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Nov 6, 2009

CHIP : Will chip-and-PIN mean fewer transactional kiosks in the future?

Roland Thompson is the director of United Kingdom-based Stream Retail, a provider of digital signage, POS and self-service solutions in the retail vertical.

From a European’s perspective, it is often useful to look to the United States to get a read on likely trends, particularly in the self-service and kiosk industry, as recent figures suggest that more than 50 percent of the worldwide installed kiosk base is in the U.S.

And given today's economic backdrop, we Europeans are keeping a much closer eye on events in the U.S. than before. The old adage, "If the U.S. sneezes, Europe catches a cold," underscores our recent troubles, and as recovery takes hold, we hope activity in the U.S. will give us Europeans a glimpse of the future as we recover from this flu.

And the market conditions for self-service kiosks in the U.S. seem to be very good. The recession is mostly over, but companies will continue to try doing more with a smaller staff. Competition among retailers has never been so high, so an innovative customer offering is important.

Stores are turning to multichannel retailing, and with the kiosk playing an important role in the mix, a greater variety of applications and uses are emerging. The kiosk is no longer just an information tool — it is becoming a transaction tool too.

Kiosks that can take payments — fantastic! This functionality makes kiosks truly useful and increases their appeal 100-fold. Information-based kiosks are fine, but they can only ever take over an isolated part of the retail customer experience. Give them payment functionality and they become a proper retail partner, working alongside the traditional channels like a true team player.

Thus, any European would conclude from their U.S. crystal ball that economic conditions are conspiring in the kiosk’s favor and the scope of its application is widening and driving the industry forward. So we should start preparing to scale.

Or should we? Is what is happening in the U.S. something we can rely upon to happen in Europe? One fundamental difference between the two continents significantly changes the landscape — the rules and regulations governing the ways payments are managed.

The rules governing card payments in European countries are far more stringent than those in the U.S. The main driver is fraud prevention, and it has led to the introduction of chip-and-pin technology for all debit card and credit card transactions that are not Web-based.

There will soon be 40 countries worldwide using chip-and-pin, with Mexico and Canada next on the list to adopt the technology. But as of yet, the U.S. has made no commitment to follow suit. Many banking officials in the country say it does not have the levels of fraud that other countries have to warrant this adoption. Pressure for U.S. banks to make the change is mounting, however, particularly since U.S. citizens are finding it more and more difficult to use their credit and debit cards abroad, since they are not chip-enabled.

So what does this mean for the kiosk? For now, it means that the U.S. is unencumbered by the payments hoops that Europeans and other chip-and-pin countries have to jump through — and there are many.

For example, to allow a “European-style” credit or debit card payment to take place at a kiosk, a deployer must decide upon a chip-and-pin device and then find a payment service provider that has the accreditation to work with that device. Once housed in the kiosk, the payments solution needs the accreditation of the bank acquirer. This final stage is time-consuming and expensive, which means running trials and proving the business case is risky.

On a positive note, there are payments service providers who are getting blanket accreditation to work with all acquirers using a particular chip-and-pin unit. But there are other hurdles. During a recent deployment in Holland, for example, we found that the chip-and-pin device we use in the U.K. was not up to standard, as the LCD screen was too close to the pin pad. Also, the required hardware itself is expensive and changes the whole slope of the business case to a more shallow, marginal one.

Conversely, things are much simpler in the U.S. Many applications, for example, allow retailers to accept a touchscreen signature for a card-based transaction. If you have ever used a stylus on a touchscreen, then you will know your handwriting degenerates into that of a 5 year-old's and looks nothing like your signature. Furthermore, a simple swipe of the card at a kiosk is all that is required to authenticate a transaction in an unattended environment.

Without a doubt, the U.S. has it easy when it comes to offering transactional kiosks, and U.S. deployers will continue to see good growth in this area until the rules change. Opinion is divided on whether chip-and-pin will be introduced in the U.S., but we believe it will begin to be adopted within three to five years, at which point there is likely to be a marked decline in the deployment of transactional kiosks.

Meanwhile, we Europeans will continue to forge a path though the payment jungle and do our best to build kiosk networks that are transaction-based and not just information-based. Who knows, we may even show the way for once and have our American cousins learning and following our lead.

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Nov 5, 2009

BIOMETRIC : U.S. government driving growth of biometrics in self-service

ABC reports that earlier this year, as part of his administration's efforts to reform the U.S. healthcare system, President Obama pledged to ensure that all medical records in the United States would be electronic within five years. The plan is sure to have far-reaching effects on the healthcare industry as a whole, and it also is likely to create opportunities for technology providers in the space.

Patient check-in kiosks have existed in doctors' offices for some time, but they've not become as ubiquitous as in other verticals yet. But Josh Napua, vice president of kiosk solutions for Fujitsu's Frontech of North America division, says the impending government mandates are likely to drive more deployments.

