“RemoteWare is the backbone to our communications flow, providing us the support we need to continually extend ourselves in new directions.”
Director of Network Engineering
Based in Bellevue, Washington, Coinstar operates more than 8,500 coin-counting kiosks in grocery stores all around the country. Coinstar was using an unreliable Unix-based program to manage its kiosks and perform data transfer. This left the staff manually initiating the data transfer and sorting through the errors. Communication failures meant a costly loss of time and efficiency. Coinstar relies on RemoteWare as a reliable solution to manage its machines and the data transfer between them and headquarters.
- Coinstar now seamlessly transmits data and carries out
other business critical processes between each of its thousands of
machines and headquarters.
- Performs hundreds of customized sessions on demand
- Allows staff to send certain software updates to particular machines and manage the screen displays on kiosks in different stores.
- Reduces amount of communication errors dramatically
- Doubles technician efficiency
- Business Services
From Piggy Bank to Cash
They greet you upon your entrance into almost any major grocery store in the U.S. The bright green and blue Coinstar machines have become a familiar sight in more than 8,500 supermarkets throughout the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.
Coinstar has become a mainstay in today's overwhelmed lifestyle, rapidly turning idle piggy banks and other coin stashes into spendable cash. In just one minute, Coinstar can count more than 600 coins, freeing people from the endless hours of sorting and wrapping normally associated with cashing in those treasure chests on nightstands.
But while the Coinstar machines may seem as though they're just oversized money crunchers to the average person, Stuart MacDonald, Coinstar's director of network engineering and operations, knows just how sophisticated these machines really are.
"Each Coinstar machine houses a PC within it, running a complex system of hardware and software to physically count the coins, tally the total, present the user with a receipt for cashing, record data and communicate with headquarters-they're anything but simple green boxes that count your money," he explains.
Among the software making up the Coinstar machine is a company-built proprietary Coinstar application, the core system responsible for managing the entire coin-counting process. Working alongside the Coinstar application is another key software package, RemoteWare from iAnywhere, communicating the data and information and carrying out other business critical processes between each of the 8,500+ machines and Coinstar's Bellevue, WA headquarters.
As a company in the financial services industry, Coinstar needs precise and timely statistics on its business performance each day, requiring daily totals from each of its machines to accurately accrue transaction data and reconcile accounting with its partner stores. This would be a daunting challenge for a company with more than 8,500 machines from which to amass this information, but thanks to RemoteWare, a remote systems management solution that enables automatic data transfers and remote system diagnostics and maintenance, Coinstar can manage the process in minutes – all from headquarters.
Every night at midnight, RemoteWare servers at Coinstar's headquarters contact every machine in the Coinstar network, pulling the daily performance numbers from the internal PCs and compiling it in the appropriate centralized databases. The automatic process frees MacDonald and his team of five others from managing the data transfers manually, enabling them to concentrate on more profitable and hands-on activities such as configuring machines with current store promotions.
MacDonald recalls how this data exchange was done before implementing RemoteWare. "We were using a Unix-based program that wasn't very automated and was prone to communication breakdowns, leaving our staff to manually initiate the data transfer and then sort through the numerous errors. It took a lot of time to manage. When we switched to a Windows NT platform and installed RemoteWare on all our machines, we doubled our machine-to-person ratio, from 500 machines per person to 1100 machines per person-RemoteWare not only automated the polling process for us, but also nearly eliminated the communication failures we were having with the old system."
While RemoteWare quickened the data transfer process and reduced errors dramatically, MacDonald acknowledges that approximately 250 of Coinstar's machines still don't upload files nightly. Attributing these problems to the various network and machine errors inherent in technology, MacDonald says that RemoteWare plays a key role in determining and solving those problems and getting the Coinstar machines functioning properly.
"When we don't receive a file from one of our machines, RemoteWare lets us create an ad-hoc session to connect directly to the problem machine, initiate another session using RemoteWare to determine what the problem is and then execute the solution to fix it. RemoteWare keeps us from sending field techs out to fix problems that can be handled more quickly and cost-effectively from headquarters."
