Analysis: Kiosk Uptime, Revenue

Self-service kiosks are becoming more and more prevalent at airports and predictions show this trend will continue.

Another innovator in the industry is McCarran Airport in Las Vegas. McCarran has over 100 kiosks located throughout the airport, but also placed six off-site. These six kiosks sit in the nearby parking garage and hotel lobbies. This empowers the passenger to check in where he wants, when he wants, and reduces congestion inside the terminal.

The Hidden Costs of Kiosk Networks

As with any IT deployment, kiosks add a level of complexity in serving customers that airlines and airports are not always well-equipped to handle. Although airline industry executives are quick to educate themselves and recognize the benefits of kiosk deployment, they are not always enlightened regarding the network infrastructure, communication services, and technical expertise that are critical components of a successful deployment.

Kiosk networks, akin to any computer network, are susceptible to a variety of hazards, including network reliability, system failures, and service outages. Building and effectively managing remote networks requires strategic planning of human, financial, and equipment resources. Before and after deploying kiosk networks, it's imperative to identify vulnerabilities and points of weakness in creating contingency plans.

In an airport environment, executives that operate independent kiosk networks need to acquire new technical skills to manage their self-service devices. Although many airlines contract with service providers to manage and repair their kiosks, the airport environment presents many obstacles to quick and efficient service. First, the remote location of airports can prevent technicians from reaching points of service in a timely manner. Second, passing through airport security as an outside vendor carrying a toolbox can be difficult and time-consuming, in the best case scenario, or impossible, in the worst case. Third, the actual cost of deploying a technician to solve a problem can eat away at any profit margins or cost-benefits that the airline was experiencing from the kiosk.

Mitigating Risk, Reducing Repair Costs

In addition to building a redundant network infrastructure to circumvent service outages, administrators should plan for remote management and monitoring of kiosks networks. As kiosks are increasingly deployed off-site (in parking garages, hotels, restaurants, and transit locations) the need for remote management tools becomes even more critical. Manufacturers are developing simple and cost-effective solutions for remote management that allow administrators to reboot the systems when system crashes occur.

Some market solutions offer remote power control via the network and automatic detection of failures. The crashed system can then be accessed and rebooted via the network using an IP (Internet protocal) address on any Internet browser. Other devices allow for remote reboot control over phone lines — even controlling remote systems through your cell phone.

McCarran Airport owns and operates all of the kiosks in its building and employs its own team of 13 full-time maintenance technicians that are on-site 21 hours a day. Even with its rapid-response team in place, McCarran officials understood the potential revenue-loss from service disruption and also invested in remote management and monitoring tools. A McCarran technician can receive service alarms at his or her desktop or wireless PDA and reset a kiosk application remotely.

Remote reboot devices cannot solve all problems for crashed systems, but they do provide a means to provide both the "first line of defense" and "when all else fails" strategies for recovering remote devices. Northwest Airlines deployed remote controlled reboot devices, called iBoot, at each of its check-in kiosks. Each time a kiosk can be repaired through cycling power to the machine, the company saves approximately $180 (the average cost of sending out a service technician.)

A Self-Service Future

Self-service in the airline industry is not just a trend, but a revolution. It is truly changing the way airlines and airports operate and interact with their customers. These changes are not going unnoticed by the general public as well as lawmakers. In May 2006, the National Council on Disability (NCD) released a position paper, "Access to Airline Self-Service Kiosk Systems," that urged the U.S. Department of Transportation to adopt a standard for accessible kiosk design. The self-service model has become so pervasive in the airline industry, that enabling individuals with disabilities to utilize these tools has become essential as part of conforming with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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