If you have ever been to an airport, a bank, or a mall you surely have seen or used a special-purpose screen that allows you to do specific tasks such as a flight check-in, information searching, or some other functions. If so, you have seen or used a kiosk.
So, let’s look closer at the world of kiosks. What are they? How are they used? And how can they be easily created and managed also remotely?
What’s a kiosk?
A kiosk is generally a small special-purpose digital interface placed in public areas that offer easy access to digital resources and information. Kiosks also allow their users to be self-sufficient and solve their requests and needs in a self-service way.
It is, basically, a system designed for offering basic services or access to information (generally to the Internet), an enclosed system to prevent other user interaction and activities. The system replaces the look and feel of the operative system it runs over, allowing for customization and limited offering of ad-hoc services. Kiosks usually are numerous, thus their software usually offer remote monitoring.
It has multiple benefits: it leads to faster time to resolution for end-users; it can be cost-effective for enterprises to provide services and information without needing an employee to provide the information or services to a guest or client. It leads to businesses using a much leaner operation without excessive headcount for customer service.
Common use cases
Many use cases come to mind when thinking about interacting with a kiosk to have quick access to information: checking in at an airport, checking the timetable or buying train tickets, viewing a library catalog, withdrawing money, or checking balances.
A lot of businesses find that using kiosks provides a great way to empower customers to view the information they need in a quick and efficient way and don’t need to involve human interaction. It provides many benefits across the board. One of the most widespread use cases is digital signage, where digital screens are distributed and used in public spaces, large/corporate buildings, transportation systems or retail stores to display, etc. The advantage over usual (static) signs is that the information can be changed at any time, even remotely.
The most effective kiosk interfaces are those that emulate the look and feel of the touchscreen interface. Using this type of workflow is intuitive and familiar to most users who need to access their information or services in public locations.
Summarizing, depending on the use-case and the nature of the business, the main deployment types of kiosks are: (a) Information kiosks, mostly used to provide specific information. (b) Internet kiosks, systems that run a browser with an active internet connection in public places (c) Self-service kiosks, interactive and customized to complete specific tasks, and (d) Digital Signage kiosks, used for advertising in public spaces.
Main features of kiosks
Creating a kiosk interface is not as easy as it may seem. Most operating systems on the market today, including Microsoft Windows, were designed to be desktop operating systems with all the graphical tools and workflows needed to satisfy that use case, based on the direct user control and interaction. However, for most businesses needing to create a kiosk interface, it requires a heavily configured client operating system with sometimes hundreds of policy settings to achieve the required locked-down environment for kiosk implementation, so that any other possible use outside the kiosk case is blocked and impossible for the user.
Kiosks are often exposed to misuses or threads that can make them out of services or turn them into endpoints out of any control, e.g. to show to the public undesired information, or even worst, used as open systems to access the internet or even the corporate network.
The first critical property for a kiosk, thus, is being a “closed system”, i.e. being locked-down to ensure the maximum security. The main security feature of kiosks are:
- If the kiosk includes a keyboard, its software must disable hot-keys and sequences (e.g. Ctrl+Alt+Del).
- When browser-based (such as Internet kiosks), the standard browser menus must be disabled to prevent the user from accessing URLs not applicable to the function of the kiosk.
- The kiosk software should have the ability to clear the cache, user history and any data eventually generated during one user session. This prevents users from accessing private data and protects the device.
- If some USB ports are accessible, kiosk software must have the option to disable them.
The second critical property of kiosks is being easily manageable and controllable from a centralized remote emplacement. This is also useful for constantly updating them and monitoring their status.
Finally, the look and feel of the “kiosk-enabled” interface may be less than desirable, looking still very much like a desktop OS with policy restrictions in place. The third property is being perceived by the user as a simplified and clear interface.
So, how can enterprises easily and effectively enable a kiosk interface with standard desktop operating systems without Group Policy and other interface challenges?
Praim Agile is a solution that allows organizations to easily configure a kiosk interface using Windows PCs or Raspberry Pi devices. With just a few clicks, Praim Agile allows configuring an effective and easy mobile-like interface for accessing remote systems and other resources. Praim Agile can help businesses across multiple sectors and industries to easily implement kiosk configurations across their environments, including:
- Supermarkets/Retail stores and Malls
- Public Administration
- Many others…
Configuring a kiosk using Praim Agile
Praim Agile can easily transform any PC or Thin Client (Windows or Linux) into a Kiosk. In the following we see how it is straightforward to configure Praim Agile4PC on a Windows client to effectively enable a kiosk for end-users.
In Agile there are three operation modes. When targeting the creation of a kiosk the Browser Mode is the most suitable one. It exploits a web-browser in kiosk mode giving the fastest way to get a fully configured and completely locked kiosk in a few clicks! Alternatively, the Agile Mode can be chosen as well for more complex use cases where a more finely-tuned configuration of the kiosk is required.
Let’s see how it is easy to use the Agile Browser Mode.
This way is the fastest and perfectly suiting the need for web-based kiosks like: Information kiosks, Digital Signage kiosks, simple Self-Service kiosks, but is suitable also for creating Internet Kiosks.
You just need to enable Browser Mode. As in the image below you are only required to fill the form with the desired URL from where you can get the content to be provided in the kiosk (e.g. a web page showing an image, a video, a slide-show, a specifically designed form or web interface).
Configuring a kiosk just typing your URL
With the single click necessary to enable the Browser Mode, you will obtain “for free”:
- The complete lock-down of the device
- No hot-keys or keystroke sequences will be allowed (all blocked);
- The block of all external peripherals (such as USB keys, etc.);
- Browser control and menus will be disabled by default (and the URL bar as well).
- The web-interface will be show on auto-start and at full screen, from the specified URL.
If you will run a simple Internet Kiosk you can just enable controls on the browser interface (by selecting “Show Control Bar“) and configure the specific components of the browser interface that must be exposed to the users (see image here below for an example).
Configuring an internet kiosk with browse capabilities
With these configurations, 2 of the 3 properties of a kiosk are satisfied: security and interface. But how can the third requirement, remote control and management, also be met? Thanks to ThinMan, which provides management and scalability.
ThinMan is the centralized endpoint management software from Praim. The single client can operate as a kiosk also only with Agile, but connecting the client to ThinMan will bring to immediate benefits:
- Scalability. Once recognized by ThinMan the new client can directly get the configuration from the server and start working as a kiosk with no need of any further action. Once you manually configured the kiosk (if it is the first one) the administrator can capture the configuration of the kiosk from ThinMan and replicate it to an unlimited number of other devices.
- Centralized Monitoring and Management. From ThinMan it is possible to monitor the status of the kiosks and manage them, updating their software, changing their configuration, and automating the control of their working policies (e.g. switching them on or off at scheduled times) and solving issues from remote.
Kiosks are used everywhere to help customers, patrons, and end-users alike to have an effective, easy, and efficient way to access needed information. Configuring effective kiosk environments can be challenging using the built-in tools available in operating systems like Microsoft Windows. Often even with an unsatisfactory result from an interface point of view.
Praim Agile allows businesses to create the kiosk environments needed for customers and employees alike to access systems with a streamlined, mobile-like interface. With just a few clicks, IT administrators can create secure, effective and remotely manageable kiosks.