Kiosks offer new application for multimedia technology
(Dallas Business Journal; 01/02/98)
After discussing multimedia in my last column and some manifestations of
using that hybrid of technologies, one application requires greater attention -
kiosks. Starting with the simple automated teller machines, kiosks have
developed a personality of their own that is evolving into broader acceptance.
In fact, BusinessWeek recently discussed how mall owners are using kiosks as a
strategic tool to build up sales per square foot.
What is a kiosk? A kiosk is a self-contained unit that combines hardware and
software to blend all current media including video, photography, text and
quality sound. The technology is quite advanced to allow for kiosks to be very
sophisticated stationary robots that can communicate and interact with a user.
How can kiosks be used? There are public entity and corporate applications
to kiosks. Public-based entities would include government agencies, charities,
library systems, etc. For example, the state of Maryland has successfully
implemented mall-based kiosks for automobile registration renewal and some
Corporate uses include advertising, sources of information or an ability to
process a transaction. For example, early adopters of kiosks in their
businesses have been hotels, car rental businesses and even airports, that
focus on informing (i.e., directions, tourist sites or where to eat) or
advertising (i.e., hotels, restaurants and menus) to travelers that are looking
for a reliable source for information. Some airlines have been early adopters
by using kiosks to sell tickets in the airport and elsewhere. Finally, some
malls are using kiosks to funnel information to the mall "employment center" to
find seasonal help for mall tenants.
Kiosk use is not only for people outside an organization. They can be good
tools to introduce and train specific topic areas or employees that would
otherwise not be using a desktop computer at work. A well-designed kiosk will
be easier to use and have a shorter learning curve than most desktop multimedia
applications. Uses may include educating employees about personnel policy, new
product lines, and persuading participation in voluntary employee benefits.
Rules for evaluating your use. In developing your plans to use kiosks in
your business, there are five issues that you must consider.
1. Placement. Some early adoptions of kiosks have been failures. Even the
success of all ATMs is not equal. It goes back to the top three criteria for
good real estate - location, location, location! In evaluating your use of
kiosks for internal or external purposes, be sure that the kiosk will be
getting good real estate. One application is shelf-mounted or freestanding
units for the retail environment that will promote and provide add-ins to
2. Use issues. The KISS notion (keep it simple, stupid) is critical for a
well-designed kiosk. Thus, it must be a work horse, be easy to use and should
be accessible for the widest population of users.
That means considering:
How will the screen look? Screen text and graphics should be readable.
Consider the worst eyesight of users.
How will audio sound? Sound should be clear and audible in the kiosks
How will users interact? Will they use keyboard, touch screen, or both?
Will it be designed to recognize return users?
Will the user leave with something?
3. Technological architecture. In defining the kiosks' operations,
address the technologies it will use. Questions that must be
If it accepts transactions, how will those transactions be
content be entirely self-contained or will a centralized database
How will you be tracking behaviors and usage activities to
allow for the
evolution of a better kiosk?
Will all your kiosks be interconnected?
What technology will be used for the interconnectivity:
wide area network, dial up or Internet-based?
What is the power source? What happens if the power
How will you know when it is broken and who will
4. Physical design. When you know how the kiosk
will operate, where it will
be placed and what technologies it will use,
you are ready to answer what it
will look like. The goal is keeping the space
requirements low, despite an
ambitious functional design.
5. Cost. A kiosk initiative is not cheap.
Because of all the details that
must be planned, a single kiosk usually
starts at around $20,000. Some vendors
have lease alternatives that allow for
greater flexibility in committing to the
underlying technology. Of all the multimedia
applications, this requires the
most upfront soul-searching and
objective-setting before beginning.
Yudkowsky is the director of management
consulting services at Grabush,
Newman & Co. P.A., a Baltimore-based
regional certified public accounting and
management consulting firm. He may be
reached at (410) 296-6300.