November 26, 2005

CUSS and Airline Transportation Check-in Kiosks

Writeup on kiosks and the CUSS standard and how it does and doesn't impact kiosks.

Original story on Kioskmarketplace

Does CUSS keep it simple?
by James Bickers, editor 21 Nov, 2005

The ATM, arguably the most successful and society-changing of self-service devices, is effective chiefly because of its interconnected nature: For example, you dont have to be a U.S. Bank customer to use a U.S. Bank ATM. You might have to pay a fee for the privilege, but the machine will still work for you.

Now, consider the check-in kiosk at the airport. It too has changed customer behavior in a remarkably short period of time. But airline kiosks remain largely proprietary in order to check in, you need to use the kiosk provided by your airline. For the most part, they do not play well with others.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), an industry advocacy organization founded in 1945, wants to change all that, and its working hard to make a standard for interoperability, the Common-Use Self Service (CUSS) kiosk standard.

The race for a standard

The IATA is still at work on the CUSS standard; according to a fact sheet published by the association, it aims to have interface standards codified by the end of 2005.

On a theoretical level, it remains to be seen whether airlines will even want such a standard. One view of the check-in kiosk is that it is a prime differentiator when it comes to service having different kiosk platforms enables the airlines to compete in terms of usability and convenience, with repeat customers perhaps opting to fly with the carrier whose self-service system is the best.

IATA representatives say that cost savings are prime factors it estimates that CUSS will save airlines $2.50 per check-in. According to the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics, approximately 74 million people flew during the year 2003, and 12 percent of them used a check-in kiosk. So IATAs estimate represents a potential savings of $22 million per year.

CUSS also represents a shift in ownership when it comes to kiosks. McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, for instance, owns and operates 42 CUSS kiosks under its SpeedCheck program. According to a news release, the airport plans to deploy 100 more by the end of 2006, becoming "the first airport in the country to feature a fully integrated, multiple-airline, common-use check-in system."

So now, airports and their operating authorities are potential buyers of ticketing systems, not just the airlines.

But opinions are divided on whether CUSS is the right answer for a unified standard if, in fact, a unified standard is needed at all.

"Today, if you are a self-service provider without a CUSS-compliant solution, then you may as well check out of the market because the future of (airline) self-service centers around this integral efficiency," said Karly Sorenson, marketing and public relations director with Kinetics, a subsidiary of NCR Corp. Kinetics services 14 of the 16 major domestic airlines. "CUSS is remarkably important because as more and more airlines deploy self-service kiosks, the more crowded airport facilities will become."

CUSS kiosks, although arguably better for the end-user, are still in the minority, though.

"Bear in mind that kiosks operating in a CUSS mode are not that many," said Craig Keefner, channel manager for Kiosk Information Systems. He pointed out that even at McCarron, airlines operate their own proprietary kiosks in addition to the airport-owned CUSS models.

Indeed, the IATA Web site explicitly states that even if an airline takes part in a CUSS program, theyre free to keep their existing proprietary systems in place:

" there is no mandate from the IATA Board of Governors on the use of CUSS. The policy for CUSS is that where it makes operational and commercial sense to do so, airlines are encouraged to investigate the viability of operating their self-service kiosk product in a shared (CUSS) environment. Where there is true common use in a given airport terminal and there is no dominant carrier, then the business case is strong; where there is a dominant carrier of e.g. 80%+ of the traffic, then the business case becomes marginal."

In other words, airlines are free to do what they want, and it will fall to the IATA to convince them that CUSS is in their best interest.

"I think CUSS standards will have more and more impact, but I think its important to remember that in some ways, CUSS is a proprietary system," Keefner said. "Open systems utilizing the latest technology, manufactured economically, are the ones I would bet on in the near- and mid-term."

A common gateway to better functionality?

Some experts agree that CUSS is a good starting point, but that airline kiosks should expand their functionality in order to make them worth the footprint.

"CUSS seems to be the way to go, and it does provide a great working standard," said Safwan Shah, founder and chief executive of Infonox. "Kiosks at airports do work well. I would like to see them do more, though. Ultimately, the airport could become like the metro and subway stations where you hardly see a person, except for physical security."

Keefner said that he sees potential when it comes to gaining and keeping frequent-flyer customers. "Enterprise systems are moving away from older legacy infrastructures to more Web-centric protocols which enable airlines to very quickly respond and package for their customers," he said.

"Self-service has allowed the airline industry to remove costs in an era when cost-reduction is paramount to continued survival," Kinetics Sorenson said. "As it continues to grow into additional arenas, both corporations and end-consumers will continue to see how this technology can have a positive impact on each of them."

Posted by keefner at November 26, 2005 02:43 AM