The price of self-service, part 3: lowering the cost of manufacturing, road maps, warranties, hot-swap, installation and maintenance
Lowering servicing costs starts with doing things right. Building a custom prototype in a garage or in a local sheet-metal house may appear to lead to lower entry costs, but when you have to replace a part and you now have 20 or 200 kiosks in the field that are spread out over several hundred or several thousand miles, knowing what is inside the kiosk really makes a difference.
It is hard to imagine that a legitimate kiosk deployer doesn't know what is actually in the kiosk they deployed, but it happens all the time. And even worse, building a kiosk with PC parts that you do not have a road map for, for not only the PC technology, but also for form factor and drop-in mounting for replacement parts, will scuttle the most enticing of kiosk solutions.
Will the software you install on the PC be able to run on the OS, the motherboard or on the bios that you will have to replace six months from now when one, or many, of your erector-set PCs fail?
Will the LCD display that your manufacturer cracked open the bezel (voided the warranty) to put their own offshore, off-brand touchscreen on the off-brand display actually be available in the same 6-month time frame?
Finding a manufacturer who truly stewards not only the metal enclosure, but also has relationships with the supply base for kiosk components should keep you out of the mess that comes from buying parts at a local PC house and "kludging" them into a kiosk enclosure. And, do you think the LCDs at Costco or Sam's Club will be the same form factor when you go back to buy replacements for them six months from now?
Warranties, service contracts and hot-swap
Buy legitimate components. Components that come from well known sources and suppliers in the industry may still fail in the field, but they probably will not kill your kiosk program if you plan ahead. Parts that can't be replaced with a part with the same exact form factor definitely can put a kiosk project on life support.
A standard warranty in the kiosk industry for a top-of-the line LCD touchscreen is three years. Do us all a favor and use products that are world renowned and that have their technology and form-factor roadmaps set in stone.
Some kiosk deployers insist on finding off brands or bleeding-edge PCs or tablets, with the latest and greatest new dongle form factor or Android OS to build their kiosks. It is when the cost for onsite visits and in-field component swaps start adding up that the deployer without a road-mapped and readily available solution will recognize a PC from a supplier who has 24- to 48-hour onsite repair is something that they should have considered.
Safety stock and hot-swap mentality
If you are tech savvy and can deal with the distances between your individual kiosk in your deployment with either your own, or contracted onsite services, having safety stock and having a hot-swap mentality will save money. Being able to pull and replace (hot-swap) a PC in the field, and bring the defective units to a repair depot, will save money on repair costs. Does anyone really want to pay a service tech for a 4- or 6- hour onsite repair at the kiosk location by a technician trained well enough to fix a PC, rather than just pulling the PC and bringing it to a repair depot?
Remote management tools
Software can truly allow you to reboot machines, reset machines, update machines and fix machines remotely. When 99 percent of all PC issues can be fixed by rebooting a machine or resetting the image back to a safe place, why would you leave this hammer out of the tool kit?
This doesn't account for all the amazing statistics that usage reports from a secure browser with remote tools can report. Furthermore, this type of data will help justify the ROI to the customer and future prospects on the benefits of having a truly flexible software that makes a kiosk a true business machine.
Every day I find more and more companies that are offering world class installation and maintenance services with either their own employees (regionally) and via networks (globally) that can support a kiosk project anywhere in the world, or at least throughout North America. Some are more costly than others. And some of them have 50 to 100-plus years of track record in servicing business machines and ATMs. You get what you pay for.
Getting these type of service companies involved when the need or volume makes sense is the only true way to be a able to make the bold statement that a kiosk deployment really is a viable national business proposition.
Look at Redbox
Redbox has kiosks in every state and a business that is still thriving well in to decade number two. Ninety percent of this success is due in part to the fact that they have the services in place to stock movies and change movie collateral/signage almost at will, at every location. If you can service North Dakota and Montana through your relationships, investors will probably be willing to listen.
Roadmaps to success, warranties, service contracts, hot-swap, remote management tools and service contracts are just as important as having a good a idea and a lot of money to start with. When you do it right, and plan ahead for these issues, by employing the best kiosk solution providers in the world, you may actually have a chance and put more money in your pockets.
Ben Wheeler, known as The KioskGuy, is a long time kiosk industry executive who assists companies with kiosk solutions.www