Personal Small Business Enterprise

Machine to Machine (M2M) Technology – Drive-by Sensing

We’re well on our way toward understanding machine-to-machine (M2M) technology and learning how it can drive your business – indeed any business – forward.

Earlier entries in our on-going machine-to-machine series have explained how it works, shared an example of how one Canadian business is already benefitting from M2M, outlined how entrepreneurs can get started with M2M, and discussed how to make the business case for M2M.

Now it’s time to dig a little deeper into another scenario that has implications not only in retail, but in any other services sector that requires labour-intensive, in-the-field support.

The case:
A vending machine delivery truck operator

The problem:
At each site the operator visits, there are many routine and time-consuming tasks that need to be completed. For example, at each client site, the operator needs to visit every machine, check product inventory levels, return to the truck to pull sufficient stock and then return inside to refill each unit. This process represents inefficient usage of the operator’s time, ties up capital by limiting the operator’s ability to cover more sites and fails to meet customer demand for timely delivery of an optimal product mix.

The productivity equation gets even worse as the company grows, as it hinders the organization’s ability to scale. Sure, a business can always buy more trucks and put more of their workforce on the road to operate each truck, but that’s hardly ideal. What today’s businesses really need is a way to make their existing investments – in people, in equipment, in technology and in process – go further. Enter M2M.

The solution:
Instead of having to physically visit each machine to confirm what it needs, M2M technology allows the operator to sit in his or her truck and electronically poll each machine. This is made possible by a new breed of intelligent vending machines that are wireless network-capable, and laden with sensors and circuitry that can measure what products have been sold, and what’s needed to replenish supplies.

Using inexpensive radio frequency ID tags that are printed into the product packaging, M2M-capable vending machines can measure exact inventory levels and allow the operator to more precisely determine what to carry into the building – all from the comfort of the delivery vehicle. As an added bonus, if the machine itself malfunctions, it’ll notify the operator immediately. No more waiting until the next on-site visit to learn that the broken machine hasn’t sold a thing for the past week.

The benefits:
By shifting to an automated, M2M solution, actual on-site time is minimized, and the days of carrying lots of inventory, blindly, are over. Instead, the operator only needs to bring in what’s needed. If the machine is already well-stocked, the operator may even be spared a trip inside – which further saves time and allows a similar-sized field force to cover more ground.

And the benefits also extend beyond the operator. All that inventory data can benefit the company that owns the vending machines and also sells the products. Since the machines now track what is sold, when, and where, they’re able to build a comprehensive sales map that can help identify specific sales trends.

With that information in hand, businesses can match inventory levels and types to anticipated demand, which in turn maximizes inventory turnover and minimizes the dreaded empty vending machine syndrome.

M2M opens up opportunities to gain granular insight into customer behaviours that can help companies in multiple sectors significantly increase the quality and timeliness of the services they provide. It extends beyond vending machines, of course, and can include other on-site, labour-intensive activities like security and maintenance – areas where a little M2M technology can help a small workforce work more intelligently, and can help them cover more ground in the process.

The bottom line
Machine-to-machine (M2M) solutions can help a field sales force or support personnel cover more ground, spend less time manually checking and replenishing inventory levels and allocate more time delivering exactly what customers want and need. With strategic and cost-effective additions of technology into the existing mix – networked vending machines, tagged inventory and in-vehicle technology – any vending machine vendor can quickly raise the level of its game. And this is just one example of how M2M can help businesses boost productivity and increase overall profitability.

What business are you in? And how do you think M2M would benefit you? Let us know via the comments section below.

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