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This is Part 1 in a series about how to begin, build and deploy a successful digital merchandising project. Subsequent posts will address such topics as software development, design and fabrication, and field services.

In the kiosk business, hardware is a "necessary evil." It's constantly changing; it's a moving target. Hardware breaks in the field, it needs upkeep, and it suffers power outages. Ouch.

All these scenarios reflect the need for a strong hardware partner for any digital merchandising program you take on. Ask the tough questions to get the best quality vendors.

Here are five critical questions you must ask anyone who wants to be your hardware vendor.

1. Do they have a national support network?

Most important during the pilot and initial program development, you'll need to find someone who can work quickly and easily to spec and test for the right hardware solution. The key is to find just the right combination of performance and form. There's no need to pay for what you don't use, but what you get must be up to the task.

2. Are they flexible?

Is the vendor equipped to use off-the-shelf hardware for prototyping and a custom configured unit for rollouts? Will they allow you to vary RAM, CPU requirements and case size? Do they have the resources to image the units prior to delivery? If they can't answer yes, keep looking.

3. Can they be a turnkey supplier for all your hardware needs?

Is the vendor able to meet your needs for all or most of your hardware? If you are looking for a unit that has a touch screen, rugged keyboard, card swipe and printer, all from different providers, the project becomes complex quickly. Each part is likely to have its own warranty and service terms. In light of this reality, it's best to choose a hardware vendor that can act as your key contact and supplier.

4. Do they offer a quality warranty and service?

What is their typical service plan? Do they send you to the service depot or offer field replacement? Most digital merchandising projects have a minimum of a 3-year lifespan. Are they committed to be your partner for the long term?

5. Are they trustworthy?

The hardware trade in the past has been very hit-and-run. Some suppliers will deploy thousands of units at a time without offering the support necessary. When something goes wrong, they are nowhere to be found, or their resolution is for you return the hardware and they replace it. Getting 20 prototypes to work is easy, but keeping a fleet of a thousand units in the field for three years is a very different task. It's essential to know you are working with a hardware vendor that's committed to you from beginning to end.

Do your homework in the beginning. In the end, your deployment is much more likely to be successful.

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Reality Interactive

Latest posts by Craig Martin
Craig Martin
Craig Martin has over 15 years of experience providing Fortune 500 brands and retailers with innovative digital merchandising solutions. He founded Reality Interactive, LLC in 2004. Prior to that, he held senior business development positions at Media Right and Netkey. Clients over the years include BMW, Callaway Golf, PepsiCo, Bose, Lego, Leapfrog and others.
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