How To Navigate Integrated Solutions

Aug. 10, 2018
Utilizing technology across software providers and service segments has many benefits, and just as many challenges.

Integrating vending and micro market management systems is crucial for a successful operation. There are standards created by the VDI (vending data interchange) Task Force that have helped tremendously with integration. Yet there have been challenges integrating due to both operators and providers not sufficiently fulfilling the requirements to integrate seamlessly. Experienced industry members help to navigate this rough terrain by diving into problems and solutions to integration.

Integrating vending and micro markets  

Integrating systems is important because it helps operators to work more efficiently and effectively. “An integrated system enables an operator to leverage similar best practices and processes for his entire team in the field to manage inventory, warehouse, pre-kitting, service schedules and many more aspects of his every day operations,” said Elyssa Steiner, director of marketing, USA Technologies. Operators managing inventory in the field using multiple platforms need to be trained. This can be difficult because each platform has its own nuances. It’s also important to train drivers in inventory management, because it needs to get done as soon as the operator and the location request it.

Some operators have been able to leverage an integrated approach to managing their markets and vending, while some are still faced with the challenges of getting their VMS (vending management system) and MMS (micro market management system) to exchange data back and forth. Although this is a common problem, the important thing to consider is tracking data — whether it’s inventory, or other sales data, it will be much easier to integrate if all of the data has been documented, and correctly. Even if there is one system that’s pulling data from vending and micro markets it still needs to be updated for accuracy. 

“When dealing with multiple technology providers, we find that most of the challenges revolve around reporting and double data entry,” said Ryan McWhirter, director of product, 365 Retail Markets. “Products can come into the warehouse in a single system, but then may need to be split apart across vending and micro market systems for tracking through to sale. That makes reconciling what came into the warehouse and what sold a challenge. In regards to inventory, since sales may be tracked for vending and micro markets separately but taken from the same stock in the warehouse, operators often need to merge sales numbers together manually to forecast orders with suppliers,” explained McWhirter.

Trey Smith, vice president of operations, LightSpeed Automation has also seen problems when  transferring data from the VMS to MMS. Some systems aren’t compatible with one another to integrate, he says. There are some instances where even LightSpeed has difficultly connecting the VMS with the MMS because of the providers’ automation and system differences. 

“While vending machines send sales data via the DEX protocol, micro markets do not! This creates an integration challenge to merge the data together into one VMS system,” explained Ed Kozma, director of sales, CPI. “Many VMS providers do offer micro market modules allowing for the transfer of information to be centralized and then utilized, but it is not frictionless from an interoperability perspective.” Kozma adds that as the micro market ecosystem continues to expand, new entrants with differing, but established, supply chain systems will push the boundaries of existing VMS platforms creating additional data integration needs and investment.

Integration with multiple systems 

An additional problem that operators face is the proliferation of software packages, explains Smith. Some operators have 5 or 6 providers, all with different software packages, and having so many platforms at once can get confusing quickly. Because of this, some operators would rather stay with the providers they have than change to a provider that might be able to help them integrate their VMS and MMS. Or, they don’t have the resources to change, continues Smith. The vast majority of operators don’t have dedicated IT people on their team, which can make it difficult if they try to integrate on their own. And in some cases, providers don’t have solutions for integrating.

There’s also nothing forcing providers to comply. In most cases there is no financial incentive for providers to integrate, explained David Marler, vice president of sales and marketing, LightSpeed Automation. A large multi-site operator can create exceptions, explained Marler. Having a large number of locations can provide the motivation for a provider to do an integration. There is no scale doing one off’s — but multiple sites will make it financially beneficial to both the operator and the provider.

The goal is one system

“The ultimate goal is to integrate all systems with the VMS,” explained Scott Meskin, vice president Strategic Business Innovations, Vagabond Vending LLC. With this goal in mind, the driver could use one handheld with one program and run everything from that software, and have it integrate on the back end. Therefore, another challenge in integration is training drivers. As it stands now, the driver has to learn and navigate multiple systems.

Meskin added that some companies charge for integration per location per month. This makes integration even more challenging, especially if there are many locations. 

Solution through training 

In some cases, the operator might not have an integration program, but is not using the management system to its full potential. Contacting the provider and receiving training on how to use the management system most efficiently and working towards entering data completely and free of errors is one of the ways that operators can contribute to integrating.

Operators are encouraged to keep thorough track of their inventory for a better relationship with their VMS and MMS integration.  This makes integrating solutions more accessible. If operators do a detailed job of managing their database(s), the data will be more consistent and it will be easier to map onto other systems. With all of the moving wheels, it's important to make sure the master data – data coming from both vending and micro markets – is talking to each other. This is the best way to ensure accurate information.  

One of the ways both operators and providers can work together to integrate is through the VDI Standard.  

Solution through VDI 

One of the ways both operators and providers can work together to integrate is through the VDI Standards.

The VDI Standards were created to help both operators and providers to integrate the MMS and VMS, explained Chris Lilly, vice president of technology, Best Vendors,
Canteen, and chair of the VDI Task Force. They provide a common language for the interchange of data across equipment and software providers. There is the S2S DEX standard that allows system A to send DEX files to system B. That one has a lot of adoption, explains Lilly.

A second VDI Standard is S2S MMS, which allows for integration between MMS solutions and VMS solutions. While the VDI Standards provide the ability and standards to integrate, they haven’t led to 100 percent integration.

Creating awareness of these standards is a good first step towards full integration, explained Lilly. Knowledge that integration is available through the VDI Standards can be a useful tool in speaking with providers. 

Steiner also promotes the idea that communication will improve integration. She said, “The best way to accomplish an integrated system is to first work with your vending and micro market software providers to ensure that they are already or are planning on integrating systems.”

Solution through common platform 

Integration can be achieved if operators and providers work together. There are various ways for the two to work in unison, including creating a central hub or universal platform. 

Smith explains that although the VDI solution in is effect, there isn’t one central hub for all VMS and MMS to go through. Utilizing one hub for VMS and MMS would help centralize data.

Murad Mackwani, vice president of development, LightSpeed Automation believes having an industry standard in order to get everyone to comply with a common platform could also be a solution. He explains how banks created a standard by which all must comply. It used to be difficult for consumers to make transfers from bank to bank, due to limited backend integration. Eventually the banking industry agreed to a single standard, enabling a greater degree of integration. The vending and micro market industry can use this example to integrate through communication and in some instances, through the VDI Standards. 


The integration of VMS and MMS is extremely important in the daily work of many operators. Operators’ awareness to speak with their providers about integration is important. Currently, the VDI Standards have been helpful to get providers to comply with integration. However, getting all parties to comply with an openly sourced standard may be the best solution yet.