  The ATM. To the users of ATMs design convergence has meant a reduction in the number of different machines, reduced learning curves and decreasing user confusion. Today there are only a few ATM configurations in common use, adoption is almost complete and the technology is no longer considered leading edge, or even noteworthy. Remarkably, no single design of the user interface has become the standard, so there is still a learning curve involved in using some ATMs. Convergence of the ATM has resulted in competition for fees from every corner grocery store able to afford one. Incidentally the history of ATMs exposes the downside: convergence is bad for manufacturers because it eliminates unique selling propositions, reduces margins, lowers the bar and allows low quality producers in to the marketplace. The marketplace drove ATM profitability resulting in a profusion of low-cost, poorly-maintained free market ATMs and a corresponding reduction in security and service quality. Vendors commonly use 30 or more types of ATM and there are probably plenty more. Why hasn’t convergence reduced this to half a dozen models?
Many of the same effects described above are apparent in the kiosk industry. The public acceptance of ATMs and increasing availability of applicable technology led to an explosion of self-serve technology in sectors like retail. We know early entrants into the kiosk market included dysfunctional public internet access terminals, awkward photo finishing kiosks and ticket machines that didn’t provide a ticket. Costs soared, results dwindled and some customers moved on. Some buyers felt that the answer to low ROI lay in reducing the cost of the kiosk itself and price pressure inevitably delivered low-end stock kiosks to the market. In my opinion these units generally suffer from the jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none problem and the lack of design differentiation fails to provide owners with differentiation for their product. As the industry matures and develops the capability of delivering well-conceived and well-built self-serve technology, returns grow dramatically. The self-checkout stations now found in places like Home Depot cost a bundle, but the units satisfy the customers and save the owners money, so they have a future. Kiosk designed for specific roles can now be found in almost every sector, from air travel to education and health care.
So are we close to the point where kiosks are a “commodity” with a common form factor, common components and common interfaces? Are we seeing an unstoppable process that will lead to kiosks becoming standardized commodities just like ATMs and vending machines? As we have seen this hasn’t happened to vending machines and ATMs, so it is even less likely to happen to kiosks, which must handle a wider variety of roles.
Bright future for designers
Jack of all trades, master of none applies to the kiosk industry as much as it applies to handymen. To respond to the range of applications and price/value relationships in the market, vending machines and ATMs are still made by dozens of companies in many models and many countries. The rules are no different for kiosks. The vast range of situations in which self-serve technology can serve a useful purpose requires an equally vast range of original self-serve solutions since each kiosk application has such specific criteria that stock kiosks running stock software are unlikely to suit any job really well. Our answer at The Kiosk Factory has been to produce custom kiosks for certain applications and modular kiosks for all the others. Do we expect to find a large market for a stock model? No. We think the answer to the problem of effectiveness is not to abandon differentiation, but rather to embrace diversity. We don’t want to end up like the vending machine companies, finding find ourselves struggling to adapt.
Posted by: Julian Brown AT 01:44 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
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