By Michael Kasavana and Glenn Butler, Contributing Editors
When was the last time vending technology suppliers worked together to produce an industrywide standard enabling data sharing among competing providers of software products? When was the last time an industry technology standard was created and launched in four months? The answer to both questions was: never!
But in spring 2009, the NAMA technology leadership committee formed a specialized technology task force charged with developing a set of NAMA standards that provide a way to share vending data among competing technology providers. These new standards had to ensure reliability, continuity and longevity.
Reliability relating to each participating technology provider of a vending operator receiving identical data files. Continuity in terms of data retrieval and distribution throughout a vending operator’s network. Longevity will be accomplished by assuring vending operators that interfaces between installed applications and hardware from various suppliers will be supported going forward.
As a result, the task force produced vending data interchange (VDI) standards. These standards contain technical specifications that bundle vending machine-level data for easy distribution throughout a vending operator’s technology network. The standards can be implemented by technology providers without vending operator intervention.
Operators desire technology capable of reliably passing information from one application service provider to another so that multiple application service providers can contribute to a single networked solution. This is the essence of the NAMA VDI standards.
NAMA VDI standards render vending technology capable of linking together diverse software solutions, from different technology providers, in unified applications. The expectation being that NAMA VDI standards represent the tipping point leading to accelerated adoption of vending technologies as many vending operators’ concerns are resolved.
PROTOCOLS FOR MACHINE-LEVEL DATA
NAMA VDI is an innovative set of protocols designed to package machine-level data (e.g., DEX data, alerts data, cashless transaction data, etc.) into a message format that can be shared among diverse supplier systems to enable multiple software applications on the same set of data.
For example, consider the situation in which a telemetry provider remotely polls DEX data from a vending machine. The telemetry provider moves the collected machine-level data file to its server (e.g., Cantaloupe). The server in turn secures the file with a NAMA VDI message wrapper that labels the contents for subsequent communication to any other provider’s server (e.g., Crane Streamware or MEI Easitrax or cashless gateway, etc.) used by the operator.
Alternatively, the operator may have cashless readers installed that are capable of collecting both DEX data and electronic payment data for transmission to hosted software capable of processing DEX data and forwarding cashless transactional data for reconciliation.
Basically, the functionality of the NAMA VDI standards is analogous to an email communication in that the file of machine captured data forms the contents of the email message while the VDI wrapper is equivalent to an email envelope that enables distribution among any number of file servers (email recipients) associated with installed application software, regardless of supplier or manufacturer.
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NAMA VDI standards, for example, allow for DEX data to be transmitted by a telemetry device or server in real time. This provides a platform for an operator’s vending management software (VMS) to upload data nightly for use in pre-kitting and/or dynamic scheduling algorithms.
The goal of NAMA VDI standards is to ensure that a vending operator can confidently implement multiple, diverse vending technology solutions and utilize the operational data in existing application software regardless of supplier.