In past articles, we have explored topics such as cashless technologies, software systems, and DEX while touching on remote monitoring (wireless) systems. In this article, my goal is to explain (in layman’s terms) how these technologies interact and can work together.
The good news is that standards have gotten better, and the benefits of utilizing technology have been proven by a number of operators throughout North America. The bad news is that it is often very difficult for operators to make sense of it all, and issues with systems not being integrated frustrate everyone in our industry.
Generally, all the suppliers strive to provide solutions that work together, but their priorities are driven by the demand from operators and bottlers. Our industry standards provide a framework with the DEX and MDB protocols.
Let’s examine remote monitoring, back-end software, front-end software, and closed and open cashless systems in greater detail.
REMOTE MONITORING SOLUTIONS
Remote monitoring solutions allow the operator to communicate with their vending machines remotely. The systems available today use cellular modems, Ethernet, or phone lines to allow machines to “call home” at night or during the day to report inventory levels, machine fault conditions, and open cashless system (credit card) transactions.
The same technology is widely deployed in ATMs and kiosks to enable cashless transactions and let companies best manage their remote assets.
For operators, the benefits of remote monitoring are to service machines more proactively (knowing when to service a machine and what to bring), minimize downtime (addressing an unplugged machine or bill jam), and take open system credit card transactions where a connection is needed to authorize the transaction.
In addition to these benefits, “two way” solutions can change prices at a machine remotely or change prices on a schedule dictated by the vending account.
Remote monitoring data needs to be shared with a “front end” system to provide benefits to the operator.
Back-end software solutions are the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems used by vending companies today. They provide everything a vending operation needs to run and account for their operations, including: cash control and accountability, inventory accountability, profit and loss analysis, billing support for OCS or subsidy vending accounts, and commissions and sales tax accounting.
Large companies often integrate their back-end vending software into their accounting systems.
Front end software helps the operator optimize route service schedules and make sure that the right products are in a machine. Many vending operators still allow drivers to choose product selections and don’t pay close attention to service schedules, resulting in lower top line sales (due to bad product mix and sellouts) and unnecessary labor (due to servicing machines too often). Good front-end software can solve both problems.
Front-end solutions are available from the software providers and from remote monitoring providers, and are available as software installed at the operation, and Web-based solutions. Either way works, and combining remote monitoring with front-end software can give excellent results.
OPEN CASHLESS SYSTEMS
Open cashless systems (like credit cards, or student or employee identification systems) can increase top line sales by offering a more convenient form of payment to the consumer. The card associations (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover) have a huge focus right now on enabling cashless transactions in vending.
The fees for taking credit cards at vending machines are still challenging for machines with lower-priced products, but the associations are working to provide a model that works in vending. The next generation of consumers (high school and college students) are increasingly becoming used to a cashless world, and the vending industry needs to provide solutions that are convenient, especially for these younger consumers.