Gene Ostendorf Succeeds By Delivering ‘All-In-One’ Solutions

Posted On: 10/3/2019

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PLANNING SESSION: InOne Technology team gathers at the company’s Sparks, MD headquarters. From left, they are founder Gene Ostendorf; software development manager Jennifer Coomber, hardware tech support manager Arnie Levin, software support technical manager Steve Humes and vice-president of product development Ryan Ostendorf.

INDUSTRY VETERANS: InOne Technology’s staff has extensive experience. From left, they are software development program manager Jennifer Coomber (with an intelligent fast-food restaurant safe), software support technical manager Steve Humes and hardware technical support manager Arnie Levin, who grew up in the vending business.

 
CONTINUITY: Ryan Ostendorf (right) joined InOne Technology a year and a half ago, after a career that included service with Vagabond Vending (Washington, DC). He is expert in current programming approaches and wireless data networks.

SPARKS, MD -- The past quarter of a century has seen the vending industry transformed by the long-hoped-for ability of vending machines to capture full “line item” sales information, both for audit and for sales analysis. Gene Ostendorf, founder and president of InOne Technology, has been a quiet leader in developing the hardware and software driving this progress.

Ostendorf met the industry when he was recruited by Mars Electronics as business development manager. “I had never thought of vending as a technical field,” he recalled.
He has happy memories of his tenure with Mars. His duties there included calling on OEMs, and one of those calls led to the development of a retrofittable electronic payment system, with electronic coin mech and smart chassis, for a regional Bell operating company’s pay telephones. Classic payphones had simple coin mechanisms, and designing a versatile replacement to be powered by the telephone line was an achievement. “And we beat out Western Electric, Anritsu and Landis and Gyr,” he added.

Mars Electronics International (later MEI, now part of Crane Payment Innovations) was a leader in vending payment systems, and Ostendorf became familiar with the various proprietary audit data capture systems available to operators. Recognizing the need for lower-cost alternatives to the handheld computers used to retrieve machine data in the field, he founded Audit Systems Co. (Baltimore, MD) in 1993.

First Steps

Audit Systems marketed an “audit box” for vending machine data capture and a handheld data collection device for route drivers. This met a real need in the market, and ASC grew steadily. In 2001, the company acquired Vend Master (Scottsdale, AZ), developer of the Windows for Vending management software package for PC-compatible desktop computers. A year and a half later, ASC acquired EMS Solutions (Milwaukee, WI), a pioneer in vending management software systems running on Digital Equipment Corp. minicomputers.

“My idea was to bring everything together in one technology,” Ostendorf explained. He sold the Vend Master and EMS software businesses to Crane Merchandising Systems (Williston, SC), and turned his full attention to the Vending Industry Data Transfer Standard, which became generally known as DEX.

For the next several years, InOne was owned jointly by Coin Acceptors (St. Louis, MO) and Ostendorf. He led the development of Arrow cashless and telemetry technology, and then Iris, which added optional remote diagnostics and support for a touchscreen. Both Arrow and Iris integrated the internationally-popular Nayax cashless payment terminals, DEX and remote machine monitoring into the Coinco line. Iris also supports a video customer interface.

One Technology, Many Uses

At present, InOne Technology specializes in adapting vending payment and remote machine monitoring systems to custom applications. These have ranged from airport luggage-cart rental racks by Smarte Carte (St. Paul, MN) and the conceptually similar stroller rental service for indoor-outdoor shopping malls designed by Cuddle Cart (Seattle, WA), to adapting conventional vending machines (and some PC-based ones) for a variety of market segments.

A current project involves an intelligent safe for hamburger restaurants, which is capable of tracking the money deposited in it and communicating with a bank. InOne also is testing an application for self-service laundries that permits a single card reader to control multiple machines.

The InOne management team recently has been reinforced by Gene’s nephew Ryan. An experienced Linux and Microsoft Windows systems administrator, he is familiar with development and operation processes and contemporary programming tools including the PHP and JavaScript scripting languages and hypertext markup language. After gaining experience by working independently, he joined then Eon Corporation, now Vendwatch Telematics (Austin, TX), a company that offers vending management systems and licenses patents relating to transmission methods for interactive video and data over wireless networks. He then served with Vagabond Vending (Washington, DC) for nearly six years, most recently as vice-president of engineering. Vagabond is a thriving developer of mobile applications for vending payment, promotion and telemetry.

Neither Ostendorf knew about the other’s career path, but after Ryan joined Vagabond, mutual industry acquaintances brought them together. Ryan presently serves as vice-president of product development, and plans call for him to succeed Gene as the head of InOne. “He’s doing a lot of things, and I serve as the sounding-board,” the company founder said.

Single Solutions

InOne today is concentrating on its primary products, DEX and MDB-capable controller boards (VMCs) designed for installation to update last-generation vending equipment to current vending machine technology. InOne’s VMC, the OneBoard, works with MDB changers and validators as well as the original micro-mech changers and pulse validators supplied with many of those machines. It also will support all contemporary telemetry and cashless devices. The kits include bright OLED displays and a positive vend assurance sensor. The OneBoards are designed specifically for each machine, which simplifies cabling and speeds installation. InOne proudly points out that its retrofit kits are (uniquely) manufactured in the US.
The company also offers the OneDoor for legacy machines. This replaces a vender’s original door, and includes the OneBoard for full DEX and MDB compatibility, LED lighting with brightness control, low-profile sensors and product-drop verification. Optional touchscreen interfaces, and custom “skins” to enhance machine appearance, also are available.

While developing the OneDoor, InOne came up with the OneBin.  The OneBin is an option for the OneDoor or can be purchased separately, since it was designed to replace existing bins of legacy Automatic Products OEM doors.

