Creative solutions for any market with the AnyPlace Kiosk

Richard Austin (pictured left of photograph), business development manager and Phil Boyd (pictured right of photograph), director of partner services, at ScanSource Europe, examine the varied markets into which value-added resellers have provided solutions involving IBMs AnyPlace Kiosk.

Self-service technology in retail is now a common and accepted part of the customer experience; it could be argued that it is indispensable to meeting customers needs. Skilled and knowledgeable sales advisers are a costly and increasingly rare commodity in the retail environment. In supplementing the role of the in-store sales advisor, interactive self-service kiosks increase sales, generate revenue and enhance customer loyalty.

The AnyPlace Kiosk (APK) from IBM is rapidly becoming a reseller favourite; at the core of this success is its suitability for a wide range of applications. As a product from IBMs Retail Store Solutions range, it is to be expected that the APK would sell well into the retail space, but what is perhaps surprising the high demand from many other market sectors. This products versatility, combined with the suitability of touchscreen applications to various vertical markets are vitally important factors in its success.

One of the pioneers of the APK is Retec Interface, who specialises in the delivery of digital communications solutions for the retail market, and who uses the APK in all of its integrated touchscreen self-service projects. John Cole, CEO of Retec Interface, illustrates the reasons for the growth of shelf edge touchscreen technology in retail, and the advantages that this technology offers retailers. With consumers becoming ever more demanding and seeking more control over their purchases and transactions, a combination of passive and interactive communication channels is proving to be a win-win situation for both retailers and customers alike. Advanced selling technologies, such as those provided by Retec Interface, enable clients to enhance customer interactions and differentiate their in-store shopping experience, increasing core sales and improving operational efficiencies. We're already seeing companies like Boots, Tesco, Sainsbury's and Woolworth's taking advantage of the benefits in-store kiosk solutions can bring to their stores, by empowering employees and providing customers with timely and relevant information.

The APK is particularly well suited to such usage says Cole. Customers have instant access to information, special services, and e-business transactions, allowing retailers to exert powerful influence over purchasing decisions. The kiosks combine advanced infrared touchscreen technology, with powerful processing capabilities, in a space-saving device that is easy to place in any environment. The advanced kiosk platform, combined with Retec Interface's flexible mounting and housing options, allows the solution to be customised to the needs of the store.

Outside of the retail market, applications for this technology are diverse, ranging from hospitality to healthcare, libraries to leisure. ScanSource Europes solution partner programme facilitates partnerships between companies with strengths in particular vertical markets, and those with software or other specialist skills. This means that there is no need for companies with an opportunity to sell a kiosk solution into a particular vertical market to re-invent the wheel. Partnering with companies who have the capabilities to implement kiosk applications can help to deliver a fast and effective solution to customers.

Bingo gaming and food ordering system
ECM Systems, a gaming solutions provider to the bingo market, used the APK in a groundbreaking bingo solution. ECM provided the gaming technology for FountainPark, Mecca Bingos stunning new bingo club in Edinburgh. The worlds first fully electronic bingo club, it features 541 IBM touchscreen terminals providing fabulous graphics, animation and sound for a unique and outstanding playing experience. Seated at their Mecca Pod, customers sign in using their membership card, and can play bingo or electronic roulette, learn about the games, check their accounts and order snacks and drinks. John MacDonald, operations director at ECM says: IBM provided a compact, reliable unit with a robust touchscreen and guaranteed spares available. It suits the environment and the customers love it. ScanSources assistance in the initial systems integration helped ECM with their smooth implementation of the project.

Partnered with ECM in the Mecca Bingo project was Xpress Ordering, a ScanSource solution partner, whose automated food ordering service can be selected from an on-screen menu by players. Xpress application allows users to select food and beverage items, which are sent to the kitchen/bar area for preparation. Xpress Ordering co-founder and sales director Nigel Allan says: Xpress Ordering has provided Mecca Bingo with a state of the art, at seat ordering solution. Integrated with the ECM gaming system, it has become a platform for increased sales of food and beverages, offers high levels of customer service and overcomes traditional congestion problems at food and beverage bars. It has proven to be a real winner with the staff and club members at FountainPark.

Using the APK as the hardware platform, Xpress Ordering provides a range of self-ordering solutions to the food service, retail grocery and hospitality sectors, Alan explains: Deli Xpress provides a powerful model for the future of self-ordering in food service environments. Through the use of rich graphics, text and sound, the system is proven to queue bust, drive sales, increase productivity and reduce shrinkage, adding real value to both site operator and customer.

Self-service options for libraries
The APK touchscreen/PC format is also helping to reduce waiting times in libraries. D-Tech, who specialises in library security products, offers the APK, using either RFID or electromagnetic technology, as a queue busting solution. The APK is linked to an intelligent tag reader or bar code scanner and an Epson ticket printer, to allow library users to issue or return books using a self-service point. Says Marvin Crisp, managing director of D-Tech: More and more libraries are adopting the self-service option, alongside traditional counter services. It benefits both the user, as libraries can offer a wider range of opening times and reduce queues, and librarians, as it frees them up to be more customer-facing, moving them away from time-consuming administrative tasks. Touchscreen technology is the way forward for librariesit is a sensible and cost-effective option to increase and manage footfall. ScanSources pre-configuration services help us to deliver kiosk solutions to our customers quickly and efficiently.

Customer feedback systems
Another ScanSource solution partner, Customer Research Technology (CRT), provides a range of hardware and related software designed to collect customer feedback at the point of experience into various markets, including retail, pharmaceutical, leisure and transport.

Richard Gamble, director at CRT says: "Touchscreen technology gives us a great deal of flexibility in terms of the capabilities of our application and keeping pace with developments. The APK serves as a robust hardware platform and our ability to operate the unit on a GPRS network allows us to provide clients with real time customer feedback."

Self check-in at the surgery
Jayex Technology specialises in advanced Information and call display systems, and utilises the kiosk as part of its system for patient self check-in at doctors surgeries and for queue management solutions in hospitals and council market sectors. The kiosk check-in unit links into the Jayex X-Touch check-in and call software, providing a complete tracking solution for the practice or department. According to Jayex sales director, Bob Marsh: "Jayex selected IBM's APK for its competitive price, reliability and excellent support. We evaluated market requirements in line with disability guidelines and identified core requirements for access to ensure as many users as possible would be able to utilise it; the highest requirements were to provide access for people with mobility solutions and for those with little or no IT or keyboard skills. The APK met both criteria."

Strong product offering
Bruce Rasa, offering marketing manager for the APK at IBM, is enthusiastic about the strengths of the product. The APK offers the combination of ultra compact design and self-service hardening, which means that retailers and other cross-industry customers have the flexibility to mount the kiosk wherever it delivers the most value. The kiosk has a long product lifecycle and is ideal for harsh, public environments.

On the products suitability to varied market segments, Rasa says: Self-service solutions are finding consumer acceptance in multiple segments. Consumers appreciate, and increasingly demand, the convenience and control that self-service delivers. Retailers and other cross-industry customers can benefit from the ability to deliver quality customer service, while at the same time reducing costs.

For Rasa, the primary markets for the APK are retail (guided selling, media preview and download, loyalty, gift registry), healthcare (hospital/clinic check-in, fitness), entertainment and gaming, airline and hotel check in, hospitality (deli self-order, quick service restaurant), lottery, bill payment, event ticketing and human resources.

With 12 (30), 15 (38) and 17 (43) in (cm) screen versions available, there is an APK to suit virtually any environment. A range of integrated peripherals is also available, including both linear and omnidirectional bar code scanners, magnetic stripe readers, a range of interfaces and various standard and custom mounting options.

Service and support availability
ScanSource Europe can provide a variety of services to help its customers offer new technology, such as the APK, more easily. A full range of configuration services are available, ranging from hardware assembly, through preloading of operating systems to gold disk customer application software preloading. In line with this ScanSource can also offer assistance to resellers in staging roll-outs to their customers. Kiosk projects often represent a different return on investment than traditional IT installations and as such end users may wish to engage alternative methods of payment. To assist resellers in financing such projects ScanSource offers a range of credit options to support resellers in their roll-outs.

In a market where it is increasingly difficult to offer genuine value-added solutions, self-service kiosk applications can be a creative way for solution providers to increase sales, enhance customer relationships and cut costs.

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