Traits and Variations
With the majority of its machines located in the lobbies of supermarkets, Coinstar has tied itself very closely to the ever-evolving grocery industry, providing customized services to its retail partners including industry giants like Kroger, Albertson's, Safeway and Winn-Dixie. Each Coinstar machine displays welcome and thank-you screens unique to the supermarket chain it is serving, and prints receipts that include the supermarket's logo and other marketing slogans and campaigns.
In an industry that is continually changing and growing through acquisitions and new locations, Coinstar finds itself updating these customized screens and receipt services regularly to match the latest needs of its partners. Stores once owned and operated by one Coinstar partner are suddenly the latest acquisition of another, causing the need to update those particular Coinstar machines with the new software that manages the screen displays and receipt printers. The conversion is handled easily and efficiently with RemoteWare, says MacDonald.
RemoteWare allows MacDonald to create customized sessions containing the new software and data, and then quickly distribute them to the applicable machines either upon generation or with the nightly polling of all 8,500 within the Coinstar network. If MacDonald includes the software management sessions with the nightly polling, only those machines designated to receive the updated software process the customized sessions while the remaining machines in Coinstar's network process the regular nightly sessions. RemoteWare's ability to recognize and execute script commands down to an individual machine gives MacDonald the power to configure hundreds of customized sessions on demand, and quickly and concurrently distribute them without the fear of personalized software going to the wrong machines.
"This is by far the greatest advantage RemoteWare offers to Coinstar's operations today," says MacDonald. "If we had to manually send the customized sessions to each machine, we'd never get anything else done. We are constantly changing the information we want to appear on our machines, and RemoteWare allows us to keep pace."
MacDonald says RemoteWare's customized session functionality also plays an important role in Coinstar's marketing program. Using radio commercials, Coinstar can conduct regional promotions in which Coinstar distributes high-value coupons and special offers to consumers if they use Coinstar machines at a specific supermarket chain. MacDonald and his team at Coinstar headquarters then simply send out the customized sessions to the appropriate stores and Coinstar machines using RemoteWare, driving business and profits to both parties.
"RemoteWare gives us the leverage to be more than just a coin counting service, it gives us the ability to manage and maintain localized promotions that add value to both our customers and our supermarket partners."
Coinstar aims to continue elevating its status through its ecommerce initiatives and advancements with its existing grocery store partners, as well as new partners in the product manufacturing and financial services industries. Meals.com, a food marketing company and a subsidiary of Coinstar, is one avenue the company will use to accomplish this. Expanding its services beyond coin counting, Coinstar will use Meals.com as an advertising and marketing medium for product manufacturers and supermarkets that tie Coinstar's machines directly into the operation.
Meals.com's network of branded and private label Websites includes supermarket retailers that represent more than 8,000 stores, almost all of which are also home to a Coinstar machine. The Websites contain thousands of recipes, meal planning tools and expert advice consumers can sort through when planning a menu. Product manufacturers wishing to promote the use of their brands as ingredients in the recipes can offer consumers incentives such as coupons to purchase their brands at reduced prices.
Offering coupons online, however, presents some challenges. With nothing to prevent consumers from engaging in fraud and printing multiple copies of the coupon, Meals.com, along with the manufacturers and supermarkets, are turning to Coinstar's secured printer and its pervasive presence in grocery stores around the country as a solution. When consumers using Websites in the Meals.com network click on product offers from their personal computers, they will receive a personal discount code number, which they will in turn enter into a Coinstar machine to redeem the offer. Coinstar will validate the code number and print the applicable coupon for use only on that manufacturer's brand, only within the store where it is redeemed.
Critical to the success of this venture is RemoteWare and its Transaction Pipe feature, says MacDonald. When a consumer punches in his personal discount code into a Coinstar machine, RemoteWare's Transaction Pipe instantly generates a unique, unscheduled session that communicates the data from that Coinstar machine to a centralized database monitoring the codes. While the consumer waits, Transaction Pipe validates the authenticity of the code and then issues the appropriate discount coupon to the consumer in a matter of seconds. RemoteWare's Transaction Pipe offers the flexibility and security Coinstar and the participating manufacturers and supermarkets need for this type of transaction.
"The Coinstar machines are the missing variables in this equation, providing the security both the manufacturers and supermarkets need to ensure they don't become victims of coupon fraud," claims MacDonald. "RemoteWare is the tool that is making it possible for Coinstar to wield this important role."