Kiosks in the workplace

In the last few years, there has been a huge growth in HR department productivity fueled by Internet-based technologies that improve workflow.

Initially implemented in the front office, these technologies are now being applied throughout the organization to streamline operations. Many of these efficiencies are achieved through deployment of employee relationship management software or ERM that enables employee self-service.

Using such a system assists companies in managing, retaining and servicing employees to increase productivity while significantly reducing the cost of workplace transactions. It provides real-time information and data to support effective and collaborative decision-making between employees and management.

The software automates a wide range of employee interactions and enables the delivery of services directly to employees over the Internet, corporate intranets and wireless devices. By simplifying administrative tasks, ERM solutions allow management to focus on strategic services that drive value to the organization.

Today, one challenge organizations face is to provide universal access to useful applications for their entire employee population. For employees without a desktop PC, another interface must be provided to realize this value. One effective solution is the installation of employee kiosks in the workplace.

While considering using kiosks, an organization should address the following factors: supporting software, kiosk type, number and location, network access and installation support.

Supporting software
Prior to selecting a kiosk vendor, it is critical to consider whether the software that you are planning to use is designed for a kiosk. Of paramount importance are the software’s usability, transaction capability and expandability. Firms that install kiosks without highly functional software will often not realize the return on investment that they hope for.

For example, one manufacturing organization spent more than $3 million to provide employees with access to vast amounts of corporate and personal information using top-quality hardware. A year after implementation the organization found that few employees were using the kiosks. The problem was twofold: It took far too much time to navigate the information and the benefit of doing so was limited.

A successful kiosk deployment must provide employees with quick and easy access to information and allow them to use that information to complete high-value transactions with greater efficiency.

Applications designed to run on kiosks are often different from those designed for a standard desktop PC. Graphics and text should be large and easy to understand. A well-designed kiosk application can be easily navigated using a touch-screen interface and is simple enough that new users can quickly become accustomed to the system.

Looking for ROI
In order to achieve ROI from a kiosk program, managers must consider the type of transactions that their software vendor can provide. Unless the transactions provided by a vendor are those that employees will utilize very frequently and will derive high value from, it is unlikely that ROI will be realized.

Some examples include providing hourly workers the flexibility to exchange shifts with other employees, schedule vacations and check their pay stubs online. These types of automated, end-to-end services are compelling enough to promote high-usage and value for the employee and the organization.

Kiosk services can dramatically cut administrative costs and worker downtime while increasing employee satisfaction and loyalty.

Infrequent transactions such as name and address changes do not provide enough value to justify the deployment of kiosks throughout the workplace.

A critical benefit of a kiosk program is that it creates a common electronic “water-cooler” where employees become accustomed to gathering new workplace information. Unless the software that supports the kiosk offers rich functionality and delivers valuable services to employees, it is unlikely that the kiosk will become a habitual part of the employees’ day.

What kind

Kiosks come in a wide range of shapes and sizes. When selecting a kiosk, managers should consider the functionality the kiosk will provide as well as the environment in which the kiosk will be installed.

The desired functionality drives the types of devices the kiosk will need to be equipped with. For example, if hard copies of on-screen data are desirable, then kiosks must come equipped with a printer. Other capabilities that are available include card readers, scanners, keyboards, trackballs and multimedia functionality.

The operating environment must also be considered. Environmental factors such as temperature, grease, dust and humidity all affect design and cost of a kiosk. Specially designed rugged kiosks are available for particularly harsh operating environments.

Numbers and location
Determining the precise number and location of kiosks can be a difficult task. Managers should consider whether the kiosk is to be the single source of access to the company software or a part of an integrated system-wide roll out over the intranet and maybe even involving home PC (Internet) access.

If employees are expected to have multiple modes of accessing information, then fewer kiosks will be required. Provided the kiosk is the sole point of access, a typical manufacturing facility would require an employee-to-kiosk ratio of 50:1. However, this is likely to change depending on the specific characteristics of the work environment.

Location is also an important factor in any kiosk deployment. Be sure to factor in the traffic patterns expected in any area where a kiosk will be located. If sophisticated time clock functionality is implemented, proximity to entranceways must be considered. Furthermore, if the functionality included involves advanced payment or HR transactions then privacy may be an issue and the kiosks should be located in areas where employees will feel comfortable accessing personal information.

Next-generation kiosks are Internet-based, and therefore it is important that any location include high-speed Internet access for a successful roll out. Internet-based deployments provide greater flexibility than other alternatives and are far more cost-effective to maintain and upgrade. When considering network access, be aware that there are a variety of options available today, including wireless networks, which can significantly reduce the cost of network installation.

Installation and support
Finally, one should consider who will manage the installation and support of your kiosks. If you choose to install kiosks independent of software, you run the risk of multiple points of contact when trouble arises. This can seriously impede the success of any kiosk-based implementation. Whomever you choose to install and support your kiosks should have significant experience with both the hardware and the software that you intend to use.

By considering all of these factors when developing your kiosk strategy, you will greatly improve the likelihood of a successful kiosk implementation.

David Ossip is CEO of Workbrain, a provider of employee relationship management solutions. He can be reached at [email protected]

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