In past articles, we have covered many areas of vending technology. We have discussed vending management systems (VMS’s), debated telemetry and cashless operations, reported on prekitting, reviewed pick to light structures and addressed touchscreen options. In this article, we’ll attempt to lay out some of the options operators have for making all these technologies work together seamlessly, even if they are from different suppliers.
It is an exciting time in vending. The existing solutions providers have been adding more functionality to their different systems, newly evolved NAMA vending data interchange (VDI) standards allow these systems to function better together and new and innovative solutions continue to come to the market. It is no longer the case that an operator needs to make an “all or nothing” bet on a single solutions provider — nearly all these systems can be made to work together in several different ways.
Typical technology deployment
The level of technology sophistication seen in vending companies varies from virtually nothing in some operations to progressive companies that are fully deployed with cashless/telemetry, advanced VMS’s, backend pick-to-light systems and are experimenting with other new technologies to enhance the consumer experience. Because of that, we need to make certain assumptions. Here is a typical operator’s journey through technology:
- Installs some type of VMS for accountability
- Moves to item level tracking using a VMS or telemetry provider
- Executes prekitting on some or all routes
- Adds a pick-to-light or similar system in the warehouse to make prekitting as efficient as possible
- Launches telemetry and/or cashless on some or all machines
- Implements a dynamic scheduling system
- Installs screens or other consumer facing engagement technology
While there are certain dependencies in this type of rollout (for example, very few operators rollout dynamic scheduling without telemetry on the machines), other technologies, like touchscreens and cashless solutions, can be rolled out at any time by any operator, with some optional dependencies that we will get into later.
Additionally, many traditional vending operators are also investing in micro markets and some initial work has been done to integrate micro markets into existing VMS and pick-to-light systems as well.
More capabilities and providers
The vending landscape has changed in the past few years as existing providers have added more capabilities to their systems and new providers have entered the market. While operators have never had so many choices for solutions providers and specific functionality, these options can sometimes seem overwhelming.
One example is that most traditional VMS providers now have modules to do prekitting and dynamic scheduling, but these modules can also come from telemetry providers that integrate data into an existing VMS. Another example is that all cashless providers now provide telemetry data, and virtually all traditional telemetry providers offer cashless solutions. At least one telemetry provider has also moved into the VMS space.
For operators considering a VMS solution, choices now include traditional software licensing models (typically more money up front), and hosted Software as a Solution (SaaS) offering a pay as you go model. How micro markets fit into the existing systems is noted in Figure 1.
VDI puts it together
Operators may now be asking “But how do these solutions all work together?” Let us introduce VDI or vending data interchange.
Previously, NAMA defined the standard MDB and EVA/DTS (DEX) standards. Although it has taken some time for these standards to be universally applied, virtually all payment system peripherals work inside vending machines (via MDB), and virtually all VMS handhelds and telemetry boxes can read DEX data from a machine.