SONY DSCBy Chris Gilder

It is commonplace to assume that self-service providers should react to industry trends and market demand; but what if we could actually influence and shape these forces and positively impact the self-service industry in the process?

Last week I talked about some of the emerging trends that are critical to the self-service industry (Three Trends Shaping Self-Service & How to Capitalize) and looked at what comes next – what comes once we recognize trends. It’s always easy to opine about what is trending in an industry. It’s more difficult to know what to do about it. As pointed out, there are two vital things providers must do to capitalize on changing technologies: 1) have thoughtful well-planned proofs of concepts that lead to pilot projects and 2) have a plan to collect and measure data. For many, this is not a groundbreaking revelation; it just makes good sense.

But, when poorly crafted solutions (which aren’t actually solutions but problems) make it to market, it’s not simply bad for the customer, end user and provider; it is bad for our entire industry (remember ‘The Out-of-Order Dilemma’). At the end of the day, all of our success depends on the adoption of self-service – on the understanding that it is, in fact, a solution. Ultimately, What is good for providers is good for customers is good for end users is good for the industry at large.

In thinking about last week’s blog, one particular question kept coming to mind: can self-service providers positively influence industry and market trends?

You might say, “you can’t influence the market; you have to react to market demand.” That is a fair point. But, it’s also true that innovation is one of the largest drivers of market demand. And, innovation requires collaboration. While it is true there has to be market demand, it’s also true that sometimes this demand is created by innovation that comes about as a result of customers, providers and technology partners collaborating to create solutions that work – solutions that meet the needs of companies and end users. In fact, the best solutions are likely those that customers have not yet thought of. It is when stakeholders come together, share ideas, and combine skill-sets that synergy is born.

Consider the kiosk as an analogy for just a moment. A kiosk is not just an enclosure; it is a collection of components, which individually perform just one function; but, together with the enclosure, the components and the software combine to accomplish something greater, to function as a total solution. When all stakeholders – the customers, the self-service provider, the software engineers and others – come together to find a solution to a problem, innovation is a likely result. While self-service providers cannot create marketplace demand, we shouldn’t resign ourselves to simply reacting to demand. We should have a collaborative approach with clients.

Another way we try to accomplish this at Meridian is through our technology partners. As I’ve noted, innovation is the primary way in which self-service providers can influence market trends. In 2011, Meridian, along with HP, Intel, Microsoft, Zebra and others, opened its Self-Service Technology Center (SSTC) in Bentonville, Arkansas. At this facility, solutions are showcased year round. Why? For one, it enables Meridian and its partners to show off the latest and greatest cutting edge technology. But, even more, it provides a sort of working lab where customers are able to see and touch products that may, or may not, be the solution they are searching for. Testing technology in this environment has proven an invaluable tool for us. It allows for additional insight into whether a development is an innovative breakthrough or just another idea that doesn’t provide a real solution.

Success begets success. When we strive to innovate through collaboration with customers and partners, and when we focus on creating robust, managed solutions that lead to successful projects, the self-service industry will continue to thrive. What are your thoughts? Are there other ways self-service provides can drive innovation and positively influence industry trends and market demand?