U.S.A. - Computer and communications technologies advanced and converged rapidly during the 1990s, impelled by widespread and growing demand for faster and more flexible access to information. This development had an effect on vending whose full impact has not yet been experienced.
The desire to apply data communications techniques to the flow of vending management information inspired the codification of the Vending Industry Data Transfer Standard, which is based on the DEX/UCS protocol. A parallel desire for more flexible interaction among vending machine subsystems led to the adoption of the multi-drop bus (MDB) standard.
With both standards in place, operators could look forward to a growing variety of third-party innovations that would be easy to implement in equipment from different manufacturers, and which could work with computer hardware and software from many suppliers. Among those innovations are remote data monitoring, or telemetry, and more versatile cashless payment options.
The economic downturn that began with the collapse of the Internet investment bubble and intensified in the wake of the terrorist attacks made operators more keenly aware of the need for better route efficiency, improved productivity, sales optimization, tighter control and faster management reaction time. At the same time, the business climate was not favorable for substantial investment.
As the recovery continues. the new vending technologies are beginning to accelerate. A number of recent developments illustrate this trend.
* MEI and USA Technologies announced a technology licensing and sales agreement under which a turnkey cash and credit card payment system will be brought to the vending market. Under this pact, MEI licensed USA Technologies' intellectual property so operators can connect to "USALive," USA Technologies' network for service and credit card transaction processing. This involves a new product suite from MEI, the "Series 2000 Combo," which bundles a "Series 2000" bill validator with a debris-resistant, swipe-style credit card reader in a single compact module. Communications to "USALive" are handled by MEI "Easitrax" through its remote data port.
"MEI and USA Technologies together will provide a turnkey solution for operators that not only offers a new payment method and greater convenience for consumers, but a new stream of revenue and opportunity to increase profits," said Jeff Jordan, MEI's vice-president of global vending. "The combined solution will improve the consumer's vending experience and will ultimately increase sales."
The MEI "Easitrax" remote data port is an add-on device that equips a vending machine for data communications. That capability may be used for remote monitoring as well as payment transaction processing.
* Debitek, which has been marketing prepaid card payment systems for vending since 1985, has introduced an MDB-compliant vending machine interface for its "MoneyClip" stored-value smart card (see VT, July). Called "MVIS-MDB," it is described as "an advanced, powerful and secure acceptance device representing a new standard in price/performance for vending service providers." Said to offer twice the benefits at about half the cost of earlier versions, it now offers such features as external programmability by means of a handheld Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) or a special card, a high-visibility two-line display and the ability to store more than 3,000 individual transactions in its serial data flash memory. "MVIS-MDB" joins Debitek's popular prepaid magnetic card system for prepaid vending.
* The Business Enterprise Program (Western Region) of Ohio's Rehabilitation Services Commission has announced an agreement under which Vend Audit Controls (Miami, FL) will assist it in running a pilot test of VAC's DEX-based independent auditing service. Veteran operator Jeff Stubins, who founded VAC, explained that his company will provide the handheld devices for the test, at no charge. The project will familiarize BEP's vending team with automated data collection, retrieval and analysis. (Details on the progress of this pilot will appear next month.)
* Crane Merchandising Systems has added USA Technologies' "ePort" to its vending portfolio, becoming an OEM reseller of the device. "ePort" is USAT's original cashless transaction interface for vending and other self-service equipment, and has been used extensively to provide credit card payment capability.
"We are excited by the OEM partnership, because we can now equip vending operators with the ability to accept three different methods of payment , coins, bills, and now credit," said Tom Edwards, vice-president and general manager of Crane Merchandising Systems. "Adding cashless capability to our vending machines strengthens our competitiveness, provides operators with more options and business opportunities, and offers consumers greater ease of use and convenience."
The "ePort" thus joins Crane's roster of standard offerings, and the manufacturer is prepared to pre-install the device on its vending equipment.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT
The mainstreaming of advanced computer and communications technology in vending is emphasized by the addition of a new specialized exhibit area at the upcoming National Automatic Merchandising Association 2004 National Expo in Chicago, October 14 through 16. This "VendTec Pavilion" is designed specifically for providers of equipment and services, to help operators evaluate the advantages and profit potential of their products.
NAMA associate director of trade shows Sue Ralston reported that all the space available in the "VendTec Pavilion" is reserved, with more than a dozen of the industry's technology providers scheduled to exhibit there. Data capture and reporting, vending information services, and cashless vending systems will be shown and demonstrated, and an adjacent "VendTec Center" will host a series of afternoon presentations on technical subjects.
"We're thrilled that the 'VendTec Pavilion' is sold out, because it means that operators can see all of the options available to them in one convenient place," Ralston said. "Combined with the ability to ask questions and listen to presentations in the 'VendTec Center,' it's easy to see why any operator interested in technology would see this as a not-to-be-missed Expo event."
Companies set to exhibit in the "VendTec Pavilion" include Blue World Inc., an innovator in the combination of data analysis and marketing programs for the foodservice industry; Cantaloupe Systems, which provides wireless data transmission and formatting services; Debitek; DigiVend Systems, which offers an Internet-based wireless vender inventory reporting service; Data Intelligence Systems Corp., a pioneer in the development of vending management software; eSecure Peripherals, a manufacturer of cashless payment systems using "iButton" stored-value media; and Hankers Inc., an Australian manufacturer whose novel food vender is equipped with always-on wireless GRPS (General Packet Radio Service) communication technology.
Also InOneTechnology LLC, a broad-spectrum supplier of management software for office and field, DEX upgrade kits and data collection and transmission tools; IRM Corp., a provider of market data analysis tools and services; ITC Systems, a developer of integrated transaction control systems; Metretek Inc., a provider of telemetry systems; and National Datacomputer, which manufactures mobile computers and printers including wireless models optimized for inventory reporting.
Also Paykey USA, which markets a cashless payment system based on stored-value "Pkey" keychain fobs; Protel, a leader in remote control that offers the "Pro-Star" vending machine monitor; SEM Inc., a producer of retrofittable vender controllers and the "Unilog" noncash payment system; USA Technologies; and Validata Computer & Research, developer of "RouteSail" management software and a pioneer in automated data retrieval.