This is a question we receive often enough to warrant an in-depth analysis of the topic to clarify if and when reusing your existing web application for a self-service solution is workable. The question arises because of two common misconceptions:
- This is how self-service solutions work in general.
- The web application does “most of what’s needed;” we just need to add payments to it.
Evolution of self-service
As soon as self-service became technically feasible, organizations realized that introducing it might dramatically improve efficiency and user satisfaction in almost any line of business. The general solutions provided can roughly be divided into two sets:
- Systems developed to integrate with a specific range of peripheral devices and remote systems to provide a particular service. An example is public transportation ticketing solutions. These need to accept cash and card payments, print tickets on a specific type of paper, read and update information on electronic cards, and retrieve up-to-date ticketing information from other systems.
When using these systems, it becomes evident that they don’t reuse web applications for their user interfaces—not least because the user interfaces are often clunky, hard to use, and not very modern looking. However, the reason why this is the case is sound. An application that resides on the machine and has access to system devices directly is best when developing such peripheral-heavy user workflows.
- The other set of solutions comprises systems initially developed as information kiosks. These were intended to open an existing company website in a browser suitable for use in public locations. And do nothing else, initially at least.
Eventually, information kiosk vendors caught on and realized that some interaction with peripheral devices is a must for almost any self-service system, be it accepting payments, printing out a slip, or scanning a bar code. To solve the technological conundrum that interaction with such devices must happen on the operating system level, vendors developed specific extensions for their locked-down browsers that would respond to specific hooks invoked by the opened website and provide a predefined overlay for interacting with a given peripheral device.
While this technical solution is very admirable, given the constraints, self-service systems built on such platforms do not align well with users’ expectations of modern user interface design.
Does it really do what’s needed?
Even in situations when a website in principle could be reused for a self-service solution, it is almost never suitable, as self-service solutions typically have requirements that diverge from requirements of a web solution in major ways;
- First is the user interface itself. Modern self-service solutions feature large, vertically oriented screens. No matter how responsive the web application design is, it is almost never suitable for such screen sizes and orientation.
- Second, self-service devices are mostly located near or at the target premises. This allows for location-specific configuration, including differing product sets, adjusted user workflows, or even completely separate user interfaces and branding. Even if at first glance this is not a concern, the flexibility to accommodate such desires in the future is invaluable.
- Third, good self-service systems feature administration areas where real-time device monitoring, configuration, and over-the-air software updates can be performed. Additionally, usage statistics may be gathered. To fully leverage the potential of such systems, a dedicated user interface application is required.
- Last, but not least, depending on your industry and self-service use, additional regulatory requirements may apply to on-premise applications.
However, these requirements don’t necessarily mean that any digital asset or system reuse is impossible. If the web application is built in a way such that it relies for most of its business logic on a back-end application programming interface or uses an in-house or procured electronic resource management system, such APIs can often be re-used for a self-service solution along with some digital assets from the company brand book. The point is that striving to reuse the user interface application itself is rarely a good, workable, or even a cheaper solution.
Self service as a distinct platform
For best results, self-service solutions must be developed with all the above kept in mind. By necessity, self-service is a distinct platform of its own, with requirements and required technological solutions different from those of other platforms, be they web, mobile, or desktop.
A self-service solution is often a significant investment based on the hardware costs alone. Neglecting to treat the associated development effort with due diligence will result in low user satisfaction, underwhelming system performance , high maintenance, and ultimately—sunk costs.
To discuss what platform would be best for your kiosk, please get in touch with us today, and one of our technical experts will be more than happy to advise you!