ISLANDIA, NY - On display at the National Automatic Merchandising Association Spring Expo in Las Vegas will be a comprehensive system for monitoring networked vending machines in order to tighten control and maximize the productivity of the assets themselves and the personnel responsible for supplying and maintaining them. Called "Optimal Vending Solution," or OVS, it represents the application of Computer Associates' "eBusiness" management software to the distinctive needs of the vending industry , specifically, to extend the "eBusiness" environment to include dispersed revenue-generating assets such as vending machines.
Computer Associates, a leading international provider of "eBusiness" management solutions, has worked with enabling partners to develop OVS for the vending industry. cStar Technologies (Toronto, ON, Canada) supplies the "SkyGate" and "DirectGate" telemetry devices as well as a secure, reliable powerline data communications system; Symbol Technologies (Holtsville, NY), a world leader in the design and manufacture of portable computers for warehouse and route applications, provides the communications boards for the solution.
The value of the "Optimal Vending Solution" to operators is that it enables them to become part of the "eBusiness" revolution by delivering information directly from their machines, thereby improving their business management and decision-making. Using a wireless vending machine interface , local-area for curbside machine polling, or wide-area for data collection and machine program downloads from the front office , vending managers now can monitor line-item sales and inventory levels, schedule timely service calls and receive instant alerts when security or maintenance needs arise.
These capabilities hold the promise of dramatically reduced operating costs, increased customer satisfaction and a consequent positive impact on the bottom line, all of which can create a competitive advantage for the operator.
The Internet has been publicized as a medium for purchasing products and services, but perhaps of greater value is its role as a universally accessible network, able to connect a wide range of databases, data collection, billing applications, payment systems and even remote assets. To date, however, industries like vending, beverage distribution and truck fleet management have lacked the technology required to benefit from the full power of the Internet to control machines in the field. This is the target of the "Unicenter TNG Optimal Vending Solution," the companies emphasizes.
One of the principal features of OVS is a Computer Associates solution called "Jasmine," which is the repository for all data collected from the machines, which facilitates data transfer between OVS and legacy databases created and maintained by existing industry management software. "Jasmine," thus simplifies the development of integration with other back-end systems such as inventory control, route planning and asset management. This makes it possible, for example, to more quickly link sales data from the machines on location to the inventory management systems in the warehouse.
The OVS user interface has been designed to facilitate comprehension, making extensive use of 2D and 3D icons and pictures to depict the data presented. The operator, in a central office, can get a real-time picture of the internal status of vending machines in the field (thousands of them, if required) to determine real-time inventory levels, monitor cash flow, check on door status and temperature, and otherwise "watch the store."
Another CA solution, "Jasmine Portal," selectively enables specific information from the machines to be shared with business partners, suppliers and customers. This allows an operator to electronically create a team to optimize the performance and profitability of the vending business.
The system also offers sophisticated event forecasting, using CA's patented "Neugents" neural-network technology. Called "Software that can Think," it can predict machine failures and out-of-stock conditions in advance, based on its ability to learn from past experience. This enhancement helps reduce operating expenses and maximize sales and customer satisfaction.
CA's "Unicenter TNG" is the base of the "Optimal Vending Solution," and it provides a a single point of control for monitoring an operation's critical technology resources, including systems, networks, applications, databases, Internet access provisions, Web server activity, and more.
It also offers "out-of-the-box" functionality for managing vital processes including security, backup and disaster recovery, event monitoring, performance monitoring, output and workload management, and even a "help desk," if desired. The system thus provides an integrated, dependable end-to-end "eBusiness" management solution, CA explained.
Options also are available to expand this functionality. "Asset Management" can be used to store and retrieve data for warranty, maintenance and depreciation management. "Advanced Help Desk" also is available, to assist operators in optimizing availability.
Computer Associates, with annual revenues in excess of $6 billion and an international workforce of some 18,000, has developed "Unicenter TNG" solutions for a wide variety of enterprises, ranging from facility control systems and cellular telephone towers to production lines and utility substations. "Optimal Vending Solution" is one of the latest offerings to be crafted for nontraditional information technology resource management.