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Spotlight on Neil Farr, Managing Director of Working Solutions
Neil Farr is the Managing Director of a small but highly acclaimed kiosk development business in the UK. Recently I got to speak to him about his vision for his company, and the UK kiosk industry as a whole.
So, you can provide everything?
Speaking for the team here at Working Solutions, yes we can. We offer everything from initial design and software development, through the provision of hardware and housings (both design and build), to support and maintenance…. and we can even manage inter-client relationships.
Quite a service. But where does it usually begin?
Often we find that a client has a great idea and has done some investigative work, but has got no further. At this stage, we are usually introduced to them by one of our suppliers. What we do then is to discuss their ideas with them and help them decide how to move forward. If they want us to provide the complete service, we can – but if they already have some skills or existing relationships, we will work with them by using our expertise to fill the gaps. In practice this often means that we design the whole system, help in the development of the software, and give aid where required in bringing the whole project together.
Sounds good, but why should a client choose Working Solutions?
Of course, any client has a choice, and there are many kiosk companies in the market place. But we have all seen so many kiosk developments fail over the years, for a wide variety of reasons, and the wise client will go to a reputable company with real world kiosk development experience. Working Solutions have that experience, but perhaps more importantly, we work holistically on each individual development.
Holistically? Isn’t that more to do with health products?
The word is often used that way, but according to the dictionary, holistic means “concerned with integrated wholes or complete systems rather than with the analysis or treatment of separate parts”. This is the way we approach all of our projects. Instead of concentrating on one angle – technical details, design aspects or whatever – we step back and look at the bigger picture. For instance, a client may have a great idea for a kiosk, but will people actually use it? You only have to look at many of the “dot-Com” failures to see examples of where this approach has been sadly lacking.
Is this why you develop Kiosks instead of Websites?
Actually, we do both, but rather than creating a website as an end product, we integrate it within a complete solution. Many people think that they can simply take an existing website, present it within an off-the-shelf kiosk with a browser package, and install it in a retail outlet. The truth is, if their customers wanted to purchase products off the Internet site, they would rather do so from the comfort of their own home. Instead, here at Working Solutions we actually think of what the audience requires – the end-user as some people call them - and design a solution that fulfils that need. To give you an example, our Internet Kiosk product is designed to appeal to customers who are already used to browsing at home. We make sure that the keyboard and pointer controls are like those that they are already used to; that the software remembers each client’s ‘favourites’ links; and that it presents them with a portal page that has a “familiar” feel and will appeal to them. We also make sure that the portal page incorporates information specific to them, creating a “feelgood factor” which helps to ensure that customers are less likely to browse competitor’s sites.
So you often give the client more than they are looking for?
Yes. We like to look at a problem and develop ways to make a better solution for everybody. Our Music Kiosk was developed in 1995, but even then it didn’t just act as an overgrown listening post – it actually suggested similar music types to encourage consumers to cross-shop. This makes the consumer happy because they expand their musical tastes, and it makes the retailer happy because they make more sales.
You’ve mentioned products – I thought you just develop solutions for clients?
We actually do both. With so many different markets and clients, we have to be flexible if we are to survive. Although we often develop completely unique solutions for our clients, I took the decision to plough that money back into the business in order to create a small range of complete, customisable solutions that can branded and modified to fit the needs of our clients. As well as reducing development time, it also reduces that horrible first hit of software development costs. Of course, it is of paramount importance to ensure that the product actually fulfils the brief – no one wants to see a failed kiosk out there in the public domain, as any failure will make it harder to sell kiosks in the future.
Finally, where do you see the kiosk market in 3 years time?
Over the last few years, I have seen more and more kiosk developments roll out successfully, here in the UK and throughout the worldwide market. With these success stories being promoted in publications such as Kiosk.org and other sites, the decision makers are becoming less wary of this “new” technology. I would suggest that we will see a wider acceptance of kiosks, not only by the public themselves, but by the organisations who will come to see that kiosks are a way of promoting information where it matters. Although kiosks will always be more than just ‘websites in a box’, I think we will see more use of the Internet as a transmission medium between the kiosks and fulfilment centres. And I would like to see Working Solutions right there at the forefront of that development.
Neil Farr, thank you for your time.