On the office refreshment service side, InOne’s Roundabout single-cup dispenser is proving popular with office refreshment service operators. Designed initially for Keurig KCups, the stylish cylindrical countertop machine features a motorized see-through drum and rotating cylinder; it can be actuated by credit or prepaid cards as well as payment apps on NFC-enabled smartphones. Roundabout is offered in two sizes, one with a capacity of 144 KCups and the other for 42 Pringles single-serving cans. A cylindrical base for free-standing use and a wall-mounting bracket are available. The machine allows location management to set whatever policy it wishes to control access to the pricey KCups: in offices, employees can be given a specified number of free vends, and then purchase additional cups. It therefore is suitable for a variety of locations ranging from gas stations to convenience stores.

InOne also distributes Nayax cashless payment systems. Recognized around the world as a premier provider of EMV-certified cashless payment solutions for unattended points of sale, Nayax payment terminals are easy to install in a wide range of existing equipment with MDB interface. They support credit, debit and prepaid cards. InOne can supply the card reader in yellow or black, as well as a panel mount for equipment without a removable knockout plate. Alternative merchant services are available.

Looking ahead, Gene explained that he believes a company benefits from being small; “We stay nimble; it’s easier for us to try risky things,” he said.
The company is paying close attention to the approach of “5G” cellular networks. 5G’s promise is much wider bandwidth and lower latency, so transmissions are faster. This starts being important as vending machines become more interactive with customers and make more use of video displays.

This capability is in its infancy, and both Ostendorfs believe firmly that it is time for the NAMA technical standards committee to re-establish itself.  One of the challenges is for the committee to ensure that tomorrow’s video-rich data can be shared among machines with video displays from different manufacturers. Gene credits Chris Lilly of Best Vendors Management (Charlotte, NC), who chaired the VDI committee (originally a subcommittee of the NAMA Technical Standards Committee), for his leadership in developing a vending data interchange standard that allows vending machines and micromarket terminals to deliver sales information that can be processed by contemporary vending management software.

The next task, Gene emphasized, is to standardize the video systems that are finding widespread use in customer interface applications. Without standards, development will proceed in proprietary compartments, crippling operator flexibility. It is high time to form a working group to ensure interoperabilty while the situation still is manageable, he concluded.
 
Editor’s Note

The top-of-the line vending machines developed during the full-line revolution’s final phases in the 1960s performed many audit tasks without electronics. Their coin mechanisms could distinguish coins from slugs, identify and total their values, activate the vend mechanism, and even release coins as change. They could increment a resettable meter to record payments made between stops, and a non-reset meter for a record of machine performance. They were revolutionary in their day, performing a number of tasks without programmable logic.

Like the high-end electric typewriters of that era, those machines showed what postwar American precision machining could do – but they were mute. Their meters were read by route drivers and spot-checked by supervisors, and their collections were bagged for counting in the money room. But reconciling the collection with the products dispensed was time-consuming and not always accurate. A vender could not identify the products it had sold.

The industry’s efforts to add true reporting capability to their equipment took another three decades to bear fruit. The first attempts were made in the mid-1970s. Electronic meters were introduced that kept a record of money inserted into the machine, and were read by “interrogators” carried by route drivers and supervisors.

At the time, there were no industry standards, and no NAMA technology standards committee. OEMs developed proprietary products. When several of these data tracking systems were introduced, none were interoperable with any of the others. Industry uptake was slow; purchasers ran the risk that the manufacturer would go out of business, and support would vanish. And they did not collect “line-item” sales data.

The solution was to establish an industry standard that provided for recording the spiral or column delivering the product at the same time as the payment was tallied. Many operators now were using management software that maintained a product database. A data acquisition device on the control board could record the spiral turn or shelf drop when a vend was made.

The direct store delivery industry had such a standard, allowing its route drivers to exchange data with the computers in the stores they serviced by using a handheld computer and the DEX – Data EXchange – protocol. Three decades ago, Coin Acceptors (St. Louis, MO) made a DEX-compliant coin mech for bottlers, so their DSD drivers could collect data from grocery stores and vending machines in the same format. The full-line vending industry’s needs were different.

The National Automatic Merchandising Association formed a technical standards subcommittee to develop a vending industry data transfer standard, and its members chose to adapt DEX. That choice had its critics, but it was flexible and the existing implementations were well-understood. It got off to a slow start, as manufacturers and operators strove to work through the problems that always trouble a new technology. New, DEX-ready equipment began to enter the market – but most operators had a large quantity of good, relatively late-model venders that were not DEX-capable.

InOne Technology was one of the first aftermarket suppliers to confront this problem. Its kits make it possible for an operating company to implement DEX on a route consisting of new and legacy machines. The last decade has seen very widespread adoption of DEX; many operators have chosen to ease into it by establishing procedures to collect and process the audit information first, then refining them to add sales analysis. And it’s now easy to collect the data remotely over a wireless network.

Nowadays, due to the high costs of transmitting wireless data to/from vending machines, many of the vending telemetry providers have focused on grabbing MDB audit information, and trimming that data to the bare essentials before transmitting over the wireless networks. The actual entire DEX file is infrequently transmitted because of its data size. Many of the telemetry companies read DEX files, parse the pertinent information out and transmit that data in condensed format to update machine audit records.

While DEX was very useful for helping the vending industry reach the technical level it is at today, Gene and Ryan Ostendorf believe that it would behoove the industry to have the NAMA Technical Standards Committee revisit audit data storage and delivery from a vending machine, and retire DEX. They urge that it be a standard used by all OEMs, not a throwback to the “old days” and proprietary systems.