Magazine Article | October 1, 2001

A Change In Communication

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies

Coinstar counts on accurate and reliable communication to maintain its 9,000 self-service coin counting machines. Remote systems management software automated more functions for the company.

Integrated Solutions For Retailers, October 2001

Many of us have coffee cans or jars of pennies and loose silver collecting dust on a shelf. But there never seems to be enough of one kind of coin to justify rolling them into dollar increments and lugging them to the bank. Or, we don't have time to count out 1,000 pennies to trade them in for a ten-dollar bill. It's just not convenient.

Convenience is what attracts piggy bankers to the 9,000 Coinstar machines located in supermarkets across North America and United Kingdom. The self-service machines take the labor out of rolling those pesky nickels and dimes at an 8.9% service fee. The machines accept any amount of mixed coins, count them, and give the customer a receipt redeemable at the supermarket checkout for cash or to use toward store purchases.

With thousands of unattended machines around the world, Coinstar needs to communicate daily transaction data and promotion updates accurately and consistently. Each Coinstar machine houses a PC, which runs a system to physically count the coins, tally the total, and present the user with a receipt for cashing. The system then records the data and communicates it with headquarters. When the company decided it wanted to change the machines' operating system from UNIX to Windows NT, it wanted to also upgrade its communication system. It chose to incorporate RemoteWare, a remote systems management solution from XcelleNet, Inc. (Alpharetta, GA), into its new software. "It takes years to establish reliability if you write your own software from the ground up. By using an off-the-shelf product like RemoteWare, we benefitted from XcelleNet's ability to develop the product over the years," said Stuart MacDonald, director of network engineering and operations at Coinstar. "This allows us to focus on things specific to our business rather than deal with basic communication issues."

Count On Automation
Every day at midnight, each Coinstar machine prepares a file to transfer to the headquarters. In that file contains a configuration snapshot of the machine including store promotions, the day's transactions, error messages, and the machine's health statistics. This information is then published to the company's SQL server where various departments can access reports. For example, the field staff knows which machines need maintenance based on the health statistics.

Prior to installing RemoteWare, Coinstar used dial-up modems to communicate this information with all 9,000 of its machines. If that communication did not go through, the company's IT staff had a difficult time determining the cause. "We had to go through many trouble-shooting steps to determine what the problem was," MacDonald said.

More importantly, RemoteWare allowed the IT staff to automate more than just the retrieval of information. Each machine contains specialized branding and promotions specific to the supermarket chain. This information changes constantly, but is unique to each machine. Coinstar can now create customized sessions containing new software and data for specific machines without having to distribute them individually. "If we had to manually send the customized sessions to each machine, we'd never get anything done," MacDonald said.

RemoteWare's additional features have enabled Coinstar to handle its growing install base with the same staff. "With our old software, we had about 800 machines per support person. RemoteWare has enabled us to nearly double the amount of machines each person handles," MacDonald said.

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