As I stated in my November blog, "the price of self-service all depends on what you're trying to achieve. Just like anything else we purchase, getting a kiosk project off the ground can be as cheap as buying LCD displays from Costco all the way up to ‘the sky is the limit."
So now that we're talking software, we are officially talking about the "sky is the limit" part of the equation. As a "hardware guy," I am reluctant, as always, to admit that software is the magic that makes the whole thing tick, but I'm finally there! Let's outline the major parts of software and see how we can intuitively lower costs of doing business in the world of self service.
Foundation: secure browser software
Secure browser software is the foundation of everything that will be done on a kiosk. If you can't lock out the vandals from the entry points in the hardware or control the content that is being served onto the kiosk from rogue websites, then your amazing software application will not survive for very long. Ask LinkNYC how much bad press comes from the inability to keep the homeless off the porn sites on the streets of New York City.
You must have control of all I/O ports and keyboard strokes so that anyone with any computer science background can't walk up to your kiosk and take complete control.
How do you save money here? This is actually the first place you look for cost savings. Do you reinvent the wheel for your project? Or do you go to the experts in this field and build your security and remote management on their shoulders?
With highly certified companies available, why would you even begin to try to develop this piece yourself? There are companies in this industry certified by government agencies.
Serve an existing website
Software is and always will be the largest cost of doing business in the self-service biosphere. Custom development of a complete application software will run you anywhere from $50,000 to whatever they think you can afford. So when you're looking at proof-of-concept on your solution, why wouldn't you serve your existing website and its content and payment solutions through a secure browser to secure it and lock it down?
How do you save money here? If you have a suitable website, serving it as the solution is a good way to start. It lowers cost! Custom application software is going to be the biggest upfront cost of anything you do, so why not push it off until you're sure what you’re offering is a good solution? If you've got money to burn, then you don't have to wait, but if your website handles the workload, then why spend the money upfront?
Custom software development
If you don't have the money, look for a provider who will work with you with a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model. Capital expense upfront is always the issue. $100,000-plus to most kiosk groups is not chump change. SaaS is available for a company with a good business plan.
Having a software provider carry the risk of working on your project doesn't come without some upfront commitment, however.
Most software companies own their own code that does specific functions that a kiosk will do like capturing identification information and populating it into a database. This IP can be used for multiple customers and shortens design time, and it can be used over and over. Theoretically, it should drive costs down in the short term and lower the risk of the software company developing an SaaS project where there might be more risk.
The bottom line is, always, do your homework. Make educated choices by checking deployments and references. Align yourself with companies and people who have been there and done that. Most of all, evaluate where your project fits into the software biosphere and decide if you can leverage a secure browser software or an existing IP, and see if your project merits an SaaS contract.
/ Ben Wheeler, known as The KioskGuy, is a long time kiosk industry executive who assists companies with kiosk solutions.