How to manage risks with new technology: Experts weigh in – Vending Times

Investing in technology typically requires a certain amount of risk. By managing this risk, companies can achieve the benefits of new technology without incurring excessive losses.
How to manage risks with new technology: Experts weigh inImage provided by iStock.
| by Elliot Maras — Editor, Kiosk Marketplace & Vending Times
When remote machine monitoring was introduced to the self service industry in the 1990s, it promised a new level of efficiency. The first operators to use it, however, found it was not a “silver bullet” — it created the need for new employee skills.
Eventually, operators learned how to rearrange their operations to successfully utilize the benefits of telemetry-based remote machine monitoring, enabling improved location management and route labor savings.
Today, technological advances are being introduced at breakneck speed. Which raises the question: When is the right time to invest in technology innovations?
Investing in technology typically requires a certain amount of risk. By managing this risk, companies can achieve the benefits of new technology without incurring excessive losses.
A panel of technology experts offered insights on this critical balancing act during a session, “Taking Calculated Risks with Technical Innovations,” at the recent National Automatic Merchandising Association show at Chicago’s McCormick Place.
“You cannot script innovation,” moderator Ravi Venkatesan, COO, Cantaloupe Inc., a provider of payment technology, said at the outset. “You do have to make some ‘bets.'”
Panelist Josh Rosenberg, who has served as a convenience services operator, a self-service technology provider and a consultant, stated that new technology does not guarantee success.
Rosenberg, owner of Three Boys Strong Consulting, offered a recent example drawing on his own experience in healthcare technology. When the pandemic boosted the demand for telemedicine, he introduced a telemedicine service using a “fee for service” business model. As the market expanded, the fee for service model was not the preferred option.
“That was a big bet that we got wrong,” Rosenberg said.
Nevertheless, Rosenberg and his fellow panelists agreed it is necessary to take risks.
“If you want to make an omelet, you have to break some eggs,” said panelist Krishna Vedula, CTO, 365 Retail Markets, a provider of micro market hardware and software.
Having a long-term vision is important.
In 2007, 365 Retail Markets lost out on a $40 million contract to take government data into the cloud. “The federal government was not ready to move into the cloud at that time,” Vedula said.
Unbeknownst to them, however, the government conducted a 2-year study to assess if it should move into the cloud, and eventually approached the company and gave it even larger contract.
“Short-term versus long-term. That’s one of the perspectives that we have to keep in mind,” Vedula said.
Panelist Tim McAra, senior vice president of the refreshment services group at Continental Services in Troy, Michigan, said business leaders take risks because they see a need that exists, not because they seek technology for its own sake.
Rosenberg agreed. When remote monitoring was introduced, the sales pitch was “reduce your routes by 40%,” Rosenberg said. The technology delivered the route savings but vending operators did not immediately realize it necessitated new skills in the areas of data management and tech support.
While serving as CEO at Accent Food Service in Pflugerville, Texas, Rosenberg deployed Hivery, an artificial intelligence service, in 2017.
“We jumped in looking for a quick win,” he said. “It’s a great product, it works.” What he didn’t realize was that the product recommendations impacted their product supplier commitments.
“All of a sudden we were eliminating SKUs in the machine that were required in order to maximize net cost which was critical to our bottom line,” Rosenberg said.
They also didn’t look at how long it took a fulfillment specialist to actually execute the system’s recommendations, and the “choke hold” it put on the warehouse when product came back in and had to go back into inventory.
“Total picture value chain economics is how you have to evaluate technology,” Rosenberg said. “If you understand how it impacts the entire system…you typically can turn that into a limited risk.”
The panelists agreed the key to managing risks is having a staff that is supportive of new innovation.
“It’s really about making sure you have the right people with you,” McAra said. It’s never going to go flawlessly and you need people who can control it as much as possible.
“If you’re waiting for perfect, you’re not going to do anything,” he said.
McAra recommends having team meetings to collect feedback on new initiatives. You pick up on things you would have missed and you can find benefits, such as finding out an employee is spending 20 hours a week on something that has no ROI value.
If you want to drive change, you have to keep a “positive vibe” going, he said.
Vedula said there are some people who are innately curious. Stimulate them — send them to trade shows and training sessions. His company even brings interns from schools. They come up with ideas that can drive innovation.
Rosenberg agreed the processes and people have to be behind a new technology. To gain their support, management has to educate employees how the technology will benefit them.
He offered the example of a client that rolled out Salesforce software without first getting employee input. They never documented the process or brought their team to the table to understand why and how to use it, and now they’re rejecting it.
“That continuous improvement is critical to sustaining technology and ROI,” Rosenberg said. “That’s as much cultural as it is white paper analysis.”
The panelists offered some new technology success stories.
In 2018 some of 365 Retail Markets’ operator customers said the ATT&T and Verizon were announcing a “deprecation” schedule when all bezels on the machine with 3G needed replacement. The company was looking at options and decided there wasn’t a product that “checked all the boxes,” Vedula said.
As a result, they began building a product with a vendor partner and called the product “Pico” which became a huge success.
McAra said his company switched to a new vending management software system in last 12 to 18 months. It was important to understand what could and could not be expected from the new software.
“Being very clear on what the expected goal is and what you get out of it; that’s what made it successful,” McAra said. “By every measure, switching our VMS was highly successful for us. It touched our customers, our guests, our clients. It touched our route drivers, it touched our merchandisers. Everything we do changed.”
How do you remove emotion from risk, an audience person asked.
Rosenberg said you can’t remove it but you can manage it. One of his biggest challenges is “interpreting” what someone is saying about a new idea to know what they actually mean.
The emotional element is part of the business and you have to be courageous to know how to manage it.
Vedula said emotion is often what carries the product “over the hump.”
One audience member asked how to implement a technology you aren’t sure about.
Vedula said find a supportive customer willing to test it. If it works, extend the test.
“What’s the cost of not innovating?” Venkatesan asked at the end of the session.
Photos courtesy of NAMA.
Elliot Maras is the editor of Kiosk Marketplace and Vending Times. He brings three decades covering unattended retail and commercial foodservice.
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