How to find a software platform for your kiosk & digital signage needs
Choosing the right software platform is crucial to a successful kiosk or digital signage deployment. The software platform determines everything from security to monitoring to integration – and ultimately, to user experience and ROI.
There are inexpensive and simple solutions for displaying web content securely on a kiosk, like Chrome’s Kiosk mode or mKiosk by Firefox. However, these do not fall under the category of a software platform. Instead, these options simply lock down web content in a secure browser. They will not control port access, USB access or report on component functionality. For this, a more advanced, true software platform is required. A true self-service software platform enables you to integrate multiple peripheral components, customize security and monitor devices remotely. While these features might seem overwhelming, a proper software platform is created with the end user in mind and should be easy to manage no matter the deployer’s technical experience. Here are some key things to think about when deciding on a software platform for your kiosk or digital signage deployment:
User Interface: A true software platform can secure web content, but also has the ability to display a high-spec user interface, be it web-based or a local application. The platform should provide a rich tool-based environment which enables users to easily navigate and consume content. A custom kiosk or digital signage interface is best for user experience because it leverages responsive design. Rather than using a website which assumes the use of a keyboard and mouse, a high-spec user interface will allow the user to have a more fulfilling experience with the responsive touchscreen.
Component Integration: A proper software platform can integrate with hundreds of optional components to enhance the kiosk or digital signage for a variety of use cases – bill payment, patient/visitor check-in, print-on-demand, self-ordering, etc. A platform should integrate multiple devices at deep system states. For example, the platform should know the difference between low cash in a cash dispenser and an issue with the touchscreen, and then possess the granularity to send different alerts appropriately. For example, a low paper alarm might go to the local store manager who has a key to change the paper, while an issue with the touchscreen monitor alert might go to the IT department of that company or a service entity who possess the technical skill necessary to resolve the problem.
Security: Your software platform should give you the option to whitelist and blacklist particular websites. Whitelisting enables businesses and organizations to create a specific list of web pages or URLs users are allowed to view. Blacklisting allows businesses and organizations to create a list of URLs users are specifically denied. For instance, if a kiosk is being used by internal employees for HR purposes, the employer might blacklist social media websites or simply whitelist the specific web pages employees are supposed to use.
Kiosk, Digital Signage Software Applications
Depending on your kiosk or digital signage goals, these key features will be fundamental to achieving them. Increased investment in self-service solutions has created an even greater need for businesses and organizations to stand out and engage with their audience. Here are a few ways kiosk-specific applications make that happen:
Integration with Kiosk Components: While the software platform will control everything from security to monitoring to integration, the kiosk application is designed specifically to interact with users and provide customized kiosk functionality. Businesses and organizations can choose to simply lock down a specific webpage to act as their kiosk or digital signage content. However, an application allows control over the devices within the kiosk, like a printer or camera, and creates a more customized user experience.
Software Development Kit (SDK): A true software platform integrates with a software development kit (SDK), a set of software development tools used to create applications for the software platform. For example, a visitor check-in kiosk in the lobby of a government building may use a camera, VoIP phone, printer and scanner. All of these components are integrated into the software platform. Software platforms that offer an SDK will allow the company to develop their own application to determine how users interact with each of the components to successfully complete the check-in process. Or, it may allow developers to later build on an existing application, adding more components and functionality as different needs arise.
Omni-Channel Marketing: A software platform with an SDK gives businesses and organizations the opportunity to create a user experience in line with other marketing initiatives. Users appreciate an experience that matches their expectations. Businesses that leverage such technology also enhance and extend their brand in the process. Customers ordering food at a restaurant will expect the self-service kiosk to have the same look and feel as the in-store menus, online promotions, commercials, etc. When users’ expectations are met they will be more likely to engage with the kiosk again, increasing ROI.
Use-Case Specific: The customer experience should be customized based on the audience and purpose of the self-service solution. For example, a student paying their tuition at a kiosk will want a different experience than a traveler buying a bus ticket at a station or a customer choosing their insurance policy. When building an application, it’s important to think about the user and what will make the experience most enjoyable. For example, larger buttons and limited scrolling are easier to use on a touchscreen. It’s also critical to collect user feedback by doing user testing; a pilot can provide a great platform to test an application in the field as well.
It’s important to consider kiosk-specific applications when choosing a software platform. Once the kiosk hardware and software platform are chosen, the SDK can be used to create a kiosk application to create an exceptional customer experience. If you have a compelling business case that requires a self-service solution, deciding on software should be a primary consideration. In the end, the software application will be paramount in determining whether or not your business case will be compelling to those who engage with the kiosk.
Custom vs. Off-the-Shelf Options
The software platform hardens the operating system and allows for the integration of multiple peripheral components; it will also provide a “heartbeat” to a remote server and allow you to monitor devices remotely. A software application, on the other hand, is created specifically for the kiosk experience and will allow a user to interact with a graphic user interface (GUI), as well as multiple components, such as printers, cameras, scanners, etc.
Software platforms are often available as off-the-shelf solutions, but a software platform alone usually only offers a secure browser for viewing whitelisted web content. It’s the kiosk-specific application that creates a great user experience. But how do companies — large or small — decide whether to invest in a custom application versus an off-the-shelf, turnkey application? Even more important, where is the line between what is considered to be off the shelf and what is custom? Do off-the-shelf applications even exist? What are the benefits of an off-the-shelf application? What are the limits? For reference, we’ve compiled the key features of current off-the-shelf software application solutions, their benefits and their limits.
A true off-the-shelf solution has many benefits. They are designed for ease of use and often do not require an understanding of difficult computer programming. This makes it easy for even the smallest of organizations to support. Off-the-shelf applications offer ways to incorporate your own company’s branding and have reasonable technical requirements that cover a wide range of hardware and operating systems.
Off-the-shelf applications are designed so content can be easily organized and navigated. While these features can simplify the process, depending on your business goals, you may need a custom application that offers more flexibility. For example, a hospital looking for a patient check-in solution may need to invest in a custom application that allows compatibility with their EMR system, just as a museum may need to invest in a customizable wayfinding application depending on the complexity of its floor plan.
The integration and compatibility limitations can make it difficult for certain industries to leverage an off-the-shelf application as a software solution. Organizations looking for a payment solution will likely want to invest in a custom application, as integrating with particular payment processors almost always necessitates customization.
When searching for a software platform and application, the most important thing to consider is your use case and target audience. A hospital or museum may need a completely customized application in order to provide its users the best possible experience. However, if you’re looking for a virtual receptionist, employee directory, advertising platform or corporate bulletin board solution, an off-the-shelf software application may be the best option to decrease up-front costs, increase user engagement and boost ROI.