The application of roadmap strategies such as digital media, remote machine management, location based services, mobile payments and more are changing retail as we know it, including vending. Last month, I reviewed several advancements currently under development by technology suppliers and vending operators. This month, I will focus specifically on cloud computing and its implications for remote monitoring and mobile payments.
While many industries have tapped the capabilities of cloud computing, the vending industry has been cautiously reluctant, or unaware, of its potential. The term “cloud computing” is used to describe Internet-based computing and therefore the phrase “in the cloud” refers to applications performed via the internet.
A major consideration in cloud computing is that since the Internet supports the bulk of the application, the vending operator does not have to procure dedicated hardware (the basic input/output device needed) or specialty software at the operational level. It is for this reason that cloud computing is often described as “software-as-a-service (SaaS)”.
Cloud computing emerges
Accessing a service from the cloud, which may be billed on a subscription basis, is often achieved by opening a browser and completing a secure login procedure. This simplicity is both welcomed and the basis of a concern surrounding security. Fortunately for the vending operator, secured connectivity and authentication are the responsibility of the SaaS provider.
Cloud computing enables the establishment of a communication pathway between a connected vending machine and the vending operator for timely remote messaging (machine alerts. alarms, and calibrated events) aimed at minimizing down time while containing costs (maintenance, replenishment, pre-kitting, and servicing). Cloud computing enables vending operators to have access to important applications (e.g., vending management software and cyber wallets) through an Internet web browser.
In the past few years, some vending companies switched from company-owned hardware and software assets to a cloud-based subscription service model. This form of automation offers the opportunity to deploy technology without a large upfront capital expenditure or an abundance of on-premises hardware or software.
In essence, cloud computing enables on-demand access to a shared set of automated resources (networks, servers, storage, and applications) with minimal service provider interaction. There are SaaS vending management software (VMS) packages and remote machine monitoring (RMM) applications available, as well as recently introduced applications involving virtual wallets, dynamic couponing, and enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions.
The objectives of cloud computing are: improved productivity, minimized risk of downtime, maintenance of current application, highly secured access, data protection, and reductions in capital expenditures. Several branches of the V-Engineering roadmap include mobile devices having seamless access to cloud-based applications.
Cloud enables remote monitoring
RMM applications were the first managed through the cloud and continue to be among the most popular. RMM applications can be accomplished through a variety of wireless network technologies. RMM-equipped vending machines are configured to transmit data over the network to a connected cloud-based server.
Vending machines are polled on a regular basis and sales audit and alarm data are transmitted to a remote solution provider network for analysis and data storage. The remote application software typically analyzes the data to determine the inventory status of product sales, by column, of each machine.
An additional forecasting algorithm may be applied to predict additional sales likely to occur by the time of the next date of service. This data can then be used to provide a dynamic replenishment (pre-kitting) and service schedule (dynamic scheduling).