April 30, 2001, 12:00 AM

Hot link to a vending machine

For $12 a month, vending machine owners can keep tabs on their machines.

 

Until now, management of vending machines has been labor-intensive. When something goes wrong, machine operators have no way of knowing unless someone notices a problem and calls the machine owner or until a technician visits the machine.

 

The Internet is changing that. For $12 per month, vending machine operators can now have real-time access to what’s going on inside their machines. e-Vend.net has developed a software package that web enables standard vending machines.

 

Kodak and the Got Milk campaign are rolling out the technology this year. So far, the web is linking about 45 disposable camera machines in zoos, ski resorts and other areas. Likewise, the Got Milk partners have deployed 100 milk web-enabled vending machines in high schools and middle schools.

 

Vending machine operators can use the Internet to get real-time data on sales and inventory. This is especially important for the dairy group, says Wendy Jenkins, e-Vend.net’s vice president of sales and marketing. When the stock is perishable, the vending operator needs to keep a close eye on rotating and replenishing, she says. The smart machines also report breakdowns such as the bill mechanism jamming or even if the machine is unplugged.

 

Gomez Advisors analyst Matt Stamski says this technology makes sense. “If this technology can reduce the number of visits by delivery or service personnel or increase sales, it will have a bright future,” he says. Stamski, who specializes in wireless technology , says this is further evidence that industry is fast approaching the day when all business processes will be networked.

 

e-Vend.net technology also allows machines to accept credit and debit cards. In fact, that is all the Kodak machines accept. Kodak hopes to reduce vandalism by keeping cash out of the machines. The milk machines do accept cash.

 

While Kodak is using new machines made by Maytag’s Dixie-Narco vending machine division, the technology can be adapted to any existing machine, e-Vend.net says. Maytag holds a minority interest in e-Vend.net. The hardware consists of a mini-computer and modem that goes in the machine and a small antenna mounted outside the machine. It requires only an electrical outlet for power.

 

e-Vend.net customers pay a subscription fee of about $12 per month per machine. There are no installation or hardware charges.

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