A smart vending machine

The second week of November I will be at TeliaSonera M2M symposium and the Swedish TechDays. I will be bringing some of Avanade’s thinking in the retail space. I will be bringing what we call the smart vending machine.

imageI won’t be bringing an actual vending machine unfortunately. But a concept that we built together with our customers.

Our showcase solution utilizes a Microsoft Surface as the touch point, an Audrino as microcontroller and Microsoft Intelligent System Service as a backend.

It sends all events to the ISS and store them in Azure. In it’s essence this is an IoT solution with all the bells and whistles. The tech is really cool from a geek stand point and I am looking forward to prepare it for the events.

But where is the real value here? The tech is cool. But what would make a business pay for it? I will focus on two technologies Microsoft have been talking about:

Both these solutions is about turning events and data into insights. It is these insights that gives our vending machine the potential of being smart.

Getting insight in event streams

A machine sharing it’s temperature over and over and over again are usually not useful. I want to know when the temperature is below a certain threshold. With stream insight I can query the stream of temperature readings for an abnormality and can react when there is an issue instead of monitoring the actual temperature.

There are other things a vending machine could query for; abnormal transactions that could be fraud, unusual amount of transactions that could disrupt the logistics. And so on.

Predicting the future

By storing all the events about sales, environment, clients, transactions; Machine learning can draw insights about the data and try to predict the future. This is extremely useful when predicting refill. The image below shows how the vending machines inventory levels would look like in a months time based on past sales.  image 

The new smart is based on insights like this. This is where the true value of internet of things and BigData come into play; When you can convert it to value. The new services in Azure will make this happen.

When the services this solution is based upon are made publicly available I will try to post a few examples on how to realize what I’ve discussed here.

The cloud is not what you think it is

Talking with technologists, customers and business it seems that most of them are hanged up on the possibilities to save money by leveraging the price pressure that comes with hyper-scale. A valid reasons indeed. But what I see get’s lost is the possibility to disrupt their markets, to create new revenue streams and earn a buck.

Why the cloud is really amazing.

While Amazon started it’s journey into the cloud with Infrastructure as a Service they, Microsoft and others have not stopped with providing easy and quick provision of geo-distributed virtual machines. They have added services that gives businesses access to advanced platforms that would require huge up-front investments and long implementation projects would they build it themselves. For software as a service this even more true.

What is amazing with the cloud is not the cost cut that hyper-scale will give you, but the things you can do on a hyper-scale platform. Technologists should focus on creating services and applications that not only run on the cloud but leverage the possibilities it brings. What can you build with the power under your fingertips that you couldn’t before? What business models could follow?

Cloud as an enabler

9There are several services that rely on the cloud to realize it’s value. NetFlix are using more then storage from AWS, Skanska is utilizing Azure Service Bus and Electronic Arts extended beyond CRM with force.com service cloud. These are all examples where cloud services gave agility into the creation of these companies client solutions.

That this is disruptive to the IT-industry is evident if you discuss the term “rogue IT” with IT-departments. Today business can hank out their credit card and buy a CRM solution or Office suite without even involving IT. Consultant firms can offer to provide solutions as a service and circumvent IT all together.

For businesses this is a dream come true. IT is more often then not seen as a road block and most of us technologists have felt the frustration.

In the conversations I have with my customers today – saving money on cloud is not their main priorities. They questions they ask are things like:

  • “Can cloud help me come closer to my partners?”
  • “Can I be more agile and respond quicker to industry changes using the cloud?”
  • “Can I get smart insights on my customers using cloud technology?”

Admittedly, the price point of storage and virtual machines are extremely attractive. Moving machines into the cloud will quickly save money and this is easy to communicate. IaaS will continue to be part of the cloud offerings. But to enable new business models and new solutions that was not feasible before, this is where the true power of the cloud is,.

Earn money on the cloud

Start asking other questions. Ask the same questions as my customers do. Start to think about how architecture could benefit from actor-based programming in a cloud setting. What is it that makes media services appealing? How could the Azure service bus be a disruptor?

It is when you ask these questions that you will find ways to earn money for the business, not only save them a buck.