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Livewire innovates kiosk technology

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Pedestrians pass one of several informational kiosks in New York City that were created with the help of York County-based Livewire Kiosk Inc. Photo/Submitted
Pedestrians pass one of several informational kiosks in New York City that were created with the help of York County-based Livewire Kiosk Inc. Photo/Submitted

West Manchester Township-based Livewire Kiosk Inc. started in 2008, the first full year of the Great Recession.

So the beginning was admittedly a bit rough, President and CEO David McCracken said. But for Livewire, at least, it didn't last long.

"One thing we noticed, and I think was actually a benefit of the recession, was that people downsized big time," McCracken said.

So firms were looking at what systems and technologies could be used to improve customer service and add capacity without hiring an additional worker.

At the same time, demand for the back-end software systems and supporting hardware that Livewire sells or resells was benefiting from significant price declines for technologies such as touch screens — particularly large ones, McCracken said.

They've followed the price declines for large, flat-screen televisions during the past several years, he said.

The company today does business as Livewire Digital, reflecting its broadened offerings that include automated, self-service kiosks such as those at airports that dispense boarding passes, large screens for advertising and way finding, and mobile apps.

Content-management systems similar to those a business can use to update a website allow users to input information and control what is displayed, he said.

One thing people question all the time is whether the need for kiosks and digital signs will fade with the surge in mobile devices and applications, McCracken said.

Livewire supports those as well, and it sees mobile, websites and fixed digital products all supporting each other, he said.

For example, if a person doesn't visit a destination very often and needs to find a restaurant or other attraction, it's much more convenient to walk over to a kiosk than to search for the right app and download it, he said.

Livewire is part of the team supporting City24/7 Inc. in New York. The initiative rolled out the first 10 touch-screen information kiosks for people to find nearby attractions in the city and access other community and safety information.

City24/7 received a contract with the city after a pilot program a few years ago and will bring the number of kiosks to 250 during the first few months of 2013, CEO Tom Touchet said. Of the total, 215 will go in Manhattan and 35 will go in the other boroughs, he said.

The system includes the on-the-street kiosks as well as a mobile app, all using the same information in a unified system, he said. Particularly with the first part, the system needs to be stable and reliable, Touchet said.

City24/7 picked Livewire for the pilot of 25 screens after a bid and evaluation process and was happy to team up with them for the full project, he said.

"They are really ahead of the game in terms of a lot of what we are doing and helping to make it a reality, so that it is simple and easy to use," Touchet said.

Other Livewire clients range from casinos and retailers to the duty and customs operations of Bermuda, which use a Livewire system to collect the money its citizens owe from shopping abroad, McCracken said.

In some cases, customers find Livewire simply through an Internet search for firms doing "ticketing kiosks" or similar services, he said.

It's much more feasible economically for a firm to invest in systems than it was more than 10 years ago, when the first Livewire incarnation formed, McCracken said.

The idea of digital advertising signage was ahead of its time and took a hit amid the burst of the tech bubble around the turn of the century, he said.

A friend of his from high school had a snowboard company and thought of the idea of using strategically placed digital signs in the late 1990s to advertise the products.

A couple of years into the life of the firm, Livewire International, McCracken came on board in a technology capacity, he said.

He previously spent about 20 years using his electrical engineering degree in manufacturing settings, including integrating factory floors with information technology, he said.

With a focus initially on the skiing and snowboarding industry, the idea for self-serve kiosks providing slope passes and tickets came about, and today Livewire has provided a network of the kiosks in stores in Colorado, McCracken said.

In 2008, he formed Livewire Kiosk Inc. and acquired the assets of Livewire International. The timing was right, and he believed in the future of the technology, McCracken said.

Livewire's core business is the software packages for use on hardware systems, and for best results it encourages clients to use the hardware it resells from business partners and vendors — including many in the midstate, McCracken said.

Livewire also has been an important part of the permanent memorial at York County's Prospect Hill Cemetery & Cremation Gardens for military service members who died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The cemetery had maintained a flag display for more than eight years honoring all the fallen service members in both wars, managing partner Jack Sommer said.

In 2010, it retired more than 4,400 flags that were part of the Iraq display as major combat operations there were declared over, he said. The same will be done for the Afghanistan flag display, Sommer said.

As part of the retirement, there was a pledge of a permanent memorial, he said. In developing ideas, Sommer remembered meeting McCracken at a trade show a few years ago and contacted him.

The result is a touch screen accessing a searchable database of information on service members from across the country who died — integrated into a stone monument, he said.

Livewire donated its services, as did York County-based Gamlet Inc. for the metal encasement of the equipment, Sommer said. Military & Commercial Fasteners Corp., also based in the county, underwrote the cost of the screen.

Families submit information for the database, which today includes baby pictures and even images of service members playing soldier as young children, Sommer said.

It makes for a much more personal experience, he said.

Brent Burkey

Brent Burkey

Brent Burkey covers York County, agribusiness, energy and environment, and workforce issues. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at brentb@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @brentburkey.

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