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Inside the Box: Shut the Front Door

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Locker kiosks also called smart lockers are enabling click-and-collect retailers to make inventory more accessible and easier to track. It’s a bigger market than you think and growing. It doesn’t seem that long ago when I first read about the Amazon Locker, it turns out it was six years ago. Amazon started in New York City, Seattle and London, and now there are over 1,800 locations in more than 50 cities. Online retailers aren’t the only ones realizing the advantages of automation, traditional brick and mortar stores are using these self-service retail lockers to deliver omni-channel experiences and streamline click-and-collect for busy shoppers.

Self-Service Moves into the Workplace.
I find the non-retail applications for kiosk lockers fascinating. The workplace has become the new hotspot for self-service innovations like these. According to this recent article in Kioskmarketplace.com, tech giants like Facebook are finding uses for locker kiosks to dispense keyboards, flash drives, headphones, cables, mice, batteries and more to their employees. It’s self-service IT, and it’s convenient and faster than waiting in line at the help desk. Industries like healthcare have also found new uses for locker kiosks. Here we see cross-over with vending. Vending kiosks innovations are dispensing things like medication as well as scrubs and linens. For the latter, these machines are about the size of a refrigerator, and function like the Amazon locker, except they hold multiple shelves of inventory, like surgical scrubs or linens. Operators and staff need to know when the door is open and more importantly if it was closed.

The Door Is Ajar.
Leaving the door open can lead to theft, the possibility of someone tampering with the machine, and result in costly hardware repairs or replacement parts when things break. So, when we say, “shut the front door” we mean it because it’s too expensive not to. Inside these vending/kiosk lockers, operators will need to monitor the basics like heartbeats, but also mechanics like the door. For one Canopy customer, knowing the door is open isn’t always a sign that something is wrong, nor is it a sign everything is running smoothly. IoT endpoints like these kiosks and vending machines can be monitored for common device attributes as well as ones unique to a business or device configuration. In my last Inside the Box blog, I talked about heartbeats. Canopy’s Edge agent, Leaf automatically begins sending standard attributes like memory, CPU temperature, and available physical disc space to the Canopy Enterprise and Leaf can easily be extended to obtain additional attributes.

Tell Me What I Need to Know. Not Everything You Heard.
Let’s dive a little deeper and go over how Leaf knows when the machine door is open and closed. When the kiosk sends messages or logs interactions during a transaction, that sequence of events results in the door having been opened and inventory removed. During that transaction, Canopy is capturing an ID number either by manual entry or by swiping a card. That triggers the door to unlock and the item can be removed. Leaf is logging all those events, and is also able to monitor load to know when inventory is removed. All this listening generates high volumes of data being logged. Here’s the cool part, through machine learning, Leaf assembles these messages into a single interaction and sends it to the Canopy Enterprise which can be configured with alerts. When one of those interactions has an irregular pattern whereby the door was open for an extended period, or the load changed below a set threshold, that can trigger an alert and the operator receives an email or SMS message. By looking at the Canopy Management Console and patterns over time, operators can create a ticket or schedule a follow up to check on the device at a later point. If Leaf reports the door being open for an excessive amount of time, it can send alerts to let the operator know the machine needs to be serviced. The events that trigger these alerts may be signs that the machine has been tampered with or showing signs of shrinkage. These can be costly if gone undiagnosed for long periods of time.

What’s Inside Your Box?
If automation is core to your strategy, then finding the right software to manage your kiosks and vending machines can significantly improve your ROI,operations and let you focus on delivering a frictionless customer experience. When choosing an IoT platform, make sure it is configurable, secure, extensible and can run on any base operating system/device hardware platform.

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Steve Latham, founder, and CEO of Banyan Hills Technologies, is an Internet of Things expert and strategic technology leader. He founded the company in 2013 to impact the world through technology and a deep commitment to social responsibility. He has a strong track record of leveraging cloud-based technologies to optimize and accelerate business strategy and is highly regarded by his peers for his deep industry knowledge in Retail, Entertainment, Healthcare, and Financial Services.

Latham has successfully led architecture, implementation and delivery for one of the largest self-service, retail exchange kiosk systems in the world. Earlier, he served as CTO for the Entertainment division of NCR, where he helped orchestrate a successful divestiture of the business to Redbox for $125M. Prior to NCR, he held various technology leadership positions at Harland Clarke and led the consolidation of their e-commerce platform to a unified product offering for its customers. Latham serves on the board of directors for various businesses and academic institutions providing technical leadership.