"Healthcare has always been thought of as being sort of behind on IT technology," Napua said. "But obviously with the infusion of the Obama initiative for electronic medical records, I think there's a growing interest, to say the least, in trying to figure out a lot of these solutions in healthcare."

Fujitsu's latest patient self-service offering, the Med-Serv 50/60 kiosk, incorporates state-of-the art biometric technology, another trend that is picking up speed in the kiosk industry.

The kiosk's PalmSecure palm-vein sensor, which also can be implemented in other hardware configurations, allows a patient to sign in at the healthcare provider's office by simply holding her hand close to the kiosk's touchscreen, which then captures an image of the palm's vein pattern and encrypts it. Fujitsu is working with several medical centers, including a 22-location clinic network in Springfield, Ill., and George Washington University, to execute pilot rollouts of the kiosk, whose hardware is manufactured by KIOSK Information Systems.

Patients can choose to forgo the palm-vein scan and use other methods to sign in, but Napua says providers have been pleasantly surprised to find most users prefer the biometric option.
"At the beginning, the patient always has the option to check in either using their credit card, a password, which is typically a Social Security Number, or a biometric palm (scan)," Napua said. "Ninety-nine percent of the patients have been opting for the palm biometrics."

Another important advantage of the PalmSecure technology is that it can be used to verify the identity of physicians and medical staff themselves to gain access to medical records systems. Napua says this implementation allows for better protection of patients' private and sensitive information.

"One of the problems that has been publicly noted, especially in Hollywood, is the fact that these records are accessible by anybody who's in the hospital," he said.

"They've had problems where people who should not have been were accessing patients' records. So there's another big move for implementing single sign-on solutions, which means being able to use just one security password or biometric to access multiple applications in a hospital or clinic. Because people lose passwords, people lose their badges, people give their passwords to other people, all of that."

And the palm-vein biometric technology, which Napua says is the only one of its kind certified by the international biometric standards consortium Common Criteria, is particularly suited to a healthcare environment because it is contactless and even can capture a person's vein pattern through material, such as a physician's latex glove.

Napua also says the palm-vein scanning is among the most accurate and cost-effective solutions when compared to other biometric technologies. He says fingerprint-scanning, which has been common in biometric deployments thus far, is on the low end of the spectrum in terms of cost but also is the least accurate biometric technology. On the other hand, iris scanning, also a well-known biometric iteration, is the most accurate but also the most costly. Palm-vein scanning, however, accomplishes both goals, Napua says.
"So now position the palm-vein sensor — it is on the low end of that spectrum in terms of cost, competing with that fingerprint sensor, but it is as accurate as an iris scanner," he said. "So you sort of get the best of both worlds with this palm-vein sensor."

Global Entry kiosk program

Another government initiative driving the growth of biometric deployments is the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Global Entry Trusted Traveler program. The project's pilot phase was launched in June 2008 and is now in 20 airports nationwide.

The kiosks employ fingerprint- and iris-scanning biometrics, along with a series of declaration questions, to confirm the identity of registered travelers and move them through customs more quickly and efficiently than the traditional method, where customs agents deal with each traveler individually.

According to a news release from the DHS, travelers who wish to register with the Global Entry program must submit their biometric data, pay a $100 fee and go through a background check and an interview with Customs and Border Protection officers.

As of August, 16,000 members were enrolled in the program and the kiosks had been used more than 51,000 times, according to the DHS. The kiosk and biometric solutions are provided by KIOSK Information Systems and CSC, neither of which chose to comment on the topic for this article.

Digital Signage : NCR buys digital signage software provider Netkey

NCR Corp. announced this morning that it has purchased the assets of Netkey, a digital signage and kiosk software provider based in East Haven , Conn. Terms of the sale were not disclosed.

Netkey’s software platform is used to manage digital signage networks as well as self-service applications like gift registry, guided selling, endless aisle and human resources functions.
Netkey has more than 75,000 kiosks and digital signs installed by more than 400 clients in the retail, finance, transportation and government sectors. Many of these customers also use NCR ’s kiosk, self-checkout or point-of-sale solutions.

NCR will combine Netkey’s software platform with its own software to create an enterprise software solution to accompany NCR’s hardware portfolio and suite of services. NCR will continue to provide multivendor hardware support with the Netkey solution.
Mike Webster, vice president and general manager for NCR ’s retail line of business, commented on the acquisition:

Consumers increasingly expect to interact with companies when and how they wish, and businesses are responding by offering their customers a seamless experience across the channel of their choice. This acquisition will enable NCR to help its customers across multiple industries with kiosk and digital signage solutions that deliver more effective transactions, promotions and information as part of a merged-channel strategy.

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