May 1995 - Feds To Build National Kiosk Network
Feds To Build National Kiosk Network
The feds hope to roll out a massive government kiosk network over
the next several years. States and localities like the idea, but have
Situation: The National Performance Review proposed creating an
electronic infrastructure that would link all levels of government
into a single system.
Solution: The U.S. Postal Service is defining how to provide
access to government information and services using kiosks.
Jurisdictions: Colorado, California, Texas, New Jersey.
Vendors: U.S. Postal Service
Contacts: The U.S. Postal Service has information about its kiosk
program on the Internet at: www.usps.gov
Get your index finger ready. Touch-screen kiosks soon may be
popping up by the thousands in cities and towns across the country,
providing interactive government services for citizens. Sometime
later this year, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) will begin the
mammoth project with a pilot test of a small network of information
kiosks in the Washington, D.C., area.
Within two years of completing the pilot, the federal government,
under the direction of the USPS, hopes to begin deploying as many as
10,000 kiosks at an eventual cost that could reach as much as $956
million, according to a draft report from the Interagency Kiosk
Committee. The kiosks would deliver a host of federal, state and
local government services via the now familiar touch-screen,
computer-in-a-box format, using images, video and audio for
navigation and instruction.
"We're seeking to develop kiosks that are user-friendly,
functional in that they let citizens interact with government, and
come in at a cost that makes sense," said Robert Reisner, vice
president for USPS technology applications. Exactly what kind of
technology and infrastructure will be used to bring this about is
still in research and development, he added.
The USPS' role in leading the charge toward a national kiosk
system came about when the Government Information Technology Services
Working Group approached USPS and several other federal agencies
about how government could become more accessible through technology.
Agencies discussed a number of concepts, including electronic
bulletin boards and 800 numbers, but Reisner said the USPS took the
lead with kiosks.
States with their own kiosk systems have, in general, praised
USPS' initial efforts to construct a national system. Hal Ferber,
project manager of the Info/California kiosk system, said he hopes
the Postal Service becomes an energizing force that spreads the kiosk
vision throughout government.
In New Jersey, where the Department of Labor is testing six kiosks
that provide job information, the reaction to the Postal Service's
project was positive. "We feel the kiosk concept is a good idea that
makes people comfortable with using technology to access
information," said David R. Crane, director of the Office of
Publications and Special Projects.
He cautioned that kiosks need to be in locations where people can
use them nearly round-the-clock, and not in places, such as post
offices, that shut their doors at 5 p.m.. Crane said the most popular
kiosk in New Jersey's JobsPlus system is located in a mall where it's
used heavily during evenings and weekends.
The report advocates placing kiosks in a variety of public
locations, including post offices.
A stronger concern about federal deployment of a national kiosk
system came from Bob Rantschler, technical director of Project
Colorado, a five-kiosk system serving communities in the Rocky
Mountain state. While pleased that the Postal Service is taking the
lead in moving the country toward a national system of kiosks,
Rantschler worried that local communities will end up with the least
say in the kinds of applications that the kiosks will provide.
People do most of their government business at the local level, so
it makes sense that local leaders have a strong say in what
applications their citizens will use, explained Rantschler. "The key
to success is to achieve buy-in at the community level," he said.
"One federal agency isn't going to know everything in terms of what
communities want and need for kiosk services."
According to Reisner, the Interagency Kiosk Committee believes
that a project of this scope needs a coordinating council that sets
policy guidelines to deal with issues concerning kiosk ownership and
control of applications. "While a postal kiosk on a postal location
would likely be managed by the Postal Service," he said, "I think it
[application content and control] needs to be done cooperatively with
a group including federal, state and local governments where they all
feel they have a voice."
"Customers will use kiosks if the kiosks meet their needs," stated
the Interagency Kiosk Committee report concerning strategies for
kiosk applications. To ensure that happens, a national network of
kiosks needs to provide services for (1) agency-specific
transactions, (2) transactions related to specific services and
products, and (3) real-life scenarios.
The first two options would serve customers who know which agency
they need to contact or the specific service or product they desire.
Even if they aren't sure, the kiosk would lead them to their
"destination" through the use of key words and icons.
The third option is probably the most complex. It might involve
job changes, family changes or location changes and would require the
kiosk to guide a customer to services at different levels of
government. For example, someone seeking a new job would enter basic
information and the kiosk could display pertinent government and
private sector job openings with detailed information about type,
salary and location.
It could provide a print-out of the information, electronically
submit an application to the employer and schedule an interview. The
kiosk could also offer related information and services, such as
information on job training or unemployment benefits, information on
and applications for scholarships, grants and loan programs, welfare
and Medicaid, and the locations of the nearest shelter or health
The Committee foresees using modular kiosks to provide flexible
and comprehensive services. All kiosks would contain a core set of
capabilities and functions that could be used and completed in high
traffic areas, such as shopping malls or post office lobbies. More
enhanced kiosks -- with keyboards, for example -- would enable more
lengthy transactions, such as filing income taxes, and would require
a secure, private setting, such as a library or community center.
NETWORKING: TWO APPROACHES
Recognizing that the cost of networking thousands of kiosks for
multimedia could be formidable, the Committee report suggests two
possible architectural models for developing a national system. Both
would deliver similar services but use different system designs.
The first architecture model is a networked-based, client/server
solution, where applications reside at each agency and access is
provided in real time through a hierarchical network of servers. The
second model is called a kiosk-resident solution, with applications
residing on each kiosk and communications lines being used only when
it is necessary to communicate with remote databases and agency
servers outside the region where the kiosk is located.
The networked model requires only one version of each application,
which is fully controlled by the agency that developed it. The model
also allows for complete integration of existing government servers
and databases, leading to a simple management structure, similar to
the Internet. The primary disadvantage of the networked model is its
cost. Such an approach would require lots of high-bandwidth
communications to deliver services to a customer in a multimedia
The kiosk-resident model requires each kiosk to contain all the
applications, potentially limiting their number, size, and multimedia
intensity. Access to remote databases is possible, but is limited to
text when accessing over standard telephone lines. The key advantage
of the kiosk-resident model is its low cost.
MANAGEMENT BY ALLIANCE
No matter how many kiosks end up being networked, the national
system stands little chance of succeeding unless participating
government agencies adopt a uniform set of standards, protocols and
navigational tools for linking the providers of services. To achieve
that goal, the kiosk network needs an organizational structure to
One choice would be to have a single federal agency responsible
for governing and coordinating the network. But the Interagency Kiosk
Committee report recommends that a coalition of agencies set policy
and procedures for operating the network, as well as establishing
electronic development, standards and protocols to be used across the
The Committee envisions an overall national support group or hub,
as they call it, and five regional support hubs, which would
primarily fill a coordinating role rather than a governing one. The
regional hubs would work with state and local agencies, helping them
to partner with each other, sharing new applications with other
states in their region.
COSTS & FUNDING
The Committee report looked at building a 10,000 kiosk network and
came up with four possible cost scenarios, based partly on which
networking model is chosen and how fast the system is deployed. The
total costs range from $413 million to nearly $956 million, and would
include hardware, software, personnel, maintenance,
telecommunications, advertising and interest.
As for funding, Robert Reisner referred to the example set by
Info/California as a possible model. The state earns money for its
system using three different types of charges. First, an agency pays
the people who run Info/California to develop the interactive
application. Second, an agency contracts with Info/California to put
their application on the kiosk and, third, in some but not all cases,
there is a charge for individual services.
Private funding is another possibility. The Committee recognizes
the private sector's ability to deliver cost-effective services in a
competitive environment, but assumes that in such a venture, firms
would expect to recover all costs plus a profit from later usage
Another form of private funding, not mentioned in the report, but
practiced in a limited way by some states, involves cost-avoidance.
In Texas, the Employment Commission only pays the kiosk vendor (North
Communications) the actual costs to deliver job information via
kiosks, a significant savings over what the Commission used to pay to
do it themselves. That difference is enough to cover the Commission's
cost for using the network. The Commission also pays North a monthly
fee for each kiosk that provides employment information [see GT, Sept
State and local governments have been testing kiosks in a number
of formats since the late 1980s. Today, the few small-scale systems
in operation are a far cry from what many government visionaries
believed would be possible by 1995. Recognizing the slow growth in
government kiosk services, the Interagency Kiosk Committee cautions
that a national kiosk network will not be created overnight.
Technology is dynamic and kiosk applications are still in their
infancy. But with the federal government finally pushing the idea
forward, and with more state and local governments developing
innovative ideas for multimedia services, the future for government
kiosks looks bright.
SURVEY OF CITY MANAGERS
83 percent want to improve customer service.
71 percent say itÕs necessary to form partnerships with
federal and state agencies to make information available to the
65 percent see kiosks as the way to make services immediately
available to the public.
Source: Interagency Kiosk Committee
KIOSKS IN OPERATION
Between 1990 and 1993 the total number of public-and
private-sector interactive kiosks grew 250 percent to 90,000.
By 1997, that number is expected to increase more than 500 percent
Source: Inteco Corporation
How Optimum Number of 10,000 kiosks was calculated.
Based on Projected Use
# OF KIOSKS % OF POP. SERVED TRANS/KIOSK/DAY
650 25 158
1,000 30 123
2,000 38 78
4,000 46 48
6,000 54 37
8,000 62 32
10,000 70 29
20,000 85 18
Source: Interagency Kiosk Committee
KIOSK COSTS -- FOUR SCENARIOS
1. Fast Network: $956 million*
2. Incremental Network: $752 million
3. Fast Kiosk-Resident: $503 million
4. Incremental Kiosk-Resident: $413 million
* Totals cover a seven year period and include: hardware,
software, telecommunications, personnel, maintenance, service,
advertising and interest.
The "fast" scenarios are based on a deployment rate of 6,000
kiosks per year, while the "incremental" scenarios would have a
deployment rate of 2,000 kiosks per year.
Try Try Again
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Back in 1993, the U.S. Postal Service -- with
partners Postal Buddy Corp. of San Diego, Calif., and EDS -- planned
to install 10,000 kiosks for change of address and other specialized
postal services. But, as the USPS found, kiosks limited to Postal
Service transactions -- and located only in Post Offices -- were a
flop. The proposed new kiosk network will provide information and
services from many levels of government, and will be located in
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Thanks Tim and Anna!