Kiosk Newsbit

Automatic for the people in a hurry
(Scotsman; 05/13/98)

   THE conference is over and you have a four-hour flight ahead. You just want 
 to hand in your hotel key and settle your bill by credit card, but it would 
 appear that all the guests are checking out at once. And you know it is not 
 your day when you get stuck behind a tourist who has little grasp of the 
 language but who has found a discrepancy in his bill; if only there was a 
 machine nearby where you could pay the bill and deposit the key.

    Dr Aravinda Korala, the chief executive of the software development company 
 KAL, based in Sunnyside, Edinburgh, was recently held up in a hotel queue for 
 20 minutes. However, unlike most customers, he and his company are well-placed 
 to help deliver just such a self-service kiosk

    Korala settled in the Capital after studying for his Phd. He worked for a 
 couple of companies before founding KAL in 1989. His goal was for the company 
 to design its own products, but as a one-man business he first had to focus on 
 survival and this he did through bespoke software development. In 1993, he took 
 on his first employee and the company has rapidly grown to a team of 25. It is 
 set for further growth with the launch of Kalypso, a software engine that 
 brings web-enabled applications to self-service devices such as automatic 
 teller machines (ATMs) and kiosks.

    KAL is at the very leading edge of this technology. There are web- enabling 
 tools specific to a particular ATM vendor. However, Korala believes these are 
 in demonstration form only and, furthermore, where Kalypso truly scores is that 
 because it uses an open standard to access the hardware "it is the only 
 software engine in the whole world that allows ATMs to be web-enabled at the 
 same time as being independent of the hardware".

    This is a key factor. Take for example self-service points for airline 
 tickets. Continental Airlines came to KAL for help in installing electronic 
 ticketing kiosks at airports. This is becoming more popular but airports do not 
 have the room for every airline to have its own self-service kiosk and as 
 customers become more used to e-commerce, they will become more demanding in 
 the number of services they want from the one selling point.

    KAL's software is used throughout the world by, among others, 
 telecommunications firms and major financial institutions. The only way for the 
 company to have achieved this was by working in partnership with ATM vendors, 
 such as NCR. Korala says: "It's a lot easier - the end user, such as a major 
 bank, might not want to work long-term with a small company." But the 
 relationship works both ways: "We add value - we are ahead of the market in our 
 niche, while they can provide their name and the global support the {end user} 
 is looking for."

    Say ATM and the word "bank" springs to mind. But Philip Basham, KAL's 
 business development manager, says it is non-cash applications that are driving 
 the technology and in many cases the underlying network is already there. 
 Basham takes up the hotel analogy: "Hotels may want to introduce self-service 
 reservation and check in/check out self-service kiosks. Crucially, they will 
 already have systems in place for central reservations, in-house accounting; 
 these can be adapted. These new applications can sit in front of the existing 
 channels; they don't negate the investment that has already been made."

    Korala believes supermarket chains will be among the first to take up what 
 Basham calls the "new channels into the marketplace". Everyone has to buy food. 
 Why not book theatre or cinema tickets from the supermarket's kiosk at the same 
 time? If you are not sure about what film you want to see, check out video 
 clips. Basham envisions more of such co-operation among businesses. In town for 
 only a couple of nights and don't know where to go? Download information via 
 your hotel TV screen on local restaurants and entertainment.

    Ah, the critics might say: "I can already do this from my PC at home via the 
 Internet." However, Korala points out that the majority of Europeans do not 
 have access to a home computer, while the majority have a bank account and, 
 therefore, access to an ATM. Smartcards will soon be ubiquitous and self-
 service kiosks will also become more common, be it in airports, railway 
 stations, hotels or tourist information sites.

    While waiting for your flight or train, why not book the hire car and the 
 hotel room? Another advantage of the ATM, says Korala, is that it can confirm 
 your reservation immediately and print out your booking. Add to this 
 multilingual capabilities and you have a very powerful tool indeed.

    Naturally, people fear the introduction of further technology will mean job 
 losses. But Korala and Basham stress that KAL's focus is on adding value to 
 existing services. Nor is the technology restricted to commercial practices. 
 For example, some welfare benefits offices in the United States have introduced 
 self-service kiosks where claimants key in their personal details. The staff 
 are then freed from mundane administrative tasks and can concentrate on an 
 individual's specific needs, which, while giving the claimant a better service, 
 can enhance job satisfaction.

    Basham insists that machines will not replace humans, that the two will 
 complement each other. "Human interaction is extremely important and what this 
 does is give the person who is dealing with you much more time to find out what 
 it is you really want and to provide a better service."

    The aim for KAL this year, says Korala, is to make Kalypso the industry 
 standard. Five United States software houses are writing applications on 
 Kalypso with further interest from three or four developers in Europe. The push 
 has come from the ATM vendors themselves, who have begun to insist that 
 companies wanting to work with them write their applications on Kalypso.

    And with Bill Gates mentioning the company as being among those to have 
 incorporated support for Microsoft's Windows DNA FS framework into their 
 products, it would seem that KAL is well on the way to providing Korala's 
 vision of an "enterprise solution rather than a desktop solution".

    For further information visit

Thanks Kinetic!

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