Over the last decade, technological innovations have led to a movement to modernize the vending industry. Some companies have made significant advancements in efficiency and productivity by incorporating technology into their daily operations, while others have seen little realization of technology’s benefits. Implementation headaches for office staff, technicians, and route drivers have limited the potential returns of many promising devices.
If item level data collection, pre-kitting, telemetry and other computer assisted solutions are critical to the survival of operators, how can the challenges of implementation be overcome? During my tenure as operations manager for Monumental Vending in Beltsville, Md., I oversaw the integration of many such devices and systems. As we adapted to each new innovation, I began to notice how the operation’s implementation strategy mirrored, of all things, the White family method for baking cookies. Successful technology integration, and better baking, are both achieved by following four steps.
Similar to how cookie baking requires both wet and dry ingredients, implementing technology into a vending operator requires different components. The wet ingredients in the vending scenario are the people trying to communicate with the new device or system, while the dry ingredients are the devices and systems themselves.
Visualization of the finished product is also important. Senior management should decide what integrations go along with the overall goals of the company and paint as clear a picture as possible of the desired results.
Step 1. Assemble ingredients beforehand
Assembling both the people and hardware beforehand will save time and limit frustration when starting to install the systems. Selecting the right people from each department (route drivers, technicians, office staff, etc.) who will be spearheading the integration is critical for smooth integration. Let them know what success will look like and get their buy-in for completion. All the various components of technology (handhelds, telemetry units, VMS/pre-packing systems, material handling devices, workstations, etc.) require human beings to install, activate, build and maintain them. People make technology perform. The right group of leaders with the right set of goals will produce the longest lasting positive change. Talk to equipment and system suppliers to be sure you can procure enough hardware. Purchase material handling supplies beforehand so you have what you need to expand quickly. For example, nothing slows down pre-kitting faster than running out of totes.
Step 2. Make precise measurements
Much like ordinary cooking, day-to-day vending operations can often get by with a fair amount of improvisation. However, just like baking, data driven efficiency improvements require a much more precise approach.
Good results in baking and successful technology integration both require accurate measurement. The phrase, “garbage in, garbage out” is quite applicable here. Computers can only regurgitate what they have been given. In baking, the exact proportions of sugar, fat and leavening agent play a big role in the finished products’ presentation, taste and texture. Similarly for vending, the pre-kit lists, returns and product selections rely on accurate line-item data.
Step 3. Incorporate the dry ingredients gradually
Adding the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients all at once doesn’t make a very good cookie batter. It’s better to mix the components together a little at a time. In my experience, this is a good tactic to employ when adding any new piece of technology to an operation as well.
Make the new device or system work on one route first, before expanding it any further. This gives the company time to start adjusting to change and gives the project a greater chance for success.
Once the device or system is stable on the first route, expand the project out to three. Once the group of three routes shows it can function properly, move it out to the rest of the company as quickly as time and resources